Tagged: movie


By Stephen Jared
Solstice Publishing
303 pages
In the early 1920s, former Army Lieutenant Walter Steale has returned to civilian life and settled down in Los Angeles amongst the glitz of the silent movie world.  His one ambition is to put the horrors of World War One behind him and get on with a normal, peaceful life. Unfortunately his brother, Sam, the state’s Lieutenant Governor, coerces him into working as hired muscle for his crooked boss, Governor Davies.  This leads Steale into brutal confrontations with crazy mob gangsters and a prostitution ring tied to several corrupt politicians.
When a gang boss is murdered in a bombing and then Steale himself is targeted in another, even in his wounded condition he is savvy enough to realize he’s been set up as a patsy by his own brother. To clear his name and stay out of jail, Steale must rely on the courage of Virginia “Ginny” Joy, a beautiful young movie actress whose star is on the rise. As unlucky a couple as can be imagined, Ginny has fallen hard for the veteran doughboy and is willing to jeopardize her own career to save his neck.
Author Stephen Jared is an accomplished film actor with a vast knowledge of early Hollywood history which he deftly employs here by creating a truly authentic background for his wonderfully crafted mystery.  Refusing to mimic classical noir settings, Jared presents a truly straight forward and original narrative that moves at its own leisurely pace.  Then when the reader least expects it, he delivers scenes of gut wrenching violence in such a cold, calculating style, this reviewer was reminded of the late Mickey Spillane’s work.
TEN-A-WEEK STEALE was a nice surprise in many ways, exceeding my own expectations and in the end delivers a better than average tale in a field overrun with cheap knock-offs.  Wally Steale and Ginny Joy make a nice team, let’s hope we get to see them again real soon.

Jeremy Renner’s First Mission

This is going to be Oscar-nominee Jeremy Renner’s year beginning with this week’s release of [[[Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol]]] on Blu-ray followed by next month’s role as Hawkeye in [[[The Avengers]]]. Later this summer, he appears in the fourth Jason Bourne film, playing another espionage agent in The Bourne Legacy.

Here’s a chat with the actor courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment.

Q: Hey Jeremy. Congratulations on Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Not only was it a huge box office success in its films release, but you actually managed to survive making the film. That’s a surprise considering the amazing stunts in the movie.

A: (Laughs) Yes, it’s good to be alive. There are some amazing set pieces, my friend.

Q: Let’s talk about the biggest one. It involves Tom Cruise hanging outside the tallest building in the world – the Burj Khalifa – which stands almost 830 metres (2,723 feet) high in Dubai. Can you talk about the stunt?

A: Yes. As you say, the Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world. It’s twice the size of the Empire State building in New York. We were on the the top of it and it is so high that when you look down it is like the view from a plane. It’s intense. All the stunts are practical and that made that a lot of fun. There’s a lot of challenges to overcome, but luckily we had a man like Tom to lead the way. (more…)

Paula Patton Talks About the IMF Team

Gorgeous Paula Patton caught everyone’s attention in [[[Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol]]], which propelled the actress towards the A List. With the film out this week on Blu-ray she reflected back on the produuction in this interview, courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment.

Q: Hey Paula. Let’s start with the obvious question. What is it like working with Tom Cruise?

A: Amazing. Honestly, it was a dream come true. I always thought he was an amazing actor from the first time I saw Risky Business. The movie that had a huge impact on me was Born on the Fourth of July. I was blown away how he played the all-American charming guy, goes away to Vietnam, is crippled and what he goes through. It blew me away. I remember very distinctly the moment I was told I would have a screen test with Tom. It was very old Hollywood the way they did it. It was at the Paramount lot, I had my own trailer and hair, make-up and costume. I have never had that before for a screen test. They put me in a golf cart and took me to the sound stage and I said to myself ‘OK, don’t freak out’. It was a great thing. We met each other and I was immediately at ease. We had great chemistry and a connection. It is because he is very human in that way. He is so kind to everyone whether it is a personal assistant, grip or gaffer. He just has great humanity about him and that’s why he’s so special.

Q: Who do you play in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol?

