In Casablanca no other place compares.
We're back in the house today—Casablanca, that is. Several days ago, on the film's Italian premiere date, we showed you some Italian posters, and today, on its U.S. premiere date, we're taking a close look at possibly the most famous fictional bar in cinema history—Rick's Café Americain. Casablanca is one of the greatest films ever made, and it's fair to say Rick's was a supporting character. Filmgoers of 1942 found themselves steeped in its otherworldly Moroccan atmosphere, as scenes were staged in its courtyard, dining room, gambling room, at its lively bar, and in Rick's roomy upstairs office and personal living quarters. We've never confirmed this, but we suspect one third of the film occurs inside Rick's Café. We have photos of every area we could find of this iconic and exotic “gin joint”—as Bogart cynically describes it—and we even turned up a blueprint. You'd be tempted to think bars like Rick's exist only in film, but you'd be wrong. We've been to places that have exotic architecture, excellent food and drink, lively musical entertainment, well dressed internationalclientele, and the aura of being in the middle of a spy caper. The decadent colonial bar Abaco, located in Palma de Mallorca, comes immediately to mind, as does the supper club Meson Pansa Verde in Antigua, Guatemala, where they have live jazz in a converted wine cellar and a friend of ours once famously pushed his date into the pool. We've been to Rick's-like places in Mexico, the Caribbean, the Greek Islands, and, appropriately, Morocco, in both Fes and Marrakech (we're not fans of the Rick's that currently operates in Casablanca—same name, very diminished feel). But magical places do exist, which means even if Bogart's beloved café was never real, having those types of nights is possible. We recommend making it your mission to seek them out.
The FBI stretches its jurisdiction all the way to Morocco in 1953 thriller.
Above, two beautiful Italian posters for F.B.I. divisione criminale, originally titled La môme vert de gris, but known in the U.S. as Poison Ivy. The film was based on a Peter Cheyney novel also named Poison Ivy, and starred Eddie Constantine as an American G-man in Morocco, and Dominique Wilms as a femme fatale known as—you guessed it—Poison Ivy. We talked about the movie at length in May, so if you're curious have a look here.
French crime drama throws Caution to the wind.
Here you see two posters for the 1953 French crime drama La môme vert de gris, which was called Poison Ivy in the U.S. This was adapted from a 1937 novel by Peter Cheyney that featured his recurring character FBI agent Lemmy Caution, who onscreen is played by Eddie Constantine. When two million dollars worth of gold goes missing Constantine is sent to Casablanca to determine its disposition and identify all malefactors involved. He finds himself pitted against a criminal mastermind of sorts, and a hive of henchmen that occupy a nightclub, a yacht, and a hideout in Casablanca's old quarter. Constantine deals with all comers by applying the time-honored advice: when in doubt, punch them out.
Film buffs the world over associate Casablanca with the Humphrey Bogart film of the same name, but the city you see here is different from the one made famous by Bogart and Co. ten years earlier. The Casablanca of this film is a maze of L.A.-style roads, white skyscrapers, and an industrial port the size of Long Beach. We checked population figures and learned it was already a major city of more than 500,000 people during the early 1940s, which means that Casablanca's village feel is really just a clever cinematic fantasy. Poison Ivy's Casablanca is real, and the many location shots mixed into the movie prove it.
That's Dominique Wilms on the top poster, and she's the reason we watched the movie. In this, her cinematic debut, she plays a femme fatale named Carlotta de la Rue, which of course indicates that she's a woman from the street. If that isn't enough to warn the men away, her friends call her Poison Ivy. Why? Because she burns. Hopefully that's meant figuratively, and above the waist. A character bringing so much heat must of course perform a torch song, which she sings with detachment, while the lyrics—as they usually do—indicate deeper issues: “I wander with my sorrow, along with my memories, looking for my old joys, which I've seen fade and die.” See? She just wants to be loved, assuming a man isn't thwarted by her acid tongue, that ironic right eyebrow, and the barbed wire encircling her heart.
