"Casablanca" and "The Searchers" will be shown at the Hitching Post Theaters.
From Sept. 10 to 13 you can see "Casablanca" from 1942 (Humphry Bogart, Ingrid Bergman).
For some reason there have been a lot of films reliving World War II recently — "Hacksaw Ridge," "Dunkirk." And they’ve been good films. "Casablanca," though, is the real thing. Originally slated to open in the spring of 1943, its release date was hurried to Nov. 26, 1942, because the allies invaded North Africa on Nov. 6 — Casablanca to be exact — and what studio could possibly pass up that advertising bump. And it worked. The movie did very well. But not just because of the publicity.
This is a great film on many levels. First, it’s the source of so many great lines: “We’ll always have Paris.” “The Germans wore gray. You wore blue.” “Here’s lookin’ at you kid.” “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” “All the gin joints in all the world and she has to walk into mine.” And those lines are perfectly placed. This film has been singled out as having the perfect balance between drama and comedy, sometimes within moments of one another on the screen.
This balance is an amazing feat because the drama is so terribly real — lives are at stake, real, heroically ordinary lives. And real men and women, some of the actors being actual refugees from war torn Europe, are living them out before us on the razor’s edge — the confrontation with evil is monumental. Yet the comedy is also real, the lines funny and just as razor-sharp, and remarkably fresh for being 75 years old. What, then, does this perfect balance of drama and comedy bring? A genuinely great movie that no one saw coming.
Neither Bogart nor Bergman wanted to be in the movie. Bergman saw it as just so much fluff, while Bogart just wasn’t impressed. After all, it came from an unproduced play. There were also script problems. Even though the Epstein brothers finished the script two days before shooting started, there were still problems with the ending, little questions yet to be answered, like who got the girl. No one was sure. The actual ending was filmed, rejected, rewritten, and filmed again, then recut, and recut again. And to top it all off, the producer, Hal Wallis, wrote the very last line of the movie after production of over, “Louis, I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship.” But, for whatever reason, in spite of all the misgivings and production difficulties, the end product, in 2007, was ranked No. 3 Greatest Movie of All Time by the American Film Institute. If you haven’t seen it, see it. If you have seen it, see it again. It’s the story of great struggle by ordinary people against an evil going viral. It’s a story for today — again.
From Sept. 14 to 16, see "The Searchers" from 1956 (John Wayne - need I say more?). This is definitely one of John Wayne’s most nuanced and complex performances, and the movie most believe to be was one of his best. He thought so much of it in fact he named his son, Ethan, after his character, Ethan Edwards, a civil war vet who hates Comanches. Only if you keep your eyes open will you see a critical fact that tells you why he does, a fact that has shaped this tortured character’s future — and given us this film.
Just for the record, this hate didn’t extend to John Wayne, himself. The Native Americans in the film were all played by local Navajos. During filming, a Navajo child became seriously ill with pneumonia and needed urgent medical attention. John Wayne had his own airplane fly the little girl to a distant hospital. For his deed, the Navajos named him "The Man with the Big Eagle."
Well, that wasn’t the only child Big Eagle helped with during this shoot. Natalie Wood, who also stars, was still in high school at the time. JW often picked up from school and drove her to the set.
Then, Big Eagle went on to help every teenager in America next — including moi. How, you ask? Reportedly this film was seen in a theater in Texas by Buddy Holly and his friends in the summer of 1956. They were so impressed with Ethan's (John Wayne) repeated use of a certain phrase that they used it as the title for their new rock song, which they composed soon afterward. See if you can tell which phrase it was.
Let’s talk about the movie itself for a moment. Much of it was shot in Monument Valley, Ariz., a favorite of the director’s, John Ford. Several of his other movies were shot there. And he really knew how to take advantage of those incredible vistas. So much so that David Lean watched this movie repeatedly while preparing for "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962) to help give him a sense of how to shoot a landscape.
A few more words about The Duke (JW): He was never much given to talking in depth about his performances, probably because there just wasn’t much depth. The Duke was the Duke, that’s all that mattered. But John Wayne took this role much differently, much more seriously. So seriously he stayed in character between takes. Usually prone to being quite light-hearted during most of his film shoots, he was noticeably more reticent during this shoot, concentrating on giving a more textured performance.
Did it all work? (Remember now, we’re talking about a John Wayne flick here.) In 1963 critic and director Jean-Luc Godard called this film the fourth-greatest American film of the sound era. In 2007, the America Film Institute ranked this as the No. 12 Greatest Movie of All Time, then, in June, 2008, went on to rank it No. 1 on the list of the 10 greatest films in the genre Western. The general public had a chance to weigh in when they voted the film both the 13th Greatest Film of all time and the Greatest Western of all time by Entertainment Weekly. Our friends across the pond raised their hand in July 2015, when it was voted No. 5 on BBC Culture's 100 Greatest American Films by 61 film reviewers and critics. And there’s more. It all boils down to the fact that Big Eagle made a great flick here. Don’t miss it.
Bill Kritlow is a Tehachapi movie buff.