CAN YOU NAZI THE PARALLELS?

Adolf Hitler, Olympic Stadium, Berlin, 1936

Donald Trump, Daytona International Speedway, Daytona, 2020

The effect is lost somewhat when you don’t ride topless…

YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS

On Saturday night TCM aired Casablanca and I watched it (again) because that’s what you do when Casablanca is on: You watch it. People can quibble as to whether it’s the best film ever made but I do believe it’s the best script: there are too many classic lines and sly references for me to unpack here (“You know how the Germans love destruction”). The performances, beginning with the four starts above (my favorite is Claude Rains as Captain Renault, are outstanding. Historic.

What I’d like to discuss here, briefly, is what most often gets overlooked. Is Casablanca a romantic film? Sure. A suspenseful drama? Yes. A war film? Certainly. But what it is, as much as anything, is a propaganda film. And to judge by the annals of history, it worked.

The film is based on a play, Everyone Comes To Rick’s, that was written in 1941 by Murray Burnett and Joan Allison and went unproduced. No one had seen it because no one had done it. Then, in January of 1942, just one month after Pearl Harbor, Warner Brothers wisely paid $20,000 for the rights to it. That’s the most any studio had ever paid for an unproduced play.

Filming began in May of 1942. Yes, the U.S. had by this time been dragged into World War II but it was still a reluctant participant. The Americans did not fire a single bullet outside the Pacific theater until November 8, 1942, in North Africa. Less than three weeks later, Casablanca made a limited release in New York City. It did not open wide until January of 1943.

So, consider: The play was written during a time when Hitler and the Nazis were overturning Europe and America was still hoping not to have to become ensnared. The movie was made after America had suffered the attack on Pearl Harbor but before any American lives had been spent on European (or African soil). And so it is clear, as you watch the film with this perspective in mind, that cafe owner Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is a surrogate for the United States of America.

Early on in the film, Rick is asked by Ugate (Peter Lorre) to hide him from the Gestapo (he’d been involved in the murder two German couriers). Rick’s quite public reply: “I don’t stick my neck out for nobody.”

Not long after (or is it shortly before), Rick is introduced to the Nazi commander Major Strasser, who asks him his nationality. “I’m a drunkard,” Blaine cheekily replies. He clearly has no intention of being drawn into a political conversation. When Strasser asks him what he thinks of the Nazis invading the USA, Blaine advises, “There are certain parts of New York I would stay away from.”

Not long after, however, after Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) reenters his life (“Of all the gin joints in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine”), Rick’s mood is more sober (ironically, because this is when he decides to go on a bender). Sitting alone late at night with Sam (Dooley Wilson), his piano player and faithful sidekick, Rick says, “If it’s December 1941 in Casablanca, what time is it in New York? I bet they’re asleep in New York. I bet they’re asleep all over America.”

When at last Rick and the heroic Nazi resistance leader Victor Lazlo (Paul Heinreid) have a confab about the letters of transit, Rick tells Victor, who also happens to be Ilsa’s husband, that he will not sell him the ducats to freedom. Lazlo appeals to his sense of duty in terms of fighting the Nazis. What does Rick say in response? “I’m the only cause I’m interested in.”

We are rooting for Rick, even though he’s somewhat cynical and jaded. Somewhat? He helps a young couple avoid a compromising situation, at great financial loss, and does so without fanfare. His loyal staff notices, however. He is a sentimentalist, after all. And perhaps a patriot.

In a later scene, as Lazlo and Rick meet again to discuss the passage of the letters, Rick asks Lazlo why he’s willing to risk his life (and that of Ilsa) to continue doing what he’s doing. “You might as well ask me why I breathe,” Victor answers. When Rick mildly protests Lazlo’s idealism, Lazlo utters the words that must have sent a chill up the spine of every American watching this film in a theater in 1943: “You know how you sound…? Like a man who’s trying to convince himself of something he doesn’t believe in his heart.”

You know how the story ends. When Rick shoots Major Strasser, and he waited until the last possible moment to do so, he knows that he has made the choice to join the fight. He didn’t have a lot of time to think about it but in that split second, he made the right choice. And if by doing so he just happened to save the lives of a man from Czechoslovakia and a woman from Norway, two countries that were and would feel the stranglehold of the Third Reich, well, that was no coincidence.

