There are two ways to learn a lot about people, two acts—one unconscious and the other deliberate—that provide more insight into people’s personality than anything they might say. The first is to check the contents of their bookshelf; the second is get the answer to the question “What is your favorite movie and why?” These bits of data will reveal more about the person questioned than all the profile questions or conversation ever could. For me, the answer to the question has been easy for at well over 45 years.
The movie is Casablanca; the reason is I want to be Rick Blaine.
Bogie taught us “cool” decades before Bond
was even born.
First, his cigarette in the ashtray
beside the chess board—
its smoke curls around the white bishop
he taps, once, before taking another drag.
In his other hand, the coupe of champagne—
bubbles rising in amber liquid.
Cary Grant has been called the “King of Class” in film; both Paul Newman and Steve McQueen have been called the “epitome of cool,” a claim that is pretty solid, but I want to nominate a predecessor to them all, Humphrey Bogart, as the “King of Cool.” After all, Bogie taught us what “cool” was decades before Bond was even “born,” metaphorically speaking, since Ian Fleming didn’t start the novels until a decade after Boogie brought Rick Blaine to life.
His face emerges from the white dinner jacket,
weary and pained, living
as the uncaring man with plans
within plans, a disillusioned mercenary living
“One never knows what he’ll do.
Then there are his actions: first giving the heave-ho to a powerful banker trying to enter the casino, then blowing Ugate off with the line “I don’t mind a parasite; I object to a cut-rate one.” Who wouldn’t aspire to that level of “cool?”
He was more than noir, forced
into heroic greatness becoming
the “Hemingwayan hero,”
wearing a fedora, its brim angled,
his shoulders slouching
in nonchalance but, more likely, his body
in a panther’s crouch of readiness:
the icon of cool.
Even in heartbreak, his face, weary and pained, reveals someone living in isolation, but as Kathryn Hepburn said, simply, “He was a man.”
That is the best reason to watch and re-watch Casablanca. Finally, it is my personal and deeply-held belief that any male witnessing Bogie depict Rick Blaine who doesn’t immediately after want to be him is automatically under suspicion.
Bill Cushing earned an MFA in creative writing from Goddard College and currently teach English classes at both Mount San Antonio and East Los Angeles colleges. As a creative writing and literature major at the University of Central Florida, he was often referred to as the “blue collar” writer because of his prior experience as a shipyard worker for almost a decade before returning to school.