A: I play Jane Carter, an IMF agent. I have had a mission that went awry. Myself and Simon Pegg’s character have to break Ethan Hunt out of jail. There’s a bombing at the Kremlin and it gets pinned on us even know we did not do it. We get disavowed from the IMF and that’s where Ghost Protocol comes into it. We are still working, but the government won’t save us. It is a scary place to be. Also, because we are all thrown together as a team and Jeremy Renner’s character joins us we don’t know the other’s motivations. We don’t know who to trust. Jane is great character to play. She is very strong and lives in a man’s world. She’s vulnerable because she has experienced failure and loss and has to prove herself again. She is in a place of turmoil and also she is living on the edge because she has one chance to make what is wrong, right. (more…)

Marc Alan Fishman: Avengers Vs. Dark Knight Rises – The Battle for the Multiplex

This past week on my podcast (which you’re not listening to, but totally should), a debate sparked that was left largely unresolved. Since I have this digital soapbox, might as well use it to bring said debate to you.

In a few weeks, the mega-multiplexes of America will be screening the culmination of years of work by the House funded by the Mouse. The Avengers will see the fruition of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger in one massively multiplayer action adventure flick. About a month or so later, Warner Bros. unleashes the end to Christopher Nolan’s bat-child, The Dark Knight Rises. There’s no doubt in my mind that both of these movies will be amazingly profitable. But the debate is this: which will bank more bucks? Which will be a better movie? Let’s look at the tail of the tape.

First up? Marvel’s Mightiest Heroes. Behind the scenes, we have the consummate king of the nerds… Joss Whedon as director. His writer team? Well… Whedon wrote with Zak Penn. Penn you’ll note wrote the successes such as The Incredible Hulk and X2, and the failures such as X-Men: The Last Stand and Electra. On the screen itself, the cast is of course a veritable galaxy of stars. Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scartlet Johansson, and Gwyneth Paltrow will all be in the film. Unlike any other franchise in history, The Avengers will coalesce four franchises into a single picture. From here? It’s all but a given that the there will be a sequel, as corresponding sub-sequels for all the individual characters. Can you hear that? It’s the sound of money growing on trees. Trees that became paper. Paper that became comic books.

The Dark Knight Rises, as previously mentioned, is helmed by Christopher Nolan. Nolan’s career has been nothing short of a meteoric ascent to directorial gold. Nolan also helped pen this end to his triptych with his brother Jonathan, and David S. Goyer – who, as you will recall, helped pen Batman Begins and Blade 2. And Ghost Rider: Spirit of Bad Acting. But you can’t win them all, can you?

Under the cape and cowl will once again be Christian Bale, joined by series stalwarts Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman. The villain this go-around will be played by Tom Hardy. You’ll recognize Hardy as the mildly funny Brit in Inception. While not as big in scope as Marvel’s upcoming blockbuster, The Dark Knight Rises is the follow up to the single most profitable comic book inspired movie of all time. For those who don’t recall, The Dark Knight did so well in the movie theaters, comic retailers reported sales of The Watchmen had gone up in response (which is nothing short of amazing, if you ask any retailer these days). With TDKR, Nolan puts his series to an end. Speculation on the plot, and how things will resolve has most everyone around in a tizzy.

The question then to ask: Which movie will make more money? Needless to say, both will bank boku bucks. For the sake of this argument, I’ll remove revenue from merchandise. Why? Because face it: Nolan’s Bat-Flicks haven’t spawned successful lines of toys; Marvel’s has. Specifically speaking on ticket sales? This is quite the toss up, is it not? On one hand you have the obvious ultimate popcorn movie in The Avengers. From the trailers we can safely assume there’s going to be wall to wall action, explosions, the Hulk, fighting, one liners, and boobs. Opposing that mentality, Nolan will nab those looking for a bit more substance. Whereas Marvel’s flicks were squarely targeting tweens and teens (with a side of general comic nerds and action geeks to boot…), DC’s Bat-Franchise has been nothing if adult in its complexity.

Gun to my head… if you asked me to choose, I’d end up with the nod to the Avengers making more moolah at the end of the day. The Dark Knight had the death of Heath Ledger, on top of the oscar buzz for his performance, on top of previous audience gained from Batman Begins. But TDKR features a villain most people aren’t familiar with (Bane ain’t exactly a household name now, is he?), and a star whose potential is only just now being noticed. And if other comic book trilogies are to be looked at (Spider-Man, X-Men, and previous Bat-Incarnations), the end of an era does not always translate into positive earnings. With The Avengers, we simply have too many stars to not draw an amazing crowd. Fans of any of those feeder movies no doubt want to see a team up. It’s the whole reason books like The Avengers and Justice League always sell so well!