“Louie, I believe this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” might as well have been FDR phoning Churchill to announce that the Yanks were coming.

***

Nothing in this film is incidental. In the opening scene, when the man flees the police and is shot in the street by police, he is gunned down in front of a wall that has a giant mural of Marshall Petain, the French hero from World War I who would lead the puppet government of France, the Vichy French, which allowed Hitler and the Nazis to invade in exchange for France’s “freedom.” It was anything but. The Petain mural symbolizes France’s submission to the Nazis.

One last bit, unrelated: identical twins Julius and Philip Epstein, who grew up on New York’s Lower East Side, wrote the script. It is simply incandescent, the screenplay by which all others should be measured. However, as sublime as it is (and they rightfully won an Oscar for it), they did not write the line, “Here’s looking at you, kid.” And that line appears four times in the movie.

No, that was something Bogey would say to Bergman between takes as he taught her how to play poker. The line sort of stuck and Bogey used it in a few scenes. It’s arguably the most quoted line in film history. By the way, Bogart was 41 (his character is 37) during filming and Bergman 27.

****

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STARTING FIVE

  1. “Oh, Rob!” He wouldn’t listen. Rob Manfred insisted on holding a press conference. He thought levity would be a good tactic. He sarcastically congratulated a reporter for doing his job well. And he seemed to think that knowing all the facts was more important than punishing the offenders. Has he not seen a single episode of Law & Order?
  2. The Clipper Picker-Upper: Kawhi Leonard scores a game-high 30 as Team LeBron defeats Team Giannis 157-155 at the NBA All-Star Game in Chicago.
  3. Donald, Daytona, Delay: Donald and Melania take a lap around the Daytona Speedway accompanied by a massive flyover. And then the rains came and washed the whole thing out until today. If you’re keeping score: Chicago, basketball, Obama attends; Florida, racin’, Trump attends. No surprises.
  1. Coronavirus Toll: 1,770 deaths at this point.
  2. Trevor Noah on Mike Bloomberg: I like Bloomberg. I really like Trevor Noah. This is worth a listen. And as I’ve said many times, if you want to read an incredible book, read Noah’s memoir, Born A Crime.

FIVE FILMS: 2017

  1. Coco: I had no expectations when I walked into the theater with my two nieces. And then at the end I was annoyed by how dusty the theater had become. “Remember me…”
  2. Get Out: The oddest twist on Meet The Parents I’ve yet come across.
  3. Dunkirk: I had to see this a second time to fully understand what director Chris Nolan was trying to do here. Glad I did.
  4. Call Me By Your Name: a.k.a., Brokeback Villa.Yes, I got squeamish during that scene near the end, but there’s no denying this is an excellent movie. You just know Timothy Chalameet thought he might be able to earn a Best Supporting Actor totem off that final grief scene.
  5. Molly’s Game: For us, it just edges out Ladybird. Not Sorkin’s best, but still not bad.

Also liked but not loved: “The Post,” “Darkest Hour.” Meh on “The Shape of Water,” which won Best Picture. Loathed “Three Billboards.”

“OH, ROB”

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred met the press this afternoon and said that, “In a perfect world…” there would be a harsher punishment for the Houston Asterisks. Wow, I wonder who could have made a more perfect world in baseball possible.

If you want to argue that it would be problematic and complicated to discipline individual Astros players, I understand. But it would not at all have been difficult to strip the Asterisks of their World Series title. Particularly since most discerning fans and players who live outside of Houston understand that it is an invalid championship. Not tainted. Invalid.

If you get a chance, find the interview former NL MVP Kris Bryant gave today about the Astros. This isn’t a two-bit player. This is a former National League MVP and a World Series champion. Most times professional decorum precludes players from talking trash about the character of their peers. Not here. Bryant calls them insincere, rejects their apologies and points out that “if they hadn’t been caught, they’d still be doing it.”

