The best (in my opinionated view) 100 films of all time - in no particular order.

Saturday, 23 August 2014


On the 21st August 2014 my friends organised a party to celebrate the fact that I was still alive after sixty years of drunken debauchery. Part of this celebratory event was a screening of one of my favourite films, prior to the party getting underway. It was my friend (and bromance partner) Andy’s idea to choose The Third Man as he had discovered through nefarious means that it was my favourite British film. About thirty minutes into the screening Andy leaned over to me and asked, “Are you sure this is your favourite British film?”

“Yes,” I replied, “why?”

“It’s a bit slow isn’t it,” he said.

I gave him the kind of look you give to someone who has just said something momentously stupid and said, with as much derision as I could muster, “You fucking philistine. This is not an action movie. If you want an action movie go home and watch The Expendables 3 or Terminator 2. This is The Third Man – it’s written by Graham Greene for God’s sake!”

Obviously devastated by his inability to recognise one of cinema’s most brilliant works of art, he bowed his head in shame and succumbed quietly to my opinionated, but persuasively subtle argument.

The first time I saw The Third Man was on television and it knocked me sideways with its imaginative camera angles, its lighting that was reminiscent of the German expressionist films of the twenties and thirties, its use of the zither as the sole instrument on the soundtrack, and its flawed but sympathetic main characters, and its unexpected downbeat ending. Anyone who had ever read the novels of the great Graham Greene could tell immediately that they were in Greeneland. The main character, Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), is a down-at-heel hack writer of western dime novels, visiting a war-ravaged Vienna to look for his old friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles). When he gets there he discovers that Harry Lime is dead, run over by his own car, and buried. But, as in all of Greene’s work, not everything is as it seems.
The original film poster for The Third Man
Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles had worked in partnership before on Citizen Kane (1941) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) – and it shows in every frame when they share screen time together. Welles’ spectacular but controversial debut film, Citizen Kane, caused a sensation on its initial release and has continued to fascinate and astound movie buffs ever since. His brilliant second feature, The Magnificent Ambersons, charts the decline of a once wealthy family destroyed by industrialisation – it’s a film that would have been even better if RKO executives hadn’t decided to cut out forty minutes (and burn the only negatives) while Welles was out of the country filming Journey into Fear (1942) because they thought it was too depressing. By the time he came to The Third Man in 1949 he was short of money for his next project and instead of taking a share in the profits he accepted a straight one-off fee, a decision he later regretted as it turned out to be the highest grossing British film of that year. He would have a chequered career after that, but one where he directed and starred in two more genuine classics, playing the bloated, corrupt cop Hank Quinlan in the superb Touch of Evil (1958) and Shakespeare’s rambunctious Falstaff in Chimes at Midnight (1966).

Although never becoming the A-list star he should have become, Joseph Cotton nevertheless carved out a successful career for himself playing a host of differing and sometimes difficult roles – the suave serial killer in Hitchcock’s excellent Shadow of a Doubt (1942), the surgeon Dr Vasalius in Robert Fuest’s delicious black comedy The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971), the Secretary of State in Robert Aldrich’s brilliant thriller Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977), and the Reverend Doctor in Michael Cimino’s disastrous but highly underrated western Heaven’s Gate (1980).

But it’s as Holly Martins that I will always remember him. His character is not the traditional hero and he’s out of his depth in almost everything he gets himself involved in – from his naïve and bumbling attempts to investigate Harry Lime’s death in a bombed out Vienna that’s divided by four major powers to his attempt to talk about writing cheap westerns to an audience of intellectuals – and he breathes life into his character in every situation, particularly in the three short scenes he shares with his friend Orson Welles.

It’s over an hour into the film before Welles makes what surely must be the greatest and most dramatic entrance of any actor in any film ever, and it’s one that never fails to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end whenever I see it. There’s also the brilliant final section in Vienna’s cavernous sewers and in between there’s the now-famous Ferris Wheel scene, where Harry Lime, in trying to justify selling his stolen, diluted and now poisonous penicillin on the black market, tells Martins, “In Italy under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo DaVinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

Welles totally dominates the remaining forty minutes of the film – from the moment we first see him in a dark doorway, his face briefly illuminated by the light from an apartment window above, giving his old friend Holly Martins the kind of smile that only he could give, to his final flight from justice under the streets of Vienna. His brief but perfect performance of a man with no scruples and even less remorse for the lives of the children his evil trade has destroyed is nothing short of astonishing.