Now, I would give The Dark Knight Rises the edge ultimately in terms of potential film quality. Not a knock on The Avengers mind you… I think from what we’ve seen, Whedon will deliver the goods. But The Avengers has more chance to pratfall than ascend to nerdvana. With so many stars on screen, there’s a real chance too much time will be spent assembling, mocking, and joking. And we can tell much of the movie will be dealing with a Loki-lead invasion fight scene. And just how much CGI action can we effectively sit through? Given the spectacle (and disappointment) of the last Matrix movie, suffice to say I’m fretful.

With Batman, Nolan seems to have been methodically building a dramatic arc. Bruce Wayne by way of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight has been an evolving force of nature. But Nolan’s best job has been grounding that force in reality. He’s delivered where so many others have failed: comic book movies without heroic quips and a knowing wink to the camera. When that theme of the dissonant chords let us know the Joker was at work, it was truly chilling. To think that Nolan is ending this series, one must postulate he’s had an ending in mind since the start. On that knowledge, I give the edge over to DC. Simply put, I’m more excited for their flick because I genuinely do not know what will happen.

In The Avengers? I’m almost certain we’ll have the following: Loki attacks. Avengers assemble by way of initial in-fighting. Disaster. True assembling. Fighting. Explosions. Boobs. Victory. Open ending for more sequels. Not that it’s a bad formula… but it’s just that: a formula.

So, plenty of points to discuss. Flame me, Internet, for I have opinions. Will Bats take more money? Will Avengers be the Return of the King for Comic Book movies? Discuss!

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

REVIEW: We Bought a Zoo

I’ll tell you right up front that I had a stronger emotional reaction to the film than most audience members, largely because of the theme of loss that permeates most of the story. As a result, I found myself loving the We Bought a Zoo and have been recommending it to families ever since. Now that it is out on DVD from 20th Century Home Entertainment, I’m here to recommend it as a purchase as well.

Since we’re all about to fall in love with Scarlet Johansson all over again when she kicks ass in The Avengers, it’s good to see her actually acting here, paired nicely with Matt Damon, the grieving patriarch who needs to change his life in some way and chooses to do so in a rather radical fashion. (more…)

REVIEW: The Darkest Hour

Since alien invasion films are nothing new, it all comes down to the execution. Having a vision of the characters and the nature of the attack will make or break a film and in the case of The Darkest Hour, it all falls flat. There’s a distinct lack of innovation to the set up or characters although director Chris Gorak and producer Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) get credit for setting the movie in Russia which at least gave us different visuals. But, the film then centers on a quartet of English-speaking foreigners with not enough of a fish out of water vibe to make it interesting. The movie, released in 3-D on Christmas Day was quickly dismissed by critics and audiences for being anything but a nice present.

The movie, out now from Summit Home Entertainment, focuses on Sean (Emile Hirsch) and Ben (Max Minghella), two Americans in Russia to sell a social networking concept only to discover they’ve been ripped off. Drowning their sorrows at a bar, they meet up with Natalie (Olivia Thirlby) and Anne (Rachael Taylor), and just then, the invasion begins. It takes a while to determine the full scope of the problems thank to an EMP knocking out all the electronics. There’s panic, there’s screaming and shouting and oh yeah, invisible alien attackers who can disintegrate you with a touch.

It becomes a survival and resistance story so the Russian locale is merely a backdrop that serves to complicate our protagonists’ journey but that’s about it. There really is weak writing from Jon Spaihts so the characters are interchangeable and not interesting enough for the audience to care who lives or dies. This could have been a really interesting character study fueled by adrenaline and special effects but instead, it has a sameness that spoils the story. While watchable, it’s just not special enough to seek out, making this a perfect cable time-killer.

There are some nice visuals, some good moments, some actual thinking going on as they figure out how to track the unseen foes and go on to build a Faraday Box to protect themselves. But it’s too little scattered over a poorly-paced 89 minutes. On the other hand, the movie looks and sounds terrific on Blu-ray. If as much effort went into the story as it did on the transfer we’d all have it on our buy lists.

As much as the film has a been there, done that feel, so do the extras accompanying the DVD. There’s Gorak providing some nice commentary about the film’s troubled production, shooting in Russia and so on. You also have a featurette “Survivors” (8:10) looking at the rest of the people in Russia as a supplement to the feature; “The Darkest Hour: Visualizing an Invasion” (12:09) which is the obligatory piece on the visual effects; and a few Deleted and Extended Scenes (4:48), with optional director commentary.

