Saturday, December 03, 2011

Casablanca is a retelling of A Tale of Two Cities

Yesterday evening I watched the 1958 British film of A Tale of Two Cities, which stars Dirk Bogarde as Sydney Carton. There is much to enjoy, including Rosalie Crutchley as a ferocious Madame Defarge and the luminous Marie Versini. You can also see Donald Pleasence and Ian Bannen in early roles.

I suspect we shall see a lot Dickens adaptations in 2012, the bicentenary of his birth, but A Tale of Two Cities lends itself to the screen better than most of novels. There are fewer subplots, so it is better to bring a reasonably faithful telling of it to the screen.

By contrast, the plot of Oliver Twist is such a mess (there is a late chapter where Dickens tries to tie up all the loose ends and fails) that you have to hack the novel about to adapt it.

Thinking of the other great David Lean Dickens film, Great Expectations is such a great and complex work of art that any retelling of it is bound to be an inferior version. Lean ends the film with Pip returning to Satis House to tear down the curtains and let the light in. In the book this is something the younger Pip imagined himself doing, but the later Pip, narrating the story, laughs at his own presumption.

One other point of interest is that A Tale of Two Cities is a late black-and-white film. In the accompanying short documentary, some of those involved in its making debate whether it would be better remembered if it had been shot in colour.

But the point of this post is that I had a sudden insight while watching it, even if a search on Google shows I am by no means the first person to be struck by it.

A cynical, dissolute man discovers political commitment and gives up the woman he loves to secure her happiness. It describes A Tale of Two Cities, but it pretty much describes Casablanca too. Of course, Rick does not give up his life: he merely goes off arm in arm with Captain Renault, but the parallels are there.

Rick was played by Humphrey Bogart and Carton by Dirk Bogarde. Were the actors by any chance related?

I remember that Bogarde suggested in one of his books that the two might be related, or at least have ancestors in the same village in the Lowlands. But this suspiciously detailed family tree suggests that Bogart was descended from the first European girl born in New Netherland (the old Dutch colony on the East Coast of the modern USA), so if they were kinsmen it was a very distant relationship.

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