The supporting cast are uniformly superb – Italian actress Alida Valli, is Harry Lime’s loyal girlfriend, desperately trying to keep herself from being claimed by the Russians; the great Trevor Howard is the efficient by-the-book British intelligence officer Major Calloway; Bernard Lee (thirteen years away from being James Bond’s M in Dr No) is his western loving sergeant; and Wilfred Hyde-White (giving another great performance as Wilfred Hyde-White) is the dithering cultural attaché who mistakenly thinks that Martins is a ‘proper’ author.

Although Orson Welles received top billing, the real stars of this film are the director Carol Reed (Oliver Reed’s uncle) and photographer Robert Krasker. Between them they produced a masterpiece of noir cinema – odd camera angles were used to give the audience a sense of disorientation, back lighting was used to produce lengthened shadows and dark, forbidding passageways, giving the whole thing a sense of unrelenting menace. It was shot in Vienna – this was the real bombed-out Vienna and not just a set built on a studio lot, and close-ups of the faces of actual inhabitants were used to reflect the desperation of the people living there. And Carol Reed’s choice of using Anton Karas and his zither for the score was inspired.

Then there was the great novelist Graham Greene and his excellent screenplay. Greene was one of the 20th century’s most highly regarded novelists – he called his books ‘entertainments’ and no two were the same. Fans of his novels were never entirely sure what they were going to get next from him, but they knew one thing – whatever it was it going to be it would be original and surprising. His body of work – Brighton Rock (1938), The Ministry of Fear (1943), Our Man in Havana (1958), The Comedians (1966) and Doctor Fischer of Geneva (1980), to name just five – testifies to that.

The final scene of the film is different to that of Greene’s original novella. Carol Reed disliked what he felt was an artificially happy ending and changed it to something more downbeat and believable. Greene argued his corner but lost out to the pressure put on him by Reed and his producer, David O. Selznick. But upon seeing the final result Greene said, “One of the few major disputes between Carol Reed and myself concerned the ending, and he has been proved triumphantly right.”

He was absolutely correct, not just about the ending but of the film as a whole. Time magazine described it as “being crammed with . . . ingenious twists and turns of plot, subtle detail, full-bodied bit characters, atmospheric backgrounds that become an intrinsic part of the story, a deft comingling of the sinister with the ludicrous, the casual with the bizarre.”

I couldn’t agree more. It’s why this is my favourite British movie of all time.

Now, Andy, I know you are an artistic soul and so I therefore urge you to stop watching White House Down immediately and re-watch The Third Man instead – hopefully you will at last be able to recognise it for the classic that it is, thus making your life both intellectually and artistically fulfilled.

You know I’m right.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

BULLITT (1968)

In 1971 Clint Eastwood as Lt Dirty Harry Callaghan walked the mean streets of San Francisco, asking perps whether he had fired six shots or only five from his Magnum .45 (the most powerful handgun in the world) because he had clean forgot. Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy had made Eastwood a star but it was Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry that blasted him off into the stratosphere and made him the superstar that he is today. It’s now almost unthinkable that the original choice for that role was Frank Sinatra, but Eastwood was lucky because Sinatra had sustained an injury and was unable accept the role. The studio wasn’t sure about Clint Eastwood – they thought he wasn’t a big enough star to attract audiences into cinemas, even with his spaghetti westerns behind him. How wrong they were because as it turned out Clint will be forever remembered as Dirty Harry, the maverick cop who cleaned up the streets of San Francisco.

But three years earlier a film featuring a much grittier and more believable cop provided the blueprint for Dirty Harry, and that film was Bullitt. More than anything though, Bullitt demonstrated how a good thriller should be made and its authenticity and naturalistic dialogue was the catalyst for many of the cop films that were to follow, particularly William Friedkin’s superb The French Connection (1971).

What neither Dirty Harry nor The French Connection had though (and this is what sets Bullitt apart from them and from every other cop thriller that followed) was that it had Steve McQueen, the coolest man on the planet, in the leading role.

