Efficient, nasty action scenes can't overcome mostly bland characterizations and a half-baked story.
Q. Re your return visit to "Casablanca" in your new series "The Great Movies"--Whoa! I've seen "Casablanca" many times and never thought that Inspector Renault was homosexual. I see him as a heterosexual using his position to have sex with women, particularly young, beautiful women. I agree that he has an adolescent male crush on Rick because Rick is charming, enigmatic, heroic in control, etc. Please tell what you saw that I didn't. (Kent Westmoreland, New Orleans)
A. I said in my article last Sunday that Louis Renault, the police captain played by Claude Rains, was "subtly homosexual." This generated a lot of mail.
Q. Hmm...I seem to remember Louie being a little miffed at Rick for his act of charity that robbed Louie of the opportunity to bed "the young girl who will do anything to help her husband." Maybe you think he was trying to bed the husband, instead? Actually, since Louie ended the film (a) acting in an admirable fashion, and (b) still being alive, by the Hollywood conventions of the era, that pretty much rules him out as a homosexual character, subtle or otherwise. (Paul McElligott, Lake Forest, CA) Q. Sometimes Renault is not so subtle. "What kind of a man is Rick?" he says to Ilsa. "Well, if I were a woman, I should be in love with Rick." And remember the rejoinder Rick tosses out to the young Hungarian woman pleading for her husband's safe passage. The woman suggests her husband has had to approach Renault directly, and Rick--knowing full well what this would entail--replies, "I see Renault has become broad minded." On the surface this seems to be an astonishing comment for a 1942 film, and for many years I thought I had simply misinterpreted it. Even when masked as a coy throw-away line, I always thought it masterful. (Kevin Hendzel, Washington, D.C.)
A. And of course there's the film's enigmatic last line, when Rick says, "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." I've analyzed "Casablanca" half a dozen times on various campuses, using the shot-by-shot stop-action approach. Each time, the audience and I have picked up on something about Renault's manner, about his speech, about certain lines of dialog, that suggest the possibility that he may be either latently or secretly homosexual. Renault does indeed use his influence to pick up women, but the more I see the movie, the more I wonder what he does with them. The recent documentary "The Celluloid Closet" is illuminating in its study of the way Hollywood slipped homosexual characters into movies in violation of the Production Code.
Q. Sorry, but I'm not in favor of you dropping the Answer Man every other week to re-review a Great Movie, except to the extent that you cover unfamiliar movies (such as "The Music Room," the example you gave). I have used your guidance to decide which new movies to see for many years, but your revisiting of classics should not limit your coverage of new releases. (Richard M. Kuntz, Huntington, W. Va.)
A. I will continue to review just as many of the new releases. As for only reviewing "unfamiliar" classics, remember that many people may not be as familiar as you are with older films--even "Singin' in the Rain" is all but unknown among the younger generation. In fact, when Gene Siskel and I were on the Oprah Winfrey program this summer, not one person in the audience raised a hand when asked if they had seen "2001: A Space Odyssey!"
Q. Re your review of "A Perfect Candidate," about the 1994 Virginia Senatorial race: I was Douglas Wilder's communications director during his 1994 Senate campaign, and was very eager to see the documentary. I wonder what you think about all the playing to the camera that went on in this film. Personally, I didn't allow the film crew to observe our strategy sessions. They asked to film our last debate preparation session--only a few hours before the debate. By then, all of the strategy had been decided. We spent the last two hours before the debate playing poker, trying to keep Doug loose. But if a camera had been in our face, the campaign manager and I would have tried to act like geniuses. Maybe people would have thought we were brilliant and given us credit for Doug's brilliant performance. Or maybe we might have messed up his rhythm, and the filmmakers would have lost some of their best moments of drama. My point is, you can't expect media-savvy egotists to act natural in front of a camera. I know it is a problem for all documentary filmmaking, but it is especially a problem for films about politics. Our job is to spin reality--and the more attention put on us, the less effective we are for our client. In a way, films like "A Perfect Candidate" don't just record history, they alter history. Any candidate who allows his staff to be filmed like this ought to have his head examined. (Daniel M. Conley, Chicago).
A. People are so blinded by the attention of a television camera that they will sometimes permit the most amazing invasions of their own privacy, and some revealing documentaries have resulted. In the case of the 1994 Virginia contests, both the Oliver North and Charles Robb campaigns presumably though they'd come out looking good. What the film revealed is that both sides unhesitatingly placed style ahead of substance, and grew steadily more cynical as election day approached. I agree the candidates should have had their heads examined--and, hey, that's just on the basis of seeing the film.
Q. How one may attend (in any capacity) the Academy Awards? It has been my wife's life-long dream to at least stand in line to see the stars arrive. I would like to give her that as a present at the 1997 awards. (Steve Gomes, Streator, Ill.)
A. If you arrive at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion early in the morning, you can probably grab a seat in the bleachers, and see the stars walk in. To get a ticket to the actual ceremony, however, you'll need to find a concierge with very good connections, and be prepared to pay startling scalper's fees.