JOHN OSTRANDER: Casablanca At 70 – As Time Goes By

AS I SAID LAST WEEK AND THE WEEK BEFORE  AND THE WEEK BEFORE THAT – WARNING: I’m assuming that people reading this have seen the movie and thus will be fine with my discussing elements of the plot. If you’re one of those who haven’t watched the movie, do yourself a favor and DON’T READ THIS. See the movie instead and have your own experience with it. Trust me. You’ll be glad you did. If you need a plot synopsis, imdb has a good one here

This is the fourth and final installment in my examination of the classic Warner Bros. film, Casablanca. Not that I couldn’t go on (and on and on) about it further but I figure there are limits to the patience of all of you out there and I thank you for indulging me thus far in looking at one of my own favorite films.

Possibly yours as well. Roger Ebert has noted that, while Citizen Kane is generally respected more as the better film, Casablanca may be better loved, probably showing up on more all time best lists.

One of the amazing things to me is,that as it was made, most of those working on Casablanca didn’t think much of it. The principle actors were not crazy about it and Ingrid Bergman had a legitimate complaint in that, as production started, no one knew with whom Ilsa was going to go – to Rick or to her husband, Victor Lazlo. By accounts, Claude Rains referred to it as “a piece of crap,” which is startling to me considering the number of classic lines he gets. Paul Heinreid, playing Victor Lazlo, fumed about his part because he felt it would undermine his viability as a romantic lead in other films. Instead, as critic Pauline Kael noted, it defined him as a very stiff actor. Ingrid Bergman found him to be a prima donna.

The script has been used by many people, including myself, as a prime exhibit of how to tell a story. Robert McKee in his amazing book, Story, uses it as an important example in story construction. Yet, there are three scriptwriters credited on the film, a fourth unaccredited writer, and the producer, Hal Wallis, came up with the closing line! What a writing hodge-podge!

Casablanca started with an unproduced, unpublished play called “Everybody Comes to Rick’s” by Murray Bennet and Joan Alison. It was bought by Warner Bros. and re-named Casablanca to play off of a previous hit for the studio, Algiers. Hal Wallis came on to produce it and, to my mind, that was key. Wallis superbly did one of a producer’s primary functions – hiring the right people for the right jobs.

He hired Michael Curtiz to direct and brought in the Epstein Brothers – Julius and Phillip – as the principal screenwriters. After the attack of Pearl Harbor, they left the job to help Frank Capra in his series Why We Fight and Howard Koch was brought in to assist, although there are those who claim little or no work of his was used in the film. Casey Robinson, who was unaccredited, added important scenes of Ilsa and Rick in Paris. The Epsteins returned to finish the script.

The Breen Office – the Hollywood Censor – had some problems with the script and so Ilsa and Rick’s love affair in Paris is never shown to be sexual (although we all know it was) nor is Captain Renault trading exit visas for sexual favors (although we all know he did). Ilsa, after all, was a married woman, although she thought her husband was dead. I think both story elements are stronger for their not being explicitly stated. Trust to the audience’s imagination: it’s bound to be filthier than anything shown.

What is also interesting to me is that Claude Rains’ character, Captain Renault, is gay. That certainly wouldn’t have been stated but, despite Renault’s compulsive womanizing, I think it’s there. In describing Rick to Ilsa the first time Renault meets her, he says “if I were a woman, I would be in love with Rick.” I think Renault is also deeply in the closet; the above described womanizing is his attempts to hide his homosexuality, especially from himself. He defends Rick to the Nazis, he covers for him, and, in the end, walks away into the night with him. For me, Renault’s sexual orientation just adds another layer to an already fascinating character.

The film is chock full of fascinating characters, right down to small parts like Sascha, the bartender, Carl, the waiter, the jilted Yvonne and on and on. Only three members of the large cast were born in America: Bogart, Dooley Wilson (Sam), and Joy Page as the Bulgarian newlywed Annina Brandel (fun fact – Page was also the step-daughter of WB studio head Jack Warner). The others were all foreign born and many were refugees from Nazi oppression in Europe, which adds to the film’s authenticity. They lived the parts they were playing.

The film was fairly successful when it first appeared and it won three Oscars: scriptwriting, direction, and best picture. Famously, Jack Warner leapt up when the latter award was announced before Hal Wallis could and claimed the prize. It so infuriated Wallis that he would soon quit Warner Bros.

The film would become more highly regarded as time went by with many of the classic icon shots and posters of Bogart coming from it. I have watched it over and over again and gotten something new from each viewing. Its lines are endlessly quoted because they continue to reverberate. It’s romantic, it’s suspenseful, and it has great characters. It was very much a film of its time but it has become a film for all time.

I would love to do something half as good. I’ll keep working at it.