Bullitt contains Steve McQueen’s finest ever performance – yes, even better than that of Hilts, the Cooler King, in John Sturges’ fantastic ensemble piece The Great Escape (1963), for which he is best remembered. Bullitt, however, is McQueen’s film all the way – his character totally dominates it, even in the brief moments when he’s not on screen. It’s a wonder though that he ever became a star after his B-movie debut in the The Blob (1958), after which he had to content himself with small roles in minor films until 1960 when he hit the big time after being cast as Vin Tanner, in the remake of Akira Kurasawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) – The Magnificent Seven, also directed by Sturges. The cast was great – alongside Brynner and McQueen were Eli Wallach, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter and the young German actor Horst Buchholtz. During the filming Yul Brynner complained that McQueen was always doing something – with his hands, his eyes and with whatever he happened to be holding. What McQueen effectively did was completely upstage the veteran actor and steal the entire ensemble piece from every other actor on screen (with the possible exception of the great Eli Wallach) – and it was that performance that made him a star. When I saw the film in 1966 with my granddad at the Tivoli in Blackpool (it was on a double bill with its inferior first sequel Return of the Seven) all I could talk about on the way home was Steve McQueen.
The original film poster of Bullitt
By the time he made Bullitt in 1968 he was the coolest man on earth – women wanted him and men wanted to be him. Since The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven he had played opposite the formidable Edward G. Robinson in The Cincinatti Kid (1965) and the sexy cool of Faye Dunaway in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968).

But Bullitt was different. Adapted from Robert L. Pike’s novel Mute Witness, the screenplay was by Alan Trustmore and Harry Kleiner, who turned in a tightly written and realistic script that used dialogue sparingly and didn’t treat audiences like idiots. There was no spoon-feeding here – audiences had to sit down and think about it and work it out for themselves. There are still people today who are confused by it but they are in the minority of morons who shouldn’t really be watching intelligent movies like this and should instead restrict themselves to brainless fodder like the pitiful Olympus Has Fallen and the woeful White House Down (both from 2013), where no brain activity is required for the entire length of either film.

Bullitt has a great opening title sequence and a score by Lalo Schifrin that –unlike most action films today – never intrudes or overwhelms what’s happening. The supporting cast is superb, with the marvellous Robert Vaughn playing an oily, self-serving politician (aren’t they all) and a radiant Jacqueline Bisset as Bullitt’s girlfriend, who’s unaware of the horrors he has to deal with on a daily basis. But it’s Don Gordon as Delgetti, Bullitt’s loyal detective sergeant who shines through the supporting cast, giving a performance of real depth and understanding of his character. And just to put the icing on the cake there’s Robert Duvall in the small role of a cab driver, just a few years away from his terrific performance as the Corleone family’s lawyer in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) and his show-stopping, Oscar winning role as Colonel Kilgore – loving the smell of napalm in morning – in the brilliant Apocalypse Now (1979), also directed by Coppola.

There’s a European rather than Hollywood feel about Bullitt, which is not surprising as it was directed by Brit Peter Yates – his excellent 1972 movie The Friends of Eddie Coyle starring Robert Mitchum had a similar feel – and he was not afraid to have whole stretches with little or no dialogue. The final airport scene (which Michael Mann borrowed for the final scene of his 1985 crime movie Heat) is a good example – hardly a word is spoken and it works brilliantly.

But you can’t talk about Bullitt without mentioning the car chase. Steve McQueen had a lifelong love of motor racing, declaring once that, “Racing is life. Anything before or after is just waiting.” And it shows. McQueen drove the car himself for the entire scene and it’s a masterful, beefy, thunderous chase. Watch a car chase in today’s movies and you’ll notice that it’s comprised of cuts, most of them no longer than five seconds, to make it more exciting than what it is. In Bullitt there is none of that. There are no studio cuts – the entire scene was filmed on location – and it allows you to be in the driver’s seat with Bullitt as he races up and down the hills of San Francisco. You can actually feel your stomach hitting the floor as the car goes over the hills at speed, especially if you’re lucky enough to see it in a cinema or on the biggest television money can buy. 

As I said earlier though, this is Steve McQueen’s film all the way. He gives a deadpan, moody performance that is full of understatement and realism. He was never better before and would never be better again and it cemented his reputation as the top screen icon of his generation. His life, however, was cut tragically short – he died of cancer on 7 November 1980 after completing his final two films, The Hunter and Tom Horn.