This is a leader in MLB saying this. Rob Manfred still does not appreciate the harm he is about to unleash by not properly punishing the Astros. And this is a lesson you might’ve thought the Roger Goodall-Ray Rice fiasco might have taught him: a swift and harsh punishment shuts everyone up and only then can you move on. When justice is not served, anger and hostility lingers. And distrust in the institution stirs up.

Swing and a big miss by Manfred this afternoon.

Also, if you get a chance, read this excellent piece by ESPN’s Jeff Passan on how “baseball is burning.”

FREE ADVICE FOR ROB MANFRED

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred is scheduled to speak at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon about the Houston Astros’ punishment. We have a little advice for him, as delivered by Dianne Wiest from her Oscar-winning role in Bullets Over Broadway:

and

HOUSTON, I HAVE A PROBLEM

A few more assorted thoughts on the sordid Astros:

–What I’d like to see this spring and summer: Before Jose Altuve comes to bat at opposing ballparks, this video should play on the Jumbotron:

–By the way, watch that video again if you have not in awhile. Methinks that Ken Rosenthal was already wise to this scheme before this interview. He’d heard whispers, most likely from players on opposing teams. Listen to the question he asks directly before the Columbo question. Rosenthal inquires, “Going around the bases, what was going through your mind?”

Interesting question in hindsight, no? What was going through Altuve’s mind was, How do I keep my guys from blowing this for us with their over-exuberance? When Rosenthal did not get the honest answer, and he never expected to, of course, he got a little more specific:

“You asked your teammates not to tear your shirt. Why?”

As has been pointed out by others, Altuve asks, “What?” even though he heard the question. He’d heard every other question. But this time he asked, “What?” Why? Because the bluntness of the question surprised him. And as liars do when caught, he instinctively replied with a question to buy himself a moment to think of a decent excuse. Textbook.

But I think Rosenthal already knew.

–Why use a buzzer instead of banging on a trash can? Because Games 6 or 7 at Minute Maid can get pretty loud. That’s my presumption. All of the Astros to a player denied using buzzers when they met with the media on Thursday. I don’t believe them. You may. I don’t.

–Why were Carlos Beltran and Joey Cora fired as managers on other teams (they were with the Astros in 2017, of course) but none of the players who took part have been suspended? I understand the guaranteed immunity deal, but it seems odd that you are able to fire managers but not players when all were involved in the same scam.

–Maybe I’m repeating myself, but whoever is advising the Astros in P.R. (remember their terrible handling of when the former GM went on his misogynistic rant after the ALCS win?) these past six months is as bad as you’ll find. The supposition that the players could simply apologize and hope to “move on” is unbelievably myopic and lacking in self-awareness.

This is the defining moment of their careers. Not a World Series title. Nor an MVP trophy. And unlike players/teams in most sports, EVERYONE loathes them now. Every team in MLB is united in despising the Astros. From the long view perspective, commish Rob Manfred would’ve actually been doing the Astros a favor had he stripped them of their World Series rings and suspended each player involved for at least one year. Then at least they could have said they’d paid their debt.

But they haven’t. Not even close. So this scandal will continue to linger. And fans, instead of taunting them for being cheaters, will instead be openly hostile because not only have they cheated but it feels as if they really weren’t punished for it. Fans will demand justice. So will opposing players.

Mark these words: this will have a lingering psyche on these players for years. Eventually some will answer their crisis of conscience by perhaps confessing everything that went on, but if these Astros believe an “Us Against The World” mentality will buffet them through 2020, they’re wrong. Because deep down most of these players know that they deserve to be punished.

–Someone else brought it up, but it’s on the nose. If Jim Crane really wants anyone to think that the sign-stealing scheme had no impact, then he should volunteer his pitchers to inform opposing batters what they are about to throw. Even for just one three-game series. Let’s see how that works out.

–By the way, what if in future years we learn that the moon landings really were a fraud? Houston would be home to the two biggest frauds of the last half-century. Something to rub your chin thoughtfully about and ponder.

–There’s a difference between gamesmanship and cheating. If a runner leading off second is sharp enough to interpret a catcher’s signals and relay that info to the hitter, bully for him. And them. That’s not cheating. That’s just using your brain. Besides, the difference is more than just technology being used. The difference is that the opposing pitcher and catcher are aware of this cat-and-mouse game they’re playing with the batter and baserunner. It’s all out in the open. What the Astros were doing was slimy and clandestine.

