Wednesday, March 19, 2014



The overnight Harris polls are in from my first campaign appearance and debate. It’s almost as exciting as watching Variety and the other trades for Oscar buzz and waiting for those nominations. I beat my worthy Republican opponent in the race for animal control officer for the City of Beverly Hills hands down. 23% of registered voters think I am the better candidate. 16% think my opponent wears a really bad toupee. 14% think I should wear Jennifer Lopez's infamous Grammy outfit for my next debate. (I would never stoop so low as to borrow an outfit from a lesser star) and a whopping 47% think that I am perfect for both leads in the new stage musical of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? which has been announced soon for Broadway. I telephoned Joseph, my manager, immediately and told him to let the producers know I was available for both parts. I see it as a one-woman performance piece in dramatic dance and monologue. I’m just not sure how I'll fit into Victor Buono's suits.

Norman and I felt like having a lazy day to celebrate this distinct upturn in both my political and performance fortunes. We decided to stay in this afternoon and popped an old friend into the home theater system, Casablanca with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Not many people know that when I was a lithe young ingénue, I auditioned for, and nearly won the role of Sam, the piano player. Unfortunately, I was considered too inexperienced for a role of such depth and complexity and besides, Bette Davis had it out for me on the Warner's lot. I heard rumors that she sabotaged the film of my screen test, and that the Warner’s executives thought they were watching footage of a nature documentary on hippopotami.

Casablanca , an adaptation of a stage play Everybody Comes to Rick’s by the brothers Epstein, concerns the fortunes of Rick Blaine (Bogart), an American expatriate living in the title city on the coast of Morocco, at that time a French posession. Here he runs a nightclub where European refugees, fleeing from the Nazi war machine, while away their time waiting for passage to Lisbon and then on to America. He becomes involved in an eternal triangle with the beautiful Ilsa Lund (Bergman), who loved him and left him Paris several years before and the heroic resistance fighter, Victor Laszlo (Paul Hernreid). These three come together over a set of letters of transit from the collaborationist Vichy regime that will allow the bearer safe passage out of Europe and to America.

The plot is serpentine, but never obscure, with corrupt police officials (Claude Rains), villainous Nazis (Conrad Veidt), euro trash thieves (Peter Lorre), and mysteriously evil kasbah owners (Sydney Greenstreet) each providing moments of humor and suspense as Ilsa must make her choices between the two men and locate and obtain the letters of transit that will keep her and Victor out of a concentration camp; the stakes are high, the emotions are higher, secrets are revealed and all are accompanied by Sam (Dooley Wilson) playing and singing As Time Goes By in the salon at Rick's Cafe Americain. There are so many miraculously good moments in this film that it’s hard to choose a favorite. Victor spontaneously leading the patrons in the Marseillaise to drown out a Nazi sing-a-long, Rick's crooked gambling schemes, flashbacks of pre-war Paris or the climactic showdown at the foggy airport where some of the principals will escape and some will need to stay and face an unknown future.

Bergman, one of the most beautiful faces to ever grace the movies, was never lovelier than she is here and the implied sex and sensuality she gives her love scenes should put every breast baring modern actress to shame. Bogart is her equal, with a finally nuanced Rick showing different shades and layers of complication as the story progresses. My favorite character, however, is Claude Rains' crooked Captain Renault. Despite his supposed off-screen lecheries, the more I view his performance, the clearer it becomes that he's truly in love with another and eventually wins his man. (This may be heretical but watch his line readings and his reactions closely.)

The DVD contains the film and a 'making of/history of' special hosted by Lauren Bacall that looks like rerun space filler from Turner Classic Movies. Skip it and watch the movie twice.

Roulette table. Letters of transit. Symbolic bottle of Vichy water. Disguised Burbank airport. Gratuitous guitar playing lady. "Here's looking at you, kid." Railway station 'Dear John' note. “Marseillaise” singing.

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