Tuesday, May 6, 2008

My Movie Moments, 2: "Shocked, Shocked"

Captain Renault Is "Shocked, Shocked" to Find Gambling at Rick's Café Américain, in Casablanca

Following up on Play it Again, Sam below, I must write about Casablanca.
There are a ton of obvious defining moments in Casablanca, relating to everything from how Hollywood made movies in wartime to how plots and scripts unfold (famously, the ending of the movie was uncertain during filming), but one little speech had a less obvious impact.

Claude Rains (above, right) plays Capt. Louis Renault, chief of police in Casablanca during WWII. While serving Vichy France, Renault is an apolitical opportunist, who goes where the wind blows. He frequents the local nightspot run by Rick (Humphrey Bogart, above, left), a romantic gone bitter, who finds it politic to let Renault win at the back-room gambling tables.

To please some German high officials, who suspect the Free French may be operating out of Rick's, Renault and his men close down the club one busy evening. When Rick asks Renault why he is ordering this, Renault responds,
"I am shocked, shocked, to find that gambling is going on in here!"
Whereupon the croupier comes up and hands him his winnings.

I first saw Casablanca when I was growing up in the era of Vietnam and Watergate. I can't say I thought about it then, but Renault's self-serving opportunism--and his transformation, along with Rick, into a freedom fighter at the end of the film--defined the political realities and choices I saw at the time. In times of war and corruption, there is no neutral ground.

Of course, this "shocked, shocked" line is also simply a clever line delivered by a charming character, and my family and I used in all sorts of circumstances.

About ten years ago, I read Jack Rosenthal's NYT magazine article "Shocked!" and learned that we were far from alone: the phrase is used so often to express mock shock, in fact, that it offers a study in the evolution of cliches.

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