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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVDs: The African Queen; Casablanca


The African Queen/ Casablanca (Also Blu-ray) (Four Stars)
U.S.: John Huston/ Michael Curtiz (Warner Bros.)

Here, of course, are two of Humphrey Bogart’s best—and two of the most wonderful shows that American Movies in their celebrated Golden Age, ever concocted. If you don’t have these pictures in some format, or (worse) if you haven’t even seen them at all, you’re missing two of classic Hollywood’s richest, most memorable  experiences —and deprived of two of the best love-and-adventure  stories that any Golden Age production ever gave us.

The African Queen (Four Stars)
U.S.: John Huston, 1951

This wonderfully entertaining movie marked the summit meeting of two great Hollywood originals, Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. They’re playing two of their very best roles—grizzled, hard-drinking riverboat captain Charlie Allnutt (for which Bogie won the Best Actor Oscar) and Rose Sayer, a very proper yet surprisingly adventurous missionary’s sister, who’s been left on her own in the jungle after a WWI attack on  her brother’s  mission. Rose’s only possible savoir, in an area deserted by the authorities, is the sloppy raffish  Charlie  — epitome of the untrammeled human nature that Rose believes “we were put on Earth to rise above.”

They both have a lot to learn.  Fleeing from any further carnage (at first), Charlie and Rosie chug their way downriver (aand later up) on Charlie’s  rickety but resourceful tramp boat, The African Queen. And, despite Rose’s initial disapproval, what develops is  one of the screen’s great cockeyed romance-adventures—as funny as it is moving, as picturesque as it is exciting. Directed with his usual dash by the legendary adventurer-director  John Huston, scripted by the great film critic (and screenwriter) James Agee from the popular  C. S. Forrester novel and photographed luminously by the matchless Jack Cardiff, it’s one of those movies where everything comes together, everything jells—and where the characters become folks we tend to remember with fondness, amusement, love and a little wonder.

Bogie and Kate were offscreen friends (Bogie’s wife Lauren Bacall came along offscreen for the ride as well), and their chemistry is magnificent. Bogart was famous throughout his long career for purveying menace and wounded virility, Hepburn for her natural elegance and enthusiasm, and, offscreen admirers as they were, they definitely exploit the attraction of opposites. Two consummate pros and chums, they handle the difficult navigation from being antagonists to being lovers with consummate ease  and sympatico. Many of their scenes together (the leech sequence, the white water rapids ride, and  Rose’s stern jettisoning of Charlie’s beloved whiskey) are classics in themselves.

The African Queen is one of those movies you can watch over and over again (as Casablanca is too, of course), because of its great stars and story,  and its marvelous crew and company — a supporting cast that includes Robert Morley as Rose’s brother the missionary (he has a touching mad scene), and Theodore Bikel and Peter Bull as pompous German Navy marauders.  That John Huston directed everyone and everything so well (he got Hepburn’s  performance on track by asking her to think of Eleanor Roosevelt as a model) is a little amazing, given the way his attention was divided. Huston’s antics and elephant hunts during the shooting inspired writer Peter Viertel’s roman a clef  “White Hunter, Black Heart”, and the acrid, anti-romantic 1990 movie Clint Eastwood later made from it—as well as a delightful memoir by Hepburn.

Casablanca (Four Stars) U.S.; Michael Curtiz, 1942 (Warner Bros.)


Casablanca, which is close to the perfect Hollywood Golden Age studio movie, shows us the world in conflict , the “Café Americain” where everyone goes—and the tormented but finally sublime passion of hard-case cabaret owner Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart, in his signature role) and political fugitive lsa Lund(Ingrid Bergman, in hers). Ilsa is the emotionally torn beauty whom Rick loved and lost, the angel who won his heart and left him in Paris, and but who now belongs body and soul, it seems, to the world-renoned underground anti-Fascist leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid.)

Around them swirl the ideological storms of Nazi-ravaged Europe, at least as Warners saw them. And backing them up is one of the all-time great Hollywood supporting casts: Claude Rains as the suave and lecherous Vichy police head Renault, Conrad Veidt as the reptilian Nazi commander Strasser, Sydney Greenstreet as Ferrari, Rick’s club-owning rival, Peter Lorre as Ugarte, the rat with papers , S. Z. Sakall as a.k.a.  “Cuddles” as the cheeky barman, Marcel Dalio as the nimble croupier, Curt Bois as the ferret-like pickpocket (“Vultures everywhere!”), Leonid Kinskey, June Duprez, Helmut Dantine, John Qualen, and of course that indefatigable piano man (“All my teeth are pearly; all my hair is curly”) Sam (Dooley Wilson) — the fellow who plays (again and again) “As Time Goes By.”