I’ve watched all of his films, from his shaky start in stardom in The Blob through to his final two movies, rushed out because he knew that he was dying, and he was always interesting to watch. His untimely death robbed us of what he may have achieved had he been able live into old age, but for me at least, it will always be Bullitt that reminds me of what a great actor he was.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)

Back in 1981 I was stationed at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus and most of my evenings were spent working as an usher at the Station Cinema. It was a good way to while away the time for someone like me – I love the cinema and always have (I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I didn’t) and this job gave me the opportunity to see every film that was shown there for free. As an usher, one of my tasks was to maintain order, and this took the form of keeping the hordes of kids quiet while the film was in progress and to throw out any who were persistently disruptive. It was a thankless task – the adults complained to me about the noise the kids were making and the kids hated me for throwing them out. After a few weeks of this I came up with a brilliant plan – if the kids were making too much noise I would walk down the central aisle and as I did I would give a signal to the projectionist, who would halt the film. I would then stand at the front and in my most provocative voice I would shout, “Right, if there’s any more noise I’m going to throw two of you out – I don’t care which two, I’ll chose two of you at random. You have been warned!” The projectionist would then restart the film and the kids would remain silent, not quite sure whether I meant it or if I had just issued an empty threat. It usually did the trick, though. It’s true what they say – give someone a little power and they turn into Adolf Hitler.

The early Friday evening showing was reserved for the kids and the films that were screened were generally of the science-fiction adventure variety. These included Star Wars (1977), Superman (1978), Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979), The Empire Strikes Back, Flash Gordon and Superman II (1980). I didn’t mind the kids making a noise during these films because there were no adults in attendance. The adults usually kicked their kids out of their houses and sent them along to the cinema with some money to buy a ticket and enough sweets and sugary drinks to keep dentists in employment for years after. The adults would then be free to do whatever they did when the house was to themselves and the kids got to hoot and roar for ninety minutes or so without fear of me threatening to throw them out. It all went swimmingly until it was announced that Stanley Kubrick’s two-and-a-half hour seminal science-fiction masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey was going to be shown – in the early Friday evening slot.

I knew there were lots of adults on RAF Akrotiri who wanted see this film, mainly those who had been baffled by it when it was first released in 1968 and so I thought a warning would be appropriate, explaining that it was probably not the best film for children to see when they were pumped up with sweets and sugary drinks and expecting some daft action-packed science-fiction extravaganza. In light of this I produced an A3 notice that I stuck onto the film’s poster that was displayed outside the cinema. The notice read:


I threw thirteen kids out within fifteen minutes of the film starting and the rest left of their own accord soon after.
Original poster for 2001: A Space Odyssey
I was fourteen years old when I first saw 2001: A Space Odyssey on its initial release in 1968 and I clearly remember walking out of the cinema feeling simultaneously amazed and baffled. There’s no dialogue for the first 24 minutes and again for the final 21 minutes. But I wasn’t the only one who stepped out of a cinema with a look of puzzlement after seeing this film. 241 people walked out during its premier, including film star Rock Hudson, who was reported saying as he left, “Can someone tell me what the hell this is all about?”

Well, what the hell is it all about? Cinema-goers who went to see 2001: A Space Odyssey expected a film about space travel and it is, to a certain extent, about exactly that. But this was a Stanley Kubrick film and anyone who has watched his films will know that on the surface you get what you pay for, but it’s underneath that surface that really counts, and underneath the surface of 2001 is a story about human evolution. And you’re really not supposed to understand it – you’re expected to make your own conclusions about what it’s all about. Arthur C. Clarke (who co-wrote the screenplay with Kubrick) adapted from his original short story The Sentinel, stated: “If you understand 2001 completely, we failed. We wanted to raise more questions than we answered.”

Its total length of 135 minutes is divided into four segments. The first segment is The Dawn of Man, and it follows a tribe of ape-men that are driven away from their watering hole by another, fiercer tribe. A black monolith appears when the tribe that have been evicted are sleeping and this triggers a leap in evolution and you see an ape-man putting two-and-two together as he discovers how to use a bone as the first tool. This tool, however, is used a weapon and the ape-men reclaim their watering hole, using the bone to kill the other tribe’s leader. At the end of the sequence the ape-man throws the bone up into the air at which point (using what’s known as a match-cut) the film jumps forward four million years, with the first weapon becoming the ultimate weapon – a nuclear device orbiting the earth.

