Major Strasser: What is your nationality?
Rick: I'm a drunkard.
Captain Renault: That makes Rick a citizen of the world.

I REMEMBER THE FIRST time I saw "Casablanca": It was my freshman year of college, and the Wesleyan film series was doing a yeoman's job of catching me up on the many classic films I had missed out on for one reason or another. There was "Citizen Kane" and "The Third Man" and "Peking Opera Blues," but I remember "Casablanca" striking me for the leanness of its plot and how well it stood up. The characters in the film have long since become archetypes: the unctious rat, the noble humanitarian on the run, the corrupt police chief, and, of course, the lapsed idealist full of smoldering charm. What's shocking is how well they stand up even today as real people in the film, and, as Max pointed out to me the other day, despite the sheer volume of classic lines, the dialogue never comes off as anything less than earnest.

All that was still present in the film on my recent re-watching (brought to you by Netflix), but with my newly-honed interest in all things drinking culture-related, I was struck by the film's quality as a drinking movie. I guess I should have seen it coming, given that Rick owns a bar, but it's more than that.

Early in the movie, Rick's a teetotaler, a fact alluded to several times by patrons as he makes the rounds of his Cafe Americain. Perhaps predictably, the reappearance of Ilsa send him back to the bottle. It's a great subtle turn when Victor Laszlo asks Rick, "Won't you join us for a drink?" and Captain Renault jumps in, saying, "Oh no, Rick never--" before Rick interrupts and brusquely says, "--Thanks, I will." Later that night, we see him, down one glass of bourbon with another at hand, drowning his sorrows. And then the line: "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine."

Aside from bourbon and gin, brandy gets its place of honor when Mr. and Mrs. Leuchtag are getting set to leave Casablanca and invite the waiter Carl for a drink. "Oh, thank you very much," he says. "I thought you would ask me, so I brought the good brandy. And - a third glass!"

The drink that really drew my attention, though, was the champagne cocktail that everybody's always drinking. Seems like an awfully girly drink for such tough guys at the last outpost of free France in a fascist world, but hey, apparently the champagne cocktail was all the rage back in the day. The classic one, from the Metropolitan Hotel in Manhattan circa 1935 calls for soaking a sugar cube with a few dashes of Angostura bitters, tossing it (gently) into a large champagne flute, filling the flute with champagne, and then garnishing with a lemon twist. Max gave it his own twist to honor Anna Nicole Smith.

I've found that what happens a lot with "classics" of any stripe (books, films, albums), is that far too often, they're just taken as classics, as if people don't need to actually experience them, having absorbed their cultural significance through osmosis. I've fallen victim to it as often as anyone else, so I find it a good idea to go back and watch "Citizen Kane" or "Casablanca," read Shakespeare's plays, or actually listen to a whole Beatles album. Do yourself a favor: find some classic movies on Netflix and bump 'em to the top of your queue.

Then shake and enjoy with a real martini, folks: That means gin, dammit. (McPHERSON)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One of the great movie reviewer lines is also associated with Casablanca. The late lamented Gene Siskel said he could no longer believe Hugh Grant as a standup guy after he was caught with a prostitute in the backseat of a car in LA. Roger Ebert said, "So you can't stand watching Casablanca any more because you keep thinking that Humphrey Bogart is dead?"

Mike M