Play it again, this time in Ger­man


The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - HARRY WIND­SOR

DURING­sum­mer in Ber­lin, bridges all over the city turn into out­door liv­ing rooms. Groups of bushy-bearded, tri­an­gle- tat­tooed, sin­glet- wear­ing demi-mon­des lounge on bi­cy­cles or sit with their legs swing­ing over the wa­ter, watch­ing kayaks float past.

Aside from the canals, the chief fea­ture of the city’s sunny sum­mer face is the re-emer­gence of its parks as so­cial hubs, many of which con­tain out­door cine­mas. The range of films screened at th­ese venues changes each year, but one hold­fast is Michael Cur­tiz’s 1942 Casablanca, and watch­ing it with lo­cals is an il­lu­mi­nat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

Ger­mans must be in­ured to the por­trayal of their race in English and Amer­i­can movies, given that more of­ten than not Ger­man char­ac­ters ap­pear in Hol­ly­wood films set in the 1940s and fea­tur­ing Nazis. And some of the lines in Casablanca would surely be con­sid­ered of­fen­sive were its char­ac­ters in­hab­i­tants of any other era.

Take this ex­change, be­tween Claude Rains’s Cap­tain Re­nault and Carl, the ro­tund, big-hearted (and Ger­man) maitre-d’ of Rick’s . . .

Re­nault: ‘‘Carl, see that Ma­jor Stras- ser gets a good ta­ble, one close to the ladies.’’

Carl: ‘‘I have al­ready given him the best. Know­ing he is Ger­man, he would take it any­way.’’

Or this, af­ter Humphrey Bog­art com­plains to Re­nault about the ran­sack­ing of his place . . .

Re­nault: ‘ ‘ Well, I told Strasser he wouldn’t find the let­ters here, but I told my men to be es­pe­cially de­struc­tive. You know how that im­presses Ger­mans.’’

The Ger­mans at the screen­ing I at­tended found it up­roar­i­ously funny, es­pe­cially a scene that barely reg­is­ters with an English- speak­ing viewer, where Carl is in­vited to sit down and share a glass of brandy with the Leuch­tags, be­fore they leave for the US.

Mr Leuch­tag: ‘‘Frau Leuch­tag and I are speak­ing noth­ing but English now.’’

Mrs Leuch­tag: ‘‘So we should feel at home ven ve get to Amer­ica.’’ Carl: ‘‘A very nice idea.’’ Mr Leuch­tag (rais­ing his glass): ‘‘To Amer­ica.’’

Carl and Mrs Leuch­tag (in uni­son): ‘‘To Amer­ica.’’

Mr Leuch­tag: ‘‘Liebchen, uh, sweet­ness heart, what watch?’’

Mrs Leuch­tag (glanc­ing at her wrist­watch): ‘‘Ten watch.’’

Mr Leuch­tag (sur­prised): much?’’

Carl: ‘‘You will get along beau­ti­fully in Amer­ica.’’

This scene brought the house down. The flub, for the bilin­gual Ber­lin­ers, was eas­ily ex­pli­ca­ble as the Ger­man

‘ ‘ Such Uhr trans­lates as watch or clock as well as o’clock, so 10 o’clock is zehn Uhr.

It’s re­mark­able it didn’t hit the cut­ting-room floor. But it’s a neat trick — mock­ing ‘‘the Ger­mans’’ while mak­ing three of the film’s most en­dear­ing char­ac­ters Ger­man and hav­ing them en­act a joke purely for the ben­e­fit of their fel­low Euro­pean ex­iles, such as Cur­tiz him­self.

Made within the stu­dio sys­tem and at the height of the war, Cur­tiz man­ages to af­firm the good-na­tured­ness of or­di­nary Ger­mans and the hero­ism of the Ger­man refugees por­tray­ing them, qual­i­ties es­pe­cially stark next to the cyn­i­cal (if ba­si­cally de­cent) pragmatism of Bo­gey and Rains.

As Hol­ly­wood movies about World War II go, few are so eas­ily di­gestible.

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