Justin Verlander said that he could’ve done more. He strongly intimated that he’d spoken up against it, that he’d been overruled, and that he remained silent. But that he regrets it.

That’s not good enough.

There were a lot of players in Houston’s clubhouse, younger players, who would have forfeited their careers had they narc’ed on their teammates. But not Verlander. He’s already a two-time Cy Young Award winner, an AL MVP, and a future Hall of Famer. Verlander could’ve stood up in the clubhouse and insisted that this stops now or else I’m going public. And if y’all want to blackball me, go ahead, because there are 29 other franchises who would only be too happy to welcome me.

That would’ve taken courage. And integrity. But Verlander wouldn’t have paid for it with his career. In fact, he’d have been lauded for it. However, in his moment of truth, Verlander failed. We are judged, rightfully so, by the decisions we make and the actions we take in our moments of truth. Verlander failed.

–Now new manager Dusty Baker is coming out and asking MLB to discipline pitchers who bean his batters. Shut up, Dusty. No one’s done a thing yet and you’re preemptively getting your self-righteous anger up? Stop. I guess you needed to be a manager so badly that you took this job. You deserve what you signed up for: managing the most-hated team in baseball (to not wear pinstripes) in decades.

–The Astros have cheated the game far more than Pete Rose ever did. I’ve heard people say that Rose, by not betting on his team some nights, was basically saying he expected them to lose. People who say that don’t understand gambling.

I’m not excusing entirely what Rose did, but how he bet (as a manager, remember, not as a player) simply demonstrated that he was a shrewd wagerer. Bet on the sure things. Stay away from toss-ups. The inference that by not betting Rose was in any way acting to compromise his team’s chances of winning is absurd. Moreover, and this is important, Pete Rose is one of the two most competitive sumbithces ever to lace up spikes. The other is Ty Cobb.

Pete Rose had a gambling problem. Probably still does. But he was never going to cheat the fans or cheat the game. Sorry.

Rose’s scandal took place about 30 years ago, at a time when people in charge were still willing to do what was right no matter how much it seemed, in the short term, to damage the integrity of the game. Or to sully it by keeping a scandal in the papers. No one was too big to jail/too big to fail. Men in charge, like Bart Giamatti (Paul’s dad), did what was necessary, as opposed to what was expedient.

Over and over again in the past decade or so, from the TARP bailout to the U.S. Senate acquitting Donald Trump to the commissioner giving Houston a slap on the wrists, people in power excuse the cheaters and crooks because no one wants to disrupt the money being generated. The problem is that their short-term solutions have long-term consequences. The general public no longer believes in justice. In fair play. In the rule of law. And so when the rest of us see that the big fish can get away with whatever they want simply because the system is loathe to rebuke itself, well, why should the rest of us retain or exercise virtue? There’s no upside to doing the right thing.

The Astros are just the latest example, based on the punishment Rob Manfred gave them, that crime pays. It’s one thing for gangsters to be espousing that mantra. It’s another when our top branches of government and our national pastime do as well.

The Astros organization, at the very least, should be stripped of their World Series and ALCS titles and banned from the game for a season. That would go a little in the direction of healing the game.

–Someone suggested that opposing teams could ban together and refuse to play the Astros. I’ve thought about the idea of having a pitcher bean an Astro, being tossed, and his replacement doing the same. Ibid. Ibid. Op Cit. Until the umpire tosses every pitcher from the game. Do I think that will happen? No. Would I like to see it happen? Yup.

–I’ve been thinking of that final scene in The Departed. Matt Damon, bag of groceries in hand, gets the stank eye from the lady in the elevator. Then he walks into his apartment only to find Donnie Wahlberg staring at him, wearing gloves and boots and a haz-mat suit. Pointing a silencer directly at Damon. And for just a split-second Damon reacts with surprise and shock, as if he’s about to make a plea, and then just one moment before Wahlberg fires, Damon’s visage changes. There’s a nod of acceptance. Of acquiescence as if to say, “Yeah, I deserve this.”

