Casablanca: Play It Again, Phil

Beneath the screen, the Las Vegas Philharmonic spins a subtle spell


Photo by Linda Evans

You must remember this: Casablanca is blessed with some of the most crackling phrases in American cinema.

A kiss is just a kiss, after all: Lots of movies have plenty of kissing, but only this one precedes it with the immortal words, “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

A sigh is just a sigh, but in this film the sigh comes from a certain Ingrid Bergman, exasperated with asking Humphrey Bogart to stop whining about lost love and start considering the fate of the free world. When Ingrid Bergman sighs, you want to hear her sigh.

The fundamental things apply when it comes to staging a talkie such as Casablanca with a live orchestra, as the Las Vegas Philharmonic did on February 15 at The Smith Center. For instance, no matter how virtuoso your violinists, you don’t step on dialogue spoken by Bergman and Bogart. Fortunately, the Phil was up to the challenge and then some, allowing the film to breathe and to truly be a film, rather than a rear projection at a concert. It was supremely judicious in the moments it chose to strike up the band—the famous Paris sequence was a perfect such opportunity—and also in its volume, which, during such scenes as Bogart and Bergman’s parting on that rain-soaked runway, was seamlessly subtle, informing the picture rather than overwhelming it. Only once, during the stirring barroom rendition of “La Marseillaise” did the Phil’s exuberance get the better of it, whisking away Paul Henreid’s baritone on a storm of strings.

As time goes by, we can only hope to see more of this sort of thing from the Phil. Turner Classic Movies is an American treasure, but nothing revives a great film like live accompaniment in an elegant space. Like moonlight and love songs, the spell cast by strings and screen never goes out of date.

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