And he sticks his neck out for somebody in our watch-related movie of the week.
Originally published by Danny Milton on HODINKEE, October 8th 2021
The Golden Age of Hollywood was a different time. Back then they had a system – and assembly line structure – for making pictures. Nowadays we’ve come to know it, fittingly, as the “Hollywood System.” The major studios, namely Warner Bros., Paramount, 20th Century Fox, and RKO, ran Los Angeles by way of sprawling studio backlots. Each studio had a stable of actors on contract, with directors-for-hire who churned out production after production.
In 1942, a film was put into development based on a stage play called Everybody Comes to Rick’s. On paper nothing was particularly special about this film. A competent director was hired in Michael Curtiz, and the film was to be shot on the Warner Brothers backlot. After failing to secure actor George Raft, the first option for the leading role of Rick Blaine, the studio settled on Humphrey Bogart, whose only real leading role had come a year earlier in John Huston’s directorial debut, The Maltese Falcon.
This film, about a nightclub in Morocco, the perils of war, and realities of love and heartbreak would eventually be called Casablanca, and the rest was left to history. Bogart performed perhaps the most legendary screen role, well, ever, and it’s only gotten better with age. As fate would have it, Rick Blaine wore a particular, era-fitting square wristwatch throughout this unwitting triumph of Hollywood filmmaking.
You may have seen from an earlier article today that I took a little trip to Los Angeles this week – spending some time with (okay, in the same vicinity as) a certain modern movie star by the name of Ryan Gosling. Needless to say, as a movie lover, being in that city immediately elicited memories of possibly my favorite – at least top-five – movie of all time, Casablanca.
I’ve seen the picture countless times, and it wasn’t until I began penning this column that I even thought to see if Bogart’s suave Rick Blaine paired his killer style with a wristwatch. Spoiler: He did.
Besides his rock-solid, stoic demeanor and true-north conscience, Blaine has a real sense of style. As Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) says of him in the film, “if I were a woman, and I were not around, I should be in love with Rick.”
His wristwatch of choice is not only fitting for his character but a reminder of the way things change. The watch is purportedly a Longines. Some have gone so far as to call it an Evidenza – though that is the subject of some level of conjecture. Bogart owned an Envidenza himself, a watch with a tonneau, almost square-shaped case. There are two other popular theories out there surrounding this watch: One is that it’s another Longines, called the “Roosevelt,” and the other is that it’s an old square-cased Lord Elgin. The only thing that’s clear about the watch is it’s shape.
Similar to the watch on-screen, we know very little of Blaine, or why he’s unable to return to the United States. We know only that he lived in Paris at the outbreak of the war, fell in love with a married woman who left him in the rain only to see her again at his own club (cue “As Time Goes By”). Like any good watch, Blaine’s is likely a keeper of memories, some good some bad. Blaine strikes me as a man who doesn’t much care for what time it is, per se. Instead, I think it serves as a more general reminder to him – a reminder of the time gone by.
“I thought I told you never to play ––,” Blaine yells to Sam, the house piano player and good friend of Rick’s, before catching a glimpse of Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) – the one that got away. This moment drives Blaine into a full-blown alcoholic stupor. After the club closes, he retreats to drink his sorrows away, until Sam comes to check on him. As Blaine sits, his dinner jacket-clad arms rest on the table, and his watch is in full view [00:37:30]. Rick then turns to Sam, pleading that he play the song again, “If you can play it for her, you can play it for me!” He then takes the kind of drag off his cigarette that only Bogart can.
Immediately following his request, Sam begins to tickle the ivories, kickstarting a classic movie flashback: Paris, just before the war, when Blaine and Lund were in love. We find the star-crossed lovers in a Parisian apartment sharing a bottle of champagne, on a boat tour, and dancing in a music hall. Eventually we find them in an upstairs bar, with Sam at the piano. Suddenly we hear the sound of Nazis over a loudspeaker from the street. They proceed to walk over to a window overlooking the city below.
Casablanca (starring Humphrey Bogart, and Ingrid Bergman) is directed by Michael Curtiz. It’s available to rent on iTunes or Amazon.
Lead image courtesy, Warner Bros. Studios
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