That’s what is going to happen to the Astros this season. Are they really going to get upset when they take one in the ribs? Or are they going to know deep-down that, Yeah, I deserve this. Because they do.

******

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TAKING STOCK: UPDATE

We cannot find the post, but we seem to recall posting an item about a month ago with a few stock suggestions. Or maybe we just named a couple that we either owned or had heard about. Correct us if we’re wrong, Susie B. I thought I’d mentioned Apple, Tesla and a biotech, PavMed Inc. (PAVM).

Just for fun, let’s see where they were on January 14th and where they are on February 14th:

Jan 14 Feb 14 Difference

Apple (AAPL) $316 $325 + 2.9%

Slack (WORK) $22.20 $27.99 +26.1%

Tesla (TSLA) $544 $800 +47.1%

PavMed (PAVM) $1.47 $2.46 +67.3%

THE UNBEATEN AT THE DAWN OF AMERICA

The best little basketball team in Maine, if not all of America, is Jonesport-Beals High School. The Royals are 16-0 this season and ranked No. 1 in Class D play as playoffs begin in Bangor on Monday night. The school has 76 students. As you can surmise from the map, this is likely the first high school in the USA to greet the sunlight each morning.

PG-70

A day late, but we want to wish a very happy birthday to Peter Gabriel, who turned 70 on Thursday. Gabriel had obviously already staged a successful career with Genesis and as a solo artist before 1986, but that was the year that his album So was released.

I was a junior in college. Suddenly you’d walk past dorm rooms after classes and it was not unusual in just one trek back to your own room to hear the album playing in two to three different rooms. Everyone was playing it. And while it wouldn’t quite be correct to call Gabriel a has-been, he was already 36 years old when So was released and this was the peak of two musical eras that he would never step foot in: New Wave and hair metal.

So was not either of these. He was always eclectic and avant-garde(“Biko” or “Games Without Frontiers,” above) as an artist. But occasionally someone puts together an album that is so sublime with songs so unforgettable— and evocative of a particular mood— that it cannot be ignored. Suddenly Gabriel went from being “That guy who used to be in Genesis who sings ‘Shock the Monkey'” to a superstar. Rare, if never, has a rock musician ever elevated his game after the age of 35 the way Gabriel did. I can’t think of a single person.

Also, Peter Gabriel wins my unofficial Walter White Award, given to the white dude who goes bald (or shaves it off) and in so doing looks 1,000 times more badass than he used to. I’ve also always loved Gabriel because from afar I don’t think he’s very cuddly. He’s a genius, no doubt, and his fellow artists with whom he works seem to adore him (see video below) but I don’t think he gives a crap what the music community, or the media or fans, think about him. I always think of him as the Ricky Gervais of rock music.

An all-time favorite

So wound up losing the Album of the Year Grammy to Paul Simon’s Graceland, and both are excellent. So it wasn’t exactly robbery. Though we know which one we listen to more often. For argument’s sake, our ranking of the songs on So (“song”, “SO”), every one of which is worthy and half of which are classics:

  1. In Your Eyes
  2. That Voice Again
  3. Red Rain
  4. Don’t Give Up
  5. Sledgehammer
  6. Mercy Street
  7. Big Time
  8. We Do What We’re Told

A question any music fan should be able to answer: There’s one living artist you’ve never seen in concert but would love to: Who is it? For me it’s Gabriel. I’m still angry at myself for having missed the Secret World Live Tour in the early ’90s; fortunately there’s YouTube to see some of the songs. Here’s hoping that Gabriel embarks on one last tour; and if he and Phil Collins shared the stage together to ease the burden on each, who’d mind?

Ranking our five favorite Gabriel tunes:

  1. In Your Eyes
  2. Solsbury Hill
  3. Games Without Frontiers
  4. Red Rain
  5. Talk To Me

Please go on tour soon, Peter. Please!

Jeux sans frontieres!

*****

This site will always be free but we’ve decided to try a new wrinkle: more frequent posts, no daily Starting Five, and we’ll add a PayPal address for any and all who’d like to donate.

PayPal: trumansparks88@gmail.com