The Dawn of Man is an incredibly realistic sequence and it seems astonishing now that it was totally disregarded by the judging panel for that year’s Oscars – the award for best make-up effects was given instead to John Chambers for his work on Planet of the Apes, which, despite being a brilliant film itself, still looked like it was populated by men (and women) wearing masks. Arthur C. Clarke often wondered afterwards whether 2001 had been ignored by the judges because they thought the ape-men were real.

The second part, TMA-1, starts with a fifteen minute dialogue-free sequence involving a shuttle docking with a half-completed space station, set to The Blue Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss. This has no relevance to the plot or character development and is there, it seems, just for the sake of creating a visually beautiful set piece – and mesmerisingly beautiful it surely is. 2001 is a unique film in that it forced audiences to watch it in a different way in which they watched other films – they had to sit back and relax and not care whether a scene had any relevance to the plot. They had, in effect, to watch it for the sake of watching it.

We then move to the Moon, where Dr Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) and his team of scientists are inspecting a black monolith that has been buried under the surface for four million years. They have no idea of its origin or purpose and it’s known only as TMA-1 (Tycho Magnetic Anomaly One). During their inspection the monolith emits a high pitched radio signal and the film jumps forward 18 months.

Jupiter Mission, the third segment, follows the crew of the first manned mission to Jupiter – Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea), Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) and three other scientists who have been in cryogenic sleep since before the mission commenced. There’s also a sentient computer system called HAL that controls the functionality of the ship. All is going well until HAL has a breakdown and kills four of the crew, leaving Bowman alone and isolated in deep space. HAL, a highly advanced artificial intelligence whose conflicting orders lead to his malfunction, is one of cinemas great tragic villains, and his resulting paranoia and insanity have devastating and far-reaching consequences for Dave Bowman.

The final part, Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite, is another dialogue-free segment. I’m not going to say anything about this in case whoever’s reading this hasn’t seen this film. I will say one thing though – when you watch it, it will blow your mind.

2001: A Space Odyssey is a magnificent film and to say that it was ahead of its time is an understatement and does no justice to its influence on the development of cinematic techniques and storytelling to come. Remember, this was made before CGI and even blue and green screens even existed. Its special effects would not come anywhere close to being matched for another nine years, until Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) came along, and even that didn’t have the totally immersive effect of 2001. Its influence has not been restricted to the science fiction genre either, and it’s leisurely pace and sparse dialogue can be seen in the films of Clint Eastwood, especially Hereafter (2010), and any film directed by the great Terrence Malick.

In this age of shoot ‘em up, slam-bang, fast-cutting, brainless action movies, it’s a pleasure to watch something that appeals to the intellect and takes its time to tell its story. And if I were to give advice to someone who was about to watch 2001 for the first time, it would be this: Be patient, because the rewards are manifold.

Friday, 8 August 2014


Before you begin reading this I must make one thing clear – I am a hopeless romantic and in order to put some kind of context to this piece I must first tell you the circumstances regarding the time when I met my gorgeous wife, Jackie.

When I first saw her, in December of 1995 she had just finished babysitting for my best friend Rebecca (or Becka as she liked to be called) in Winchester. I had never ever believed in love at first sight but here I was talking like a babbling idiot to this vision of beauty in front of me. Our conversation went something like this:

Jackie: I’m really into art.
Me: Duh-hur I really like art too.
Jackie: I like going to the cinema.
Me: Duh-hur I love films, me.

The conversation went like that for a good ten minutes and I must have sounded like a total moron to her. I knew what I wanted to say to her but I just couldn’t get the words out. On top of that I had just finished playing the villain in a local am-dram production of Aladdin and (in order to look the part) I’d grown a goatee beard and had my head shaved which made me look like a serial killer. Our first meeting reminded me of the time I went to see The Strawbs on their 25th Anniversary Tour a couple of years earlier at the Tower Arts Centre in Winchester. I’d always been a big fan of them and because the venue had a limited amount of seating I, along with the rest of the audience, had the opportunity to meet the band in the bar after the gig. Dave Cousins, the lead singer and guitarist and driving force behind them was a musician I particularly admired and I had rehearsed in my head the conversation I would have with him. It would be witty and intelligent, erudite and sophisticated. But when he actually shook my hand all I could get out of my stupid mouth was, “Duh-hur, I think you’re brilliant, me, I do. C-c-can I have your autograph?”

