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July 08, 2005

The Stars of Casablanca

It is a fact that we are nine minutes into the movie "Casablanca" before we first catch sight of Humphrey Bogart. And we are twenty-five minutes into the movie before we catch sight of Ingrid Bergman, or of the third headliner, Paul Henried.

This means that for the first nine minutes, first-time viewers have--unless they are keyed-in enough to 1940s Hollywood to no that because no star has yet appeared they are being held in suspended animation--no clue as to what the movie is going to be about. From minute ten on, it is clear that the movie is going to be about Humphrey Bogart--Rick Blaine--and what happens to him. But it is not until almost half an hour is gone that we have the first beginnings of an inkling of what has happened and will happen to him, as--in Rick Blaine's words--"Of all the gin joints in the world, she had to walk into mine."

Would anything like that happen today? Would anyone in Hollywood today construct a movie in which the female lead is offstage for nearly the first half-hour? Would anyone in Hollywood today construct a movie in which the first ten minutes are starless? The first ten minutes--Casablanca under Vichy--are marvelous, perhaps in large part because the camera's attention is fixed on supporting players like Peter Lorre, Claude Raines, and Sidney Greenstreet. The next fifteen minutes--Rick Blaine: the man who sticks his neck out for nobody--are brilliant too as character study and puzzle-posing.

Now I'm curious. Anybody have any examples of "modern" Hollywood movies in which the stars are kept offstage for so long in the beginning?

Posted by DeLong at July 8, 2005 11:13 AM