When we were all young baby boomers, we wanted to be “cool,” right? And let’s be honest: we still do. That’s what Glendale, California writer Bill Cushing believes, and he challenges you to see if you’re the same, by taking The Casablanca Test.
“And what do you want to be when you grow up?”
Most boomers probably grew up with that very loaded question. Lately, the idea of appropriate grown-up behavior has been scrutinized, but back when we were kids, the answer was kind of easy. Mine was, anyway. And with the classic film Casablanca marking its 75th anniversary this year, I’ll tell you what it was:
I wanted to be Rick Blaine.
Sure, for most Boomers, Marlon Brando epitomized rebellious cool; James Dean showed us tortured cool. Both Paul Newman and Steve McQueen have been called the epitome of cool, a pretty solid claim. Jon Hamm exhibited the aloof cool in Mad Men that boomers tend to recall from our younger years.
But the predecessor to them all — Humphrey Bogart — is the God of Cool when he portrays Rick Blaine in Casablanca.
After all, Bogie showed us cool decades before Bond was even born, since Ian Fleming didn’t start his novels about 007 until a decade after Bogie brought Rick to life. He was “our last hope” over the span of 30 years before Obi-Wan Kenobi’s name ever even appeared in Star Wars.
Watch the film (again) and you’ll see what I mean.
First, there is his cigarette in the ashtray beside the chess board. Its smoke curls around the bishop that he taps, once, before taking a drag. At his other hand, the coupe of champagne sits— bubbles rising in amber liquid. It is only then that we see his face, weary and pained, emerging from the white dinner jacket, living in isolation as the uncaring man with plans within plans, a disillusioned mercenary living without questions.
Yet as tough as the outer shell seems, he is affected as soon as Ilsa walks back into his “gin joint.” He is unafraid of being vulnerable for the right woman: Cool.
Then there are his actions: first giving the heave-ho to a powerful banker trying to enter the casino, then blowing off the petty crook Ugarte with the line, “I don’t mind a parasite; I object to a cut-rate one.” Who among our generation wouldn’t love to attain that level of cool?
Just look at him. He wears a fedora, its brim angled, his shoulders slouched in apparent nonchalance although, more likely, that trench coat conceals a body coiled into a panther’s crouch of readiness: the icon of cool.
Then there is Rick’s enigmatic cool. As his competitor Ferrari says, “One never knows what he’ll do. Or why.”
And isn’t that the standard of cool?
Rick is more than noir. He’s forced into heroic greatness, becoming the “Hemingwayan hero.” Better still, as Kathryn Hepburn said so simply, “He was a man.”
Bogie demonstrated the kind of man I want to be, the kind who impresses Kathryn Hepburn. I want to be that guy, and in Bogart’s filmography, that guy is Rick Blaine.
In the end, Rick is the best reason to watch and re-watch Casablanca. In fact, it is my personal and deeply-held, near-religious belief that any male watching Bogie as Rick Blaine, who doesn’t want to be him immediately, is automatically, immediately, and eternally under suspicion after seeing it.