The director’s cut

Casablanca — the director’s cut

YOU may believe that Casablanca is the ultimate romantic movie. You may think it’s about a love that could not be, and the cruel choices a man and a woman must make, all set against the naked amorality of Nazi-occupied North Africa during WWII.

It isn’t any of those things.

Casablanca is about drinking prodigious quantities of alcohol.

RickIlsaCasablanca

Still standing: Rick and Bergman just about holding it together in Casablanca.

It opens innocently enough, with Rick (Humphrey Bogart) quaffing a glass of bubbly in the middle of the day. Fair enough. It’s what people did in films in those days. But Rick then gives way to Ugarte (Peter Lorre) who throws back not one but two (TWO!) shots of brandy. If they’re engaged in some sort of drinking game, the score is two-one so far. Meanwhile, Rick’s current GF is seen helping herself to a few basins of cognac.

Enter the local Nazi bigwig Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt), and his corrupt Vichy sidekick, Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains). They assemble themselves at the bar counter and order a bottle of the Veuve Cliquot ’26 Champagne. Not the Cava, mind, which suggests not only does the Devil have the best tunes, he also has a Fás-style expense account and a bit of a lip on him.

Toasted

Things are getting lively at Rick’s, and it may well be happy hour. But then, many a good evening has turned into a bad night. And who do you think arrives in now but Rick’s former squeeze, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), with her new fella in tow.

Having too many exes about the place, or too much drink inside you… Neither is a good thing, and an excess of both at the same time is only asking for trouble. The Irish answer of course is to pour more alcohol into the situation, and Ilsa duly obliges.  She and and her BF, a Hungarian cove by the name of Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) start by calling for shots of Cointreau (ooh fancy) but, in a flurry of confusion at the bar they end up instead with a double round pressed into their hands. In the melee, not only does the French cop buy Ingrid and her beau a bottle (yes a bottle) of Champagne, but he also gets them a pair of champagne cocktails. The round system. You know how it happens.

Locked

As they’re steadily getting locked, the atmosphere at Rick’s has seamlessly slipped into a higher gear, and the crowd that had earlier been texting each other to meet for “a nice glass of wine and some nibbles after work” are now utterly scuttered. They are a fully-fledged ravening mob, having spent the last four hours fuelling up on sauvignon blanc in the mistaken belief that a few tapas and cheedy wotsits would keep them steady.

As the veneer of sophistication falls away, a typical drunken-mob dynamic takes over. In one corner, a group breaks into a spontaneous sing-song, and next thing the whole bar is bellowing that bit from the start of the Beatles’ All You Need Is Love. Soon now, you just know that some guy will produce a guitar and accompany them in an extreme rendition of Simon And Garfunkel’s The Boxer.

Omnes: “Li-la-li… DISH…”

Obviously they’re all peaking far too early.

Hammered

But Rick though… Ah Rick. Having switched over to the whiskey, he’s reached the flashback stage. In the horrors, what does he imagine? Will he find a moment of truth at the bottom of that cocktail? Is this an opportunity for a filmic fantasy in the style of The Big Lebowski — or a switch to colour photography à la The Wizard of Oz?

Astonishingly, no. More drink.

Rick and Ilsa shared the one big love affair that haunts the whole movie. And how does he recall it? Walks in the park? Flaaing like crazy? No, not a bit of it. The one thing that comes to his mind is a series of images of himself and Ingrid lurking indoors and sucking back the bubbly.

Scuttered

The phrase “the director’s cut” nowadays means an authorial re-edit of a movie. Back then, it seems, it was also an accusation of intemperance. And if we could see an expanded version of Casablanca, we may well have had to endure further debauchery involving banana daiquiris, a dozen Smirnoff Ice, a slab of lager and free passes to a night club.

Rick is of course at this stage royally locked and incredibly still drinking. Several shots of Tennessee’s finest later, the whole sorry mess grinds to some sort of conclusion as (accompanied by the din of planes taking off and the sound of gunfire) a scrum of brawling publicans, soldiers, refugees and who-knows-else, mill about pouring back the brandy and bubbly.

Pausing only to discard, unopened, a bottle of mineral water, Rick and Renault find themselves wandering around up at the airport (as you do). And like typical drunks — who, an hour previously, looked like they could well square off in a scrap — they end up mumbling something about their enduring friendship before staggering away for a restorative kebab.

Fade to black. ♦

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2 Responses

  1. […] under: Ireland, Wine « Thank you ferry much The director’s cut […]

  2. […] Casablanca? Hang on a minute, product placement in Casablanca is like seeing the Mona Lisa munching on a Snickers. Well, the brochure doesn’t explicitly state that airtime in Michael Curtiz’s classic was bought in cash or kind, but the familiar label with the diagonal stripe certainly does appears all over that drink-sodden movie. […]

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