Go watch a great movie. Go watch Casablanca.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell, R.N., CNOR, C.G.


JOHN OSTRANDER: Casablanca At 70 – We’ll Always Have Paris

AS I SAID LAST WEEK  AND THE WEEK BEFORE  – WARNING: I’m assuming that people reading this have seen the movie and thus will be fine with my discussing elements of the plot. If you’re one of those who haven’t watched the movie, do yourself a favor and DON’T READ THIS. See the movie instead and have your own experience with it. Trust me. You’ll be glad you did. If you need a plot synopsis, imdb has a good one here

Last time we met we were examining the film Casablanca, looking at it through story structure. I want to continue with that this week, working with the climax and the coda.

The climax of a story is the scene beyond which you can’t imagine any other. It resolves all major conflicts (although some minor ones can be reconciled in the coda, which is the last scene of the story). So… is the climax in Casablanca when Ilsa goes away with her husband? It would seem so, wouldn’t it? That’s the major question that’s been driving the film.

I’d like to offer an alternative answer by first asking a question – whose story is it? Who is the protagonist, the central character by whom and by whose actions the rest of the story is driven? It’s Rick’s, both by his refusal to help earlier in the film and by his actions as we race towards the climax.

For me, the real story isn’t Rick and Ilsa although it is an important, vital element in the story. Rick is emotionally dead at the start of the film; he doesn’t care about anyone or anything. Burned, scarred emotionally, he’s closed off from caring about anyone or any cause again. The most alive we see him is in the Paris flashbacks, in love, knowing the Gestapo will come looking for him when the Germans march into the city.

Paris is the symbol of life, of Rick being fully alive. Ilsa tells Rick about halfway through the film that she can’t explain what happened to him; the Rick she knew in Paris would understand but not the Rick that he has become. Late in the movie, Paris comes up again – Rick tells Ilsa that now, as a result of everything that has happened in the movie, they’ll always have Paris. He didn’t have it – he was dead – until she came to Casablanca but now they both will. He’s alive again.

The climax of Casablanca is when Rick shoots Strasser, knowing what the consequences will be for him and willing to pay the price. It’s the only way he can be sure that Ilsa will escape. He escapes his fate only because Captain Renaud, the corrupt French official who is also his friend, covers for him with “Round up the usual suspects.”

The coda is all about the final image and/or line; it’s what you want the audience to have in their minds as they leave. Casablanca has one of the best I’ve seen in films. Rick and Renaud, walking side by side away from us, through rain puddles, towards a life with the Resistance. The tag line, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” is simply one of most memorable lines in all of cinema. It’s all the more amazing when you discover that it was added at the last moment, dubbed by Bogart after filming was completed. What an indelible final image!

Serendipity played more than a small part in making Casablanca the classic that it is. We’ll talk more about that next time.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell, R.N., CNOR, C.G.



MARTHA THOMASES: Hunger Games – Black Like Thee?

This column is going to get to its point in a roundabout way. If you want to get right to the incendiary arguing, skip ahead a few paragraphs. However, once you get there, you may find spoilers for The Hunger Games. Be prepared.

For the rest of you, I have a story to tell. When I was a girl of 10, I had a dog, Nancy. Before she died 11 years later, she and I had many heart-to-heart talks, where I would talk and then imagine what she would say to me.

We had a lot in common, in that we were both female and living in the Midwest. However, at some point, I realized that I was assuming we were even more alike. I thought she loved the Smothers Brothers and the Incredible String Band as much as I did. I thought she was against the war in Viet Nam. I thought she spoke English.

And I thought she was white.

I mean, she was white, except for her head, which was red and brown. Still, this was fur, not skin. It took me a while to recognize my assumptions as racist.

Some of this is how the human brain works. When someone says the word mother, I imagine my own mother. If I read a book with a first-person narrator, I assume the narrator is a middle aged New York woman like myself until the author establishes other characteristics.

Which brings me to my real subject. When I read The Hunger Games last month, I paid attention to the descriptions of the various characters. Sometimes the descriptions, all from the perspective of the narrator, Katniss, merely stated a person’s gender, or hair and eye color. Sometimes the descriptions offered more detail.

The character of Rue is one who inspires more detail. She is small and slight, like Katniss’ sister. She is shy, but smart and good at hiding. Her hair and eyes are dark.

So is her skin.

When I read the book, one of the fun things for me was to try to figure out which territories of Panem corresponded to which parts of the United States. Katniss lived in an area full of coal mines, so I figured she lived in Appalachia. Rue lives in a place that is warm and humid, a place where everyone works in agriculture. I imagined Florida, and maybe her ancestry was African-American with maybe some Cuban.