The movie is certainly watchable, though it's nothing special aside from its exotic setting. But you have to appreciate the French love for U.S. crime fiction. In fact, director Bernard Borderie got the band back together and cast Constantine, Wilms, and her prehensile eyebrow in the next Caution movie, 1954's Les femmes s'en balancent. Constantine and Wilms also co-starred in 1957's Le grand bluff, another Caution adaptation, but helmed by Patrice Dally. Constantine went on to make Caution the signature character of his career. Wilms, who at age ninety is still out there somewhere, had about a dozen more roles before leaving cinema behind, but we think she had “it,” and will definitely check out some of her other work.
Bogart didn't deserve me anyway.
French actress Madeleine Lebeau made more than thirty films, including Federico Fellini's classic 8½, but we remember her most for her small part in Casablanca. You remember too. She's badly treated by Humphrey Bogart in the beginning of the film, but we see her later as she joins bar patrons drowning out Nazi soldiers who are singing “Die Wacht am Rhein” by singing an even louder rendition of the French national anthem “La Marseillaise.” She's the one in tears. It's an unforgettable image in an unforgettable movie and remains Lebeau's trademark screen moment. This photo is a promo from Casablanca made in 1942.
The fundamental things apply as time goes by.
Yes, we're back to Casablanca. Above you see a Spanish poster for this award winning war drama, which premiered in Madrid today in 1946. The movie was a smash hit everywhere because, simply put, it dealt with every important theme in the realm of human experience, which is why it's still fundamental viewing. And that would be true even if most of the characters weren't migrants—a type of person that's very prominent in the news these days.
The poster art is signed MCP, the designation applied to work produced by the Barcelona based design company owned by artists Ramón Martí, Josep Clavé, and Hernán Pico. We'll get back to this trio's output a bitlater. Casablanca generated some very nice promos, and MCP's effort is one of the best, in our opinion. We also recommend checking out the Japanese ones here.
The house that Bogart built.
The first time we watched Casablanca years ago we were impressed by so many aspects of the film, but perhaps most by its humor. There are laugh lines scattered throughout the first half of the script, but by far our favorite bit is:
Major Strasser: “What is your nationality?”
Rick Blaine: “I'm a drunkard.”
It's impossible to overrate the movie. Only iconoclasts don't like it. The above poster befits such a landmark film. It was painted by Bill Gold for the movie's U.S. run, which began in New York City today in 1942. You can see two more incredible Casablanca posters here.
Working in Bardot’s shadow.
Thea Fleming, aka Thea Fammy, née Thea Catharina Wihelmina Gemma Pfennings, is a Dutch actress who was packaged as “The Brigitte Bardot of Holland.” We don’t know if that was because of her talent or looks, but in any case she actually spent most of her career not in Holland but in Italy, working under the stage name Isabella Biancini. She was never a big star, no Bardot by any measure, but she made some memorable movies, including Salome ’73, Asso di picche—Operazione controspionaggio, aka Operation Counterspy, and Il nostro agente a Casablanca, aka The Killer Lacks a Name. This great shot is from around 1970.
Sometimes a kiss is not just a kiss.
The above promo shot was made for Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall’s 1944 thriller To Have and Have Not, in which he played a cynical boat captain and she played a tough girl with a heart ready to be given to the right man. It was set in French Martinique, and it’s one of our favorite old movies. Certainly not in the same league as Casablanca, which is the phenomenon it was trying to recreate, yet it was faster, funnier, and far less grandiose, all of which work in its favor. Haven’t seen it? Do. You'll love it.
A siren in the desert.
This Columbia Pictures promo photo of Swedish actress Märta Torén was shot when she appeared in the adventure Sirocco in 1951, starring opposite Humphrey Bogart. The film, which was set in Syria, was an attempt to recapture the magic of Casablanca, and one of its taglines was: “Beyond Casablanca... Fate, in a low-cut gown lies in wait for Bogart!” The movie didn’t recapture that Casablanca magic, but it was a nice role for Torén. She worked steadily until 1957 when she died of a sudden brain hemorrhage at age 30.
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