For me The Maltese Falcon was the quintessential movie. It included mystery, intrigue, smart men, scheming women, and priceless statues. It was set in San Francisco but drew on references to foreign countries and previous eras. Humphrey Bogart easily went about setting the record straight despite death, danger, and of course, temptation.
What was my problem with Casablanca? It was just too sappy.
That was over thirty years ago. All this time, I’ve put up with other people telling me about how Casablanca is their favorite old-time movie. My usual response was to say nothing and roll my eyes.
The other night the film was on PBS. I would have turned it off, but the TV control was across the room. Out of inertia, I didn’t get up. I thought, what the heck, I’m doing email, so a little background noise is just fine.
With half an ear I listened as Humphrey Bogart swore that he only did things for himself. He was too tough to ever love again. Love wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t real. Frenchie kept trying to call Rick a romantic, but Rick and I knew better.
SPOILER ALERT. Then the young Romanian wife comes to Rick for advice. She has a desperate plan to earn her and her husband passage out of the country, and she’s willing to sacrifice anything as long as it will work.
That night at the roulette table of his own establishment, Rick tells the young Romanian husband to bet on #22. It’s a secret signal. The croupier orchestrates a win. Rick repeats his advice. The Romanian obeys. He wins enough money that he will never have to know that his wife was willing to sacrifice her honor for his own safety.
At that point I started to recognize how carefully the movie was constructed. Just last month Christie Craig was explaining that a good book needs to have some “Aw, shucks” moments that make us fall in love with would-be heroes. Rick’s act of telling the Romanian to bet on 22 qualifies as such a moment. It proves that the good old Rick still exists underneath his tough exterior and that the jilted lover still believes in love.
From that point on, I stopped doing email and luxuriated in what a friend calls “a perfect movie.” I still have issues with a few of the lines, such as when Ilsa tells Rick to think for both of them; on the other hand, with the maturity of a few decades, I can visit Casablanca with a totally new appreciation.
I certainly won’t wait another thirty years to watch the movie again. After all, what's wrong with just a little sappiness?
What's your own favorite sappy movie?
For my adventurous novels that take place in foreign countries, please check out Thai Twist and Island Casualty.