The CASABLANCA - Factor

So - this is it. That was January 2012.. I promised you the CASABLANCA factor post about this month's theme "On The Run".


Just by the way - it was so much fun to see it in cinema - with some people in the audience who didn't know CASABLANCA (1942) before.. 

Can you imagine how wonderful that is when people hear those great lines for the first time? 

Especially my beloved Claude Rains made a deep impact there..



One of the connections of CASABLANCA to my On The Run Series is quite obivous: It's a film about people trying to escape from the Nazis - on their way in to a new life - the other connection is nothing to actually see: Most of the cast (and I love the cast - it causes my love for this film) actually were refugees or emigrants:

There are of course Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) and Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) - a famous resistance fighter on their way to America to go on fight against the Nazis (well.. she is more or less "just" his wife..)

~ Paul Henreid (who is one of my favourites) was really an avid anti-fascist. ~


Even Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is running away from his past - and maybe his love..

Ugarte - a criminal - is not running fast enough.. He is personated by Peter Lorre - who was a guest before on my On The Run Series - what I forgot to mention there: He also used another way to run away: he was addicted to morphine..



Conrad Veidt (another one of my favourite actors.. he played Major Strasser) fleed Germany with his then wife who was Jewish. 




Michael Curtiz who directed this film moved to Hollywood in 1926. 


The pickpocket was personated by the wonderful Curt Bois - another great comedian Germany lost because of the Nazis.



There are of course more characters on the run like a young couple trying to get enough money:  Annina (Joy Page) and Jan Brandel (Helmut Dantine)




Helmut Dantine (Jan Brandel) was born Helmut Guttman in Vienna, Austria in 1917. He lead a Anti-Nazi-youth movement there - but when Austria was annexed he was arrested - and sent to a concentration camp for three months. After that his parents made sure that he left to live in America with a friend. They themselve died in a concentration camp later..

Have Herr & Frau Leuchtag (Ludwig Stössel and Ilka Grüning both were also emigrants in real life) here in one of my favourite scenes of this film:

 

- as much as I love it - it breaks my heart. Can you imagine to leave your home, your friends, your language? I don't want to use ageism - but I can imagine that Herr & Frau Leuchtag didn't plan to leave their home (country) at the age they are now..

Back in those days AUFBAU the monthly German Jewish magazine (setted till 2004 in New York, USA - it moved then to Zurich, Switzerland) told it's readers who were in the main German Jewish imigrants (as obviously were it's writers..) not to speak German in public. So for they're home country didn't accept them as one of them anymore - in their new country they still were Germans - which was much too easily of course taken as a pseudonym for Nazi.. 

~ common sight in WWII  - this picture was taken in Germany - but does that matter at all? ~

A classic question from German journalists nowadays is to ask people who fleed the Nazis and came back later, why they returned to "the land OF the comitters". This actually made my grandfather angry whenever he heard it - and makes me still sad: So it was after all NOT the land of the ones who had to leave it? It is after all the land of the Nazis? As my grandfather used to state: "So the Nazis after all have actually won the war..". It is just a question of phrasing - I know.. but still..

And the trouble is - and I know I might sound a bit shizophrenic: If you're leaving your home you can't come back. It might be the same place - but it isn't home anymore. You have changed - and the people you knew have changed too. If you leave you'll leave forever. But that is no question which was actually to consider if you were Jewish/homosexual/or-what-ever-else-Nazis-think-is-not-good-enough-for-"their"-country  in 3rd Reich. 

I could of course go on and on with all those cast members and their connection to January's series - but I fear that January will be gone before I have finished this post.. And I fear that I might have already put some of my readers off with all those refugees talk in the end of this post..

So: thank you all for listening!

Hope to see you next month again at Rick's Café Américain - here at my blog!

Yours very well and truly

Irene


Flick of The Day: King of New York

I have looked at the decline of New York City in the 70's and 80's previously in my reviews of  Scorsese's Bringing Out The Dead and  James Gray's We Own The Night and it is indeed a rich canvas for filmmakers to work with. Abel Ferrara has long used this as his milieu with some successes such as 1992's Bad Lieutenant and  some notable failures such as today's flick of the day, King of New York. During its premiere at the 1990 New York Film Festival, much of the audience walked out including Ferrara's own wife. In the years since its release it has come to be seen for what it is, a stylish b-movie oddity with an uneven script that is held together by a towering performance from Christopher Walken as the drug kingpin of the title.
Opening with the release from prison of Frank White, played by Walken, the film depicts the grimy underbelly of New York from the backseat of a limousine in a memorable opening sequence. After his stint behind bars Frank is acutely aware of how his exploitation of society as a drug trafficker had made him a wealthy man. Determined to give something back to the neighbourhood, he sets out to reclaim his throne and finance the construction of a hospital with his ill gotten gains. To do this he needs the help of the various factions which control the city. Much like an episode of the PlayStation series Grand Theft Auto, each of the gangs are represented along racial lines. There are Asians, Italians, Colombians and African Americans each nastier than the last and again much like a computer game, their refusal to bow to Frank leads to scenes of highly stylised violence usually led by Frank's right hand man Jimmy Jump, played with manic abandon by Laurence Fishburne. Ultimately Frank's attempts to do good lead to a major gang war where even hard nosed cops led by David Caruso are out to get him before a dramatic bullet riddled finale in Times Square.
It should be plain by now that I don't view this film as a classic by any means but that is not to say it doesn't ask some interesting questions about the effects of the drug trade on a city and its people. Released at the end of the Reagan 80's when the war on drugs became front page news, this film pointedly shows how much of a failure these efforts had been. Frank views himself as a businessman and as he puts it:

"You think ambushing me in some nightclub's gonna stop what makes people take drugs? This country spends $100 billion a year on getting high, and it's not because of me. All that time I was wasting in jail, it just got worse. I'm not your problem. I'm just a businessman. "

This could have been a thrilling examination of one man's rise and fall but too often the script resorts to stock cliché's from Gangster 101. Ferrara's visual flights of fancy while stylish and beautiful often detract from the film, giving it a cartoonish air, something enforced by the sheer frivolity of characters like Jimmy Jump and bullet strewn scenes that don't serve to move the plot forward. Very much a missed opportunity.
If the film has a redeeming factor it is the performance of Christopher Walken. A real talent when it comes to playing menacing villains, he shines throughout as Frank. Imbuing the character with a sociopathic streak while still making a case for him being the most sane character in the film, Walken carries the film when the script lets itself down.

Roy Bishop: You expected to get away with killing all these people? 
Frank White: I spent half my life in prison. I never got away with anything, and I never killed anybody that didn't deserve it. 
Roy Bishop: Who made you judge and jury? 
Frank White: Well, it's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.

While far from the car crash its premiere would have suggested and not worthy of the opprobrium heaped upon it on it release, this is a deeply flawed film with an uneven script and visual tone. Walken is strong enough to make the film watchable but it is no more then that. As a time capsule it takes some beating though, capturing a city and a period that has long since passed into the realm of urban myths. The New York underworld during the 80's? No it was never as stylish as even Abel Ferrara imagines but then what is?

Claire Cooper, Claire Forlani, Claire Goose, Clara Morgane, Claudia Mason

Claire Cooper
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Claire Forlani
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Claire Goose
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Clara Morgane
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Claudia Mason
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