Apparently, some readers did not pay that much attention. After the movie opened last weekend to record-setting crowds, the Twitterverse was inundated with postings by people who were upset by the casting of a dark-skinned actress to play the part of Rue. There were so many complaints that there is a Tumblr site dedicated to recording all of the posts (which I found via this, so thanks!).

Now, I am not always a fan for color-blind casting. I didn’t like it when they talked about Marlon Wayans for Robin in the Tim Burton Batman movies, although I would like to believe that’s because I didn’t think he was right for the part. I thought making Jimmy Olson black, which was under discussion for a time, was kind of arbitrary and therefore a bit condescending. Both one these opinions may represent a layer of racism I haven’t yet exorcised.

But when an author takes the time and effort to specify a character’s ethnicity, I believe her.

I don’t know who these Twitter posters are, or what kind of lives they lead. I don’t know their opinions on other subjected. I haven’t even seen the movie yet.  In any case, Rue is lucky that she doesn’t live in their neighborhoods. Or walk around in a hoodie with Skittles.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman Jumps On Mindy Newell’s Bandwagon 

JOHN OSTRANDER: Casablanca At 70 – Everyone Comes to Rick’s

WARNING: As I said last week, I’m assuming that people reading this have seen Casablanca and thus will be fine with my discussing elements of the plot. If you’re one of those who haven’t watched the movie, do yourself a favor and DO NOT READ THIS. See the movie instead and have your own experience with it. Trust me. You’ll be glad you did. If you need a plot synopsis, IMDB has a good one here.

This week, as we continue to focus on Casablanca’s 70th Anniversary, I want to set my sights on story elements. Robert McKee, in his classic book on writing Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting, uses Casablanca as one his teaching examples. (Side note: Story – while principally about screenwriting – is full of knowledge and wisdom about writing in general and is very applicable to comic book script writing. Highly recommended.)

In writing, you’ll hear the word MacGuffin used from time to time. It was possibly coined by Alfred Hitchcock and is something that the characters in a given story care about passionately but the audience? Not so much. We’re concerned about the characters. A classic Hitchcock MacGuffin is the microfilm in North By Northwest; it matters greatly to the characters but we’re concerned more about whether Cary Grant is going to survive and if he is going to wind up with Eva Marie Saint.

In Casablanca, the MacGuffin is the letters of transit which are a kind of Get Out Of Casablanca Free Card. They are signed by General DeGaulle and cannot be countermanded or even questioned … or so we’re told. In fact, no such things existed; they were wholly an invention of the screenwriters.

Before the movie has started, the letters have been stolen and the German couriers carrying them were killed. They are greatly desired by any numbers of characters in the film and wind up in the possession of Humphrey Bogart’s character, Rick. His former love, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) and her husband, Victor Lazlo (Paul Heinreid), a leader in the anti-Nazi resistance, desperately need the letters to escape the clutches of the Nazis and reach America, where Lazlo can continue his work.

What we care about is: who is Ilsa going to wind up with? Rick or Victor? So the letters become a brilliant MacGuffin driving the personal interaction of the three principle characters and, in so doing, decides the fate of all the characters involved. That makes it a great MacGuffin.

There’s another term used in dissecting writing and that’s inciting incident, which I first encountered with McKee. It’s the moment in the movie that changes the status quo. It’s the rock tossed into a still pond that creates ripples reaching outwards further and further. It’s the moment that the plot really starts. It sets everything into motion and causes the protagonist to act and/or react.

The Inciting Incident can occur at the start of the story or even take place before the story begins. It can happen later although usually it happens within roughly the first ten minutes. Not always.

I’ve talked with those who think the inciting incident in Casablanca is when the Letters of Transit are stolen. That act would appear to put the action of the story into motion. I disagree; for me, the inciting incident in Casablanca is when Ilsa walks in the door of Rick’s café and re-enters his life. This occurs at an incredible twenty-four minutes into the film. That’s right; the story doesn’t really start for almost twenty-five minutes.

So what are they doing all that time? Brilliantly establishing the characters (especially Rick), the status quo, and the setting. One of the great strengths of Casablanca are all the supporting characters, even minor ones, and they all have parts to play. We have an idea of who Rick is and what his life is before it all gets upended by Ilsa’s entrance. That gives the film much of its richness and texture and weight.

There’s lot more to talk about the structure of Casablanca and we’ll return to it next week.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell