“CASABLANCA” – The SF Symphony accompanies screening tonight, 7/22

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Sean Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

Tonight the San Francisco Symphony accompanies a screening of the 1942 film classic, CASABLANCA. The film score was composed by Max Steiner whose other major credits include Gone with the Wind, Dark Victory, Now Voyager, and Since You Went Away. The film’s enduring popular song hit “As Time Goes By” will be connected to the love story of “Rick and Ilsa” for all time. And it’s scene involving a duel of national anthems is a hands down musical victory for the French as they silence the Nazis with a heart-pounding rendition of The Marseillaise. But Casablanca includes an overlooked and wildly amazing list of other enduring song favorites which color and contribute to the film’s fascinating allure. Within the first 20 minutes, director Michael Curtiz works in three major songs – including “The Very Thought of You” – that significantly support the dramatic flow, reveal a hidden agenda, embellish the dialogue, and fire-up the magic. Rick’s Café Américain can be really dangerous and dicey at times. The conversations are raw and guarded. If you want to overhear even more about what’s really-really going on with this extraordinary cast of characters caught in a world of uncertainty, turn an ear to the background music.
Tonight’s conductor will be Michael Francis.

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Dooley Wilson (Sam) and Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa)

IT HAD TO BE YOU” (1924) – Music by Isham Jones; lyrics by Gus Kahn

Major Heinrich Strasser (Conrad Veidt) is concerned about the sudden murder of two German couriers. Perhaps not so much about them individually, but more about the Letters of Transit they were known to be carrying. Signatured documents such as these will allow the bearer to travel freely, even to America. Whoever murdered the couriers will no doubt have the documents and Strasser believes he knows who it is. According to the Prefect of Police, Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains), his men are busy rounding up twice the usual number of suspects and, in any event, they’ll probably all wind up at “Rick’s” tonight anyway. Because? Everybody winds up at Rick’s. [Fade to outdoor shot of Rick's Cafe.]

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Everyone in Casablanca knows the best in 1940′s American Dance Bands plays at Rick’s Café Américain. And it doesn’t get better than the resident lead singer and pianist (and Rick’s totally loyal friend), “Sam”. Outside at Rick’s, you can hear the band playing a tune written by Isham Jones and Gus Kahn way-back in ’24, “It Had To Be You”. A man’s voice is heard singing, “It had to be you, it had to be you”. The club’s doorman (wearing a fez) admits more patrons as the singer continues, “I’ve wandered around, finally found, the somebody who…” [the camera moves toward the entrance] “could make me be true, could make me blue.” The perspective of the lens and that of the viewer are now one. The vigilant doorman admits us through as the singer continues, “And even be glad, just to be sad….” We pass the doorman and are fully into the café as the singer finishes the stanza, “…thinking of you.” And we’ve been thinking about it ever since. It’s been eighty-seven years since It Had To Be You was published. Tony Bennett sings it all the time and tells his audiences, “It’s the greatest song ever written.”

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HUMPHREY BOGART and INGRID BERGMAN

About a half-hour into the film, we’re back at the Café. Rick is at the reservations desk and notices that Ilsa and Laszlo have booked a table. Sam begins playing It Had To Be You a moment before they enter. By now the couple knows that Rick must have the missing Letters of Transit and Rick knows that they know. Laszlo looks calm and amiable, Ilsa seems nervous as her eyes dart quickly across the room.

LASZLO: [to Rick] Good evening. You see? Here we are again.

RICK: I take that as a great compliment to Sam. [To Ilsa] I suppose he means, to you, Paris of happier days.

ILSA: [Remaining aloof] He does. Could we have a table close to him?

LASZLO: As far away from Major Strasser as possible.

RICK: [looking around] Well, the geography may be a little difficult to arrange. [To the host] Paul, Table 30. [Laszlo and Ilsa follow the host, Rick is a step behind them. His expression is mildly sardonic. To Ilsa: ] I’ll have Sam play “As Time Goes By”. I believe that’s your favorite tune.

ILSA: [Not amused] Thank you.

Rick leans down to Sam and whispers. They watch the couple move to their table. Yesterday, when Ilsa turned up at the Café and requested As Time Goes By, Sam told her she was “bad luck” for Rick. But the pianist can’t say ‘no’ to his boss. Sam’s expression clearly suggests this tune means nothing but trouble for everybody. Sam plays it again.

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BABY FACE” (1926) – Music by Harry Akst

“Baby Face”, written by Harry Akst, has been collecting innumerable royalties since its introduction in 1926 and up until its most recent use in a commercial exploiting the new arrivals at the San Francisco Zoo. The song is introduced in Casablanca following one of the best exchanges of dialogue written by the team of Julius and Philip Epstein (The Man Who Came To Dinner; Mr. Skeffington). Claude Rains and Humphrey Bogart are seated outside the café. A plane flies directly over them – the plane that transports Casablanca’s desperately stranded to Lisbon where a clipper will then take them to America. Renault asks Rick, “I’ve often speculated why you don’t return to America. Did you abscond with the church funds? Did you run off with a Senator’s wife? I’d like to think you killed a man. It’s the romantic in me.”

RICK: It’s a combination of all three.

RENAULT: Then what in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca?

RICK: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.

RENAULT: The waters! What waters? We’re in the desert.

RICK: I was misinformed.

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HUMPHREY BOGART (Rick) and PETER LORRE (Ugarte)

Sam begins to play “Baby Face”. Some of us out in the audience know the lyrics – “You’ve got the cutest little baby face. There’s not another one could take your place, baby face. My poor heart is jumpin’ – you sure have started somethin’….” During a scene which lasts less than a minute, director Michael Curtiz employs the ironic undertones of the lyrics to enhance the elaborate game of chance happening between the crafty café operator and the completely corruptible cop. Renault informs Rick that an arrest is going to be made that night at his café. Presumably, the target is the baby-faced Ugarte (Peter Lorre), killer of the German courier.

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CONRAD VEIDT (Strasser) and CLAUDE RAINS (Renault)

The drama of it all will amuse his customers as well as an important guest, Major Strasser of the Third Reich – played by Conrad Veidt, whose own good-looking pan and Teutonic lilt served him well in a string of films where he depicted a ranking German official – Above Suspicion (with Joan Crawford); Dark Journey (with Vivien Leigh); and Escape (with Norma Shearer). Although Veidt was only 40 when he suffered a fatal heart attack a year after Casablanca, his energy and presence remains very visible on the screen. In 1992, the Disney animators of Aladdin capitalized on Veidt’s 1940 characterization of the villain “Jaffar” in The Thief of Baghdad. And his very distorted visage in the 1928 silent classic, The Man Who Laughs, became the inspiration for Heath Ledger’s appearance as the “Joker” in The Dark Night. Now that’s a face, baby.

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CONRAD VEIDT and HEATH LEDGER

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“Here’s looking at you, kid.”

Casablanca’s impressive song list also includes: Avalon (1920) by Vincent Rose; I’m Just Wild About Harry (1921) by Eubie Blake; Parlez-moi d’amour (1930) by Jean Lenoir; Love for Sale (1930) by Cole Porter; Perfidia (1939) by Alberto Dominguez; If I Could Be With You (1926) by James P. Johnson; You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby (1938) by Harry Warren; and Tango Delle Rose (1928) by Filippo Schreier and Aldo Bottero.

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Don’t miss this rare event with the San Francisco Symphony. Click here to purchase tickets on-line: CASABLANCA

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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