Humphrey Bogart and me

Humphrey Bogart and me

 Sam Smith – The only successful movement of which your editor was a part back in the 1950s was one that contributed to the revival of the movie Casablanca, now celebrating its 80th birthday, and its hero, Humphrey Bogart. As exams intruded on our lives at Harvard, more than a few of us found relief at the Brattle Theater which had started featuring Bogart films. As the Harvard Crimson later put it:

“Starting in the mid-’50s, the Brattle began a yearly tradition of holding a Humphrey Bogart film festival right before the Harvard exam period. Undergraduates would flock to the headline screening of “Casablanca” as a welcome respite from studying. We still hear stories about it now: The sound went out during a screening but everybody just kept saying the lines anyway, people have proposed to each other in the balcony during “Casablanca,” people used to come dressed up. It was the original ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show,’” says Ned Hinkle, the Brattle’s creative director. Harvard’s “Bogie Cult” sparked similar Bogart sensations at other colleges around the nation.”

And from  own description of Harvard Square those days:

“Places such 47 Mt. Auburn brought Boston’s poets, folksingers and the explicitly disenchanted to suggest into a mike or over expresso that the 1950s were not all they had been cracked up to be. It was a gentle message, because it carried little suggestion that there was anything we could or should do about it. We were strong on analysis and abysmal at action. We, the minority who felt something was wrong, were like dinghies come adrift, lacking the power to do more than to rock aimlessly in inchoate discontent. I bought a beret and shades, which went well with my cigarillos and my Balkan Sobrani-filled pipe, but had not the slightest idea what to do with them other than to feel slightly superior, somewhat existential, and probably condemned to a future in which one could expect to achieve little except the maintenance of personal honor and the avoidance of banality.

“It was, after all, what we were being taught at the Brattle Theatre. The Brattle, two years before I arrived at ‘Harvard, began running Humphrey Bogart films in repertoire throughout reading period. We gathered faithfully and repeatedly to learn from the master, mimicking such lines as “I stick my neck out for nobody.” Later, in the sixties, when I was over thirty. it was said that people my age couldn’t be trusted; It wasn’t true, though. We could be trusted. We just couldn’t be relied upon. Our cultural heroes didn’t man the barricades. They hit the road. Our goal wasn’t to overthrow the establishment, someone would say later, but to make it irrelevant. Or, like Miles Davis in concert, to play with your back to it. Some of us made Bogart an anti-hero in part, I think, because we already suspected that America was our own Casablanca, a place of seductive illusions and baroque deceptions, where nothing was as it appeared. Bogart, with skill and cool, knew how to adapt to the chaos and deceit without betraying his own code. It was a model we needed.”

We had been taught that if we crawled under our desks, we would be safe from The Bomb. Even our teachers lied to us. Yet, like Rick in Casablanca, it never occurred to us to try to change the world. When change finally did come, we would do what we did best. We adapted. … Our virtue was that we were modest enough to actually have learned something from what happened; our failing was because the footing never seemed solid enough to permit us to do much with what we had learned.