Casablanca,” which expertly melds several key ‘40s Hollywood genres of the era (drama, comedy, noir, spy thriller, love story) was  written by the Epstein brothers (Julius and Philip) and Howard Koch, and directed by that sometimes underrated master, Michael Curtiz. A big hit in its day and also a multiple Oscar winner, this picture has never stopped pleasing and rousing audiences — who often respond with wild applause when Renault says “Round up the usual suspects,” or when Bogie/Rick touches Ingrid/Ilsa’s chin in farewell and says “Here’s looking at you, kid!“

The movie, though it’s adapted from a hack play, is a triumph. It  has brilliant writers, a matchless director, and a marvelous international cast. It has laughter and terror and, God, does it have romance. It has everything.  It’s not original, but, of its special type, it’s just about flawless. Casablanca is one of the inarguable triumphs of the Hollywood Studio system, and also of Warner Brothers and Curtiz, of canny scribes Howard Koch and the Epstein brothers, of that tremendous, unrepeatable cast, and of those two seemingly mismatched but ultimately perfect-for-each-other lovers: tough sad-eyed Bogie and sweet soft-eyed Ingrid.  As long as there’s a Casablanca, and as long as Sam plays, and as long as time goes by, we’ll always have Paris. Or at least we’ll have Warner Brothers’ Paris. And, God knows, we’ll always have Casablanca.



The First Annual Chicago Critics Film Festival, described below,  has been dedicated by the Critics to the memory of their friend and colleague, Roger Ebert.

The 2013 edition of what we hope  will become a regular and valuable yearly cinema event starts this Friday at the Muvico Theaters Rosemont 18,   when The Chicago Film Critics Association presents the opening night film of the first annual Chicago Critics Film Festival, Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell  — kicking off three days of mostly premiere showings of well-regarded current independent and art films. The festival runs Friday through Sunday, April 12 -14.

Stories We Tell  is, for me,  one of he year’s finest documentaries so far: Sarah Polley’s  intriguing and sometimes spellbinding  the true story (occasionally dramatized) of the actress-director’s investigation into Polley family legends that suggest Sarah was not the natural child of her parent’s long time marriage, but of an affair between her late actress mother and a mysterious “someone else.” Poignant and witty, sensitive and perceptive, it’s Polley’s best directorial film yet, and she’ll be present at the screening for a discussion with the audience.

Also on Friday the festival will show Grow Up, Tony Phillips, the latest movie film by 20-year-old prodigy director Emily Hagins, who was already a veteran filmmaker while still in her teens. Ms. Hagins will also be present at her screening.

The closing night films of the Chicago Critic’s festival will include a special appearance by  filmmaker and one time Chicagoan, William Friedkin (director of The French Connection and The Exorcist), attending a very special showing of Friedkin’s once-critically -ttacked but increasingly admired 1977 film thriller Sorcerer — a remake, starring Roy Scheider and Francisco Rabal, of  The Wages of Fear, Henri-George’s Clouzot’s classic 1952 suspense adventure film about four desperate men who take on the dangerous job of transporting truckloads of dynamite over mountain roads to help extinguish an oilfield fire. The other closing night film is director James Ponsoldt‘s reportedly funny and moving The Spectacular Now, starring Shailene Woodley and Mary Elizabeth Winstead  — with Ponsoldt also present for audience discussion.

All films were selected by the CFCA members. The full festival schedule follows:



7 PM: Stories We Tell (with Sarah Polley in attendance)

10 PM: Grow Up, Tony Phillips (with Emily Hagins and Peter Hall)



12 PM: Grow Up, Tony Phillips (with Emily Hagins)

1 PM: Shorts Program #1 (with the filmmakers)

2:30M: The Institute

3:30 PM: The Force Within Us (with Cris Macht)

4:30 PM: Leave Me Like You Found Me (with Adele Romanski)

6 PM: The Kings of Summer

7 PM: Sparks (with Chris Folino, William Katt and Ashley Bell)

9 PM: The Dirties

10 PM: Black Rock



12 PM: Shorts Program #2 (with filmmakers)

12:15 PM: The Artist and the Model

2:30 PM: Sparks

2:45 PM: When I Walk

4:30 PM: I Declare War

5 PM: The Spectacular Now (with James Ponsoldt)

6 PM: William Friedkin Book Signing

7:30 PM: Sorcerer (with William Friedkin).


The Chicago Critics Film Festival runs Friday through Sunday, April 12-14 at MUVICO THEATERS ROSEMONT 18, 9701 Bryn Mawr Avenue, Rosemont, Ill. 60018. Individual tickets and festival passes can be purchased online at

For more details, log on to

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon