Friday, April 25, 2008

Today she's on the plane.

Of the entire cast of the greatest movie ever made, there is now only one cast member still alive. Joy Page, who played the sweet young thing Annina Brandel, now travels in elephants.

Annina was the sweet young bride who is prepared to sacrifice her wifely virtue to the slimy Renneau for exit visas for her and her husband. Rick, we all know, intervenes and lets him win a bundle at roulette, so the girl can leave Casablanca without her husband ever knowing what she was ready to do for him. It's one of the best scenes in the film, a counterpoint to the cynicism and drama that surrounds Rick himself. It also shows that the idea of women in the 40s as decorative but passive is hooey. Annina is (as she puts it) older than her husband, even though she's presumably got fewer years. (In fact, the actor who played Jan was seven years older; he died in 1982.) It also gives Rick a chance to show that he's not as hard-bitten as he comes across. It's kind of a build-up to the drunk-and-weeeping scene, where we see his pain poured out into a glass. Women, it says, can indeed be good people; it's only Rick's bad luck that he was so badly burned. (Show em a divorced or otherwise dumped man who doesn't immediately identify with that scene, and I'll show you onne who was never really in love.)

Joy Page makes you want to smile sweetly the first time she comes on camera, looking up at the plane to Lisbon and saying, "Maybe tomorrow we'll be on that plane." There's an innocence about her that shines like an aura. In this crazy world, people like her are the ones that do matter a hill of beans. They're the reason a war should be fought.

So the last surviving cast member (that IMDb can verify) is the aptly-if-ungrammatically-named Madeleine LeBeau, who plays Yvonne the French trollop. If Annina was a wistful smile, Yvonne was a lecherous and slightly indulgent grin. Watching her at the bar with the Boche, and then with tears on her face singing La Marseillaise at the top of her lungs, shows the sort of balancing act people had to do in wartime.

Joy Page, interestingly enough, was one of only three American-born actors in the cast. Many of the others were actual refugees from either the war or Nazi-controlled countries. She was cast to begin with because she was Jack Warner's stepdaughter, but she was the perfect choice.

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