Sunday, April 8, 2012

Here's Lookin' At Casablanca, Kid

Throughout my teenage years in the seventies, I was becoming more and more the film buff savoring such film school masterpieces as BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN and RULES OF THE GAME while equally enjoying cheese such as KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE and FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH. There were several revival houses in Cincinnati during that period and one Sunday afternoon, I saw CASABLANCA for the very first time in a crowded theater on a giant screen! It instantly became my favorite movie of all time, an honor not topped to this day.

Then, in 1983, came the second attempt at a television version. (I never saw the first one from 1955.)

It was hardly unprecedented to turn a hit motion picture into a TV series. In fact, in some cases such as M*A*S*H, the series proved to be even better than the movie! AStill, there was a considerable chorus of "What are they thinking!!??" at the time.

Once you grant that no film was so sacred that they couldn't at least try an adaptation, it's easy to see that CASBLANCA really wasn't that bad.

The major issue, which essentially doomed it from the start, was that it was impossible NOT to compare it with the original and it was heresy to even consider for a second that actor David Soul--no matter how good he might be as Rick--could be better than Bogart.

CASBLANCA even then had surpassed the point of being just a movie. It was iconic, with almost every line being quotable, every gesture memorable, every performance ingrained on film buffs throughout the world.

The series took place prior to the events of the movie with Rick still running his Cafe and shady dealings all around. David Soul, whom we had previously seen by that point in HERE COME THE BRIDES and STARSKY & HUTCH, seemed lightweight casting in the lead but carried it off reasonably well. Always reliable character actors filled other roles including Hector Elizondo as corrupt police Captain Renault and Scatman Crothers as Sam, the piano player.

The highly publicized first episode I recall being pretty good with the remaining four before the series disappeared coming off like filler. They really seemed to have nowhere to go--no vision for how to make the setting interesting. So as quickly as it came, CASABLANCA went. While the film itself continues to top "Best Film" lists, the TV series was relegated to a trivia question.


  1. Correction--Apparently I did see an episode of the 1955 Charles McGraw CASABLANCA--the pilot it looks like as it's based on the film's plot. It's on the CASABLANCA double disc that came out a few years back. Obviously not memorable. I'm watching it again now.

  2. Nope. New plot but some scenes lifted from the original. McGraw is a good actor but he doesn't seem nearly cynical enough.