Thursday, July 26, 2012

Here's Sleeping With You, Kid: If Hollywood Made Casablanca Today

There's no movie like Casablanca. You can find all the ingredients for story greatness in here. Interpersonal tension (off the charts!). Suspense. High stakes that just keep rising. A setting that breathes like a character. An unbeatable antagonistic force, and a personalized villain. Character-driven humor. A romance with believable obstacles. A conclusion both unpredictable and inevitable. Heroes who are selfish and noble at the same time. Sacrifice.

If a Greatest Film of All Time existed, this might be it.

So why doesn't Hollywood make movies like this anymore? Well, occasionally, they still do. Sort of. On the whole, though, most movie buffs will admit, contemporary films tend toward formula. So much so that we can pretty much imagine what would happen if Casablanca had been written and filmed today.

1.) Sympathy for Sex. Rick and Ilsa meet again and ... keep their clothes on. But today, we're supposed to cheer when two characters in love finally consummate their passion. Ilsa's marriage to Victor wouldn't matter. And speaking of Victor ...

2.) Love Triangle Madness. Victor Laszlo risks the most, has the most to lose, suffers the most. In fact, we don't want him to lose Ilsa, because he loves her, and he's a good guy. What writer today would portray him so nobly? He might seem nice at first, but by the end, we'd have to villify him. Why? So we could all cheer when Ilsa broke her vow and left him for her true destiny, the real love of her life. Or, maybe he'd get to be a decent guy. Except that would mean ...

3.) Hard Choice with Consequences? No, Thanks. Victor has to die. Because of course, Ilsa has to end up with Rick. And if Victor doesn't turn out to be shallow or nasty, he needs to be out of the picture altogether. It's magic: Ilsa doesn't have to choose, nobody has to feel bad for cheating. In fact, not even the viewers have to choose Team Victor or Team Rick.

Your turn, fellow readers (and film viewers)! Anybody love Casablanca a tenth as much as I do? Want to add to my list above? Or, recommend to us a classic you're glad has never been remade.


  1. I have been in love with Casablanca for years and your summary paragraph reminds me of exactly why that is. I completely agree with your potential "Greatest of All Time" nod.

    However, my favorite classic is 1940's "The Philadelphia Story" with Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Jimmy Stewart. (It was actually remade as a musical called "High Society" in 1956 and starred Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly. I normally love a musical AND Bing and Grace, but something about it just couldn't touch the original, in my opinion). TPS could be considered formulaic but great characters and the incredibly talented pairing of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn caused it to rise above. The witty dialogue, quirky characters, and emotional closure make it a favorite. But the vulnerability in Katharine Hepburn? Makes it the best.

  2. I love The Philadelphia Story, too. And other than knowing who she'll end up with, I don't think of it as formulaic. I mean, formula would not put her with Jimmy Stewart for the scandal. And yes, witty dialogue + Katharine Hepburn's character revelation = classic.

  3. Okay, this blog post and the comments make me want to ditch the office, snuggle up at home with popcorn and watch Casablanca and then The Philadelphia Story or vice verse. I love classic movies...I adore Katherine Hepburn...and yes, I so totally agree, Amanda. Today's movies, for the most part, can't hold a candle. I do believe great stories have a certain degree of structure--but to me, that's so different from today's tired formulas. Of course, that might just be the movie snob in me rearing her black-and-white-lovin' head. :)

  4. Ahhhhhh, Casablanca. A true classic and totally one of the greatest love stories on film.
    Is it the utter truth of the story that draws us in (you know, that sometimes the fairy tale ending isn't reality and the good guy really is the right guy?) or the tragedy that love doesn't really conquer all?

    And now I'm going to subject my hubs to another viewing :)

  5. M--I'm working my way through AFI's original Top 100 Films list. And there is simply NOTHING being made today that matches the Golden Era. Nothing. It's tragic.

    D--It really is one of the greatest love stories! And many people look at me funny when I say that. I think truth is what makes it timeless. But I also am a fan of the lost love element, lost for the sake of endangered innocent lives.

    What writers today are willing to leave us less than "happy" at the end, yet fully satisfied? I aspire to be a writer like this someday. And I'm all ears if you have book recommendations.