When I met up with Becka in the pub a week after my first encounter with the woman of my dreams I said to her that I really liked Jackie. Being the consummate matchmaker that she was, Becka informed me that Jackie had also liked me. I told her that I had just bought two tickets to see Casablanca, which was having a special showing at the multiplex in Basingstoke in January and wondered if Jackie might like come along with me. I knew that it was a long shot – I was thirteen years older than Jackie, but at least I’d shaved my goatee off and my hair was starting to grow back. Becka (and I am eternally grateful to her for this) had lied to Jackie, telling her that I was the most interesting person she knew and that I was really nice. She also lied to me when she informed me that Jackie was really interested in me and then she gave me her phone number. I only found out later that they hadn’t even communicated with each other because Jackie had been spending Christmas and New Year with her dad in the Lake District.

Being hopelessly in love with someone and not being able to contact them is torturous, but on 20 January 1996 she answered my call. Becka had already primed her to expect a call from me and I went round to see Jackie in her flat the following night. I’d already had several offers to accompany me to see Casablanca if Jackie turned me down, but as they were all from men, going to see probably the most romantic film of all time with another man seemed a little inappropriate. Fortunately Jackie agreed to come and see it with me and the rest – as they say – is history.

I’d already seen Casablanca about a hundred times and could quote most of the dialogue it contained.

The original poster for Casablanca 

So, what is it about this film (aside from the fact that I associate it with the first date with my wife) that I love so much?

Well, for a start, there’s the magnificent international cast. Humphrey Bogart, who was named the best actor of the 20th century, is Rick Blaine, an embittered, world weary cynic who ‘sticks his neck out for nobody’, but underneath that veneer of cynicism beats the heart of an idealist. It’s a role that fits him like a glove and when you watch the film it’s impossible to imagine anyone other than him playing that part. But he wasn’t the studio’s first choice – so try to imagine (if you can) how Casablanca would have turned out if the studio had got their way and cast Ronald Reagan instead of Bogart as Rick.

Then there’s the ravishing Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman, who I happen to think was the most stunningly beautiful woman that has ever graced the silver screen. She just radiates sex appeal without ever having to remove a single item of clothing – with the obvious exception of her coat. And she could act!

And then there’s the marvellous British actor Claude Rains as the Prefect of Police, Louis Renault – whose velvety voice and perfect diction disguised the fact that at home he spoke in a broad Cockney accent. He delivers a brilliant comic turn as the corrupt official with hidden depths. When Rick pulls a gun on him and says, “Remember, this gun is pointed right at your heart,” Louis replies, “That is my least vulnerable spot.”

There’s also the Austrian actor Paul Henried as Victor Lazlo, on the run from the Gestapo and desperately trying to get hold of Letters of Transit so he can escape unoccupied Casablanca with his wife and carry on the fight in America. The villain of the film, Major Heinrich Strasser of the SS, is played with charming menace by German actor Conrad Veidt, who had fled Nazi Germany in 1933 with his Jewish wife, where they would have certainly been murdered. In another of Claude Rains’ throw-away one liners Strasser says to Louis, “You give him (Rick) credit for too much cleverness. My impression was that he’s just another blundering American,” to which Louis replies, “We mustn’t underestimate blundering Americans. I was with them when they blundered into Berlin in 1918.”  

Add to this mix great supporting roles from Hungarian Peter Lorre (famous for playing the first on-screen serial killer in Fritz Lang’s M in 1931) as the weasly Ugarte and British actor Sidney Greenstreet as local black marketer Ferrari, both of whom had also played alongside Bogart in John Huston’s tremendous 1941 adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.

And let’s not forget Dooley Wilson as Rick’s loyal piano player, Sam, and his rendition of As Time Goes By and that great Hungarian character actor SK Sakall as the loveable waiter Carl who says he has given Strasser the best table because “being German, he would have taken it anyway.”

Casablanca is a war film without any war in it, but it stills tells a story of courage, occupation and oppression. It’s peopled with disenchanted lovers and opportunists, patriots and isolationists. It’s imaginatively directed by Michael Curtiz and it is most definitely not the kind of standard, average, predictable love story that Hollywood had been churning out for years. But it’s the dialogue – delivered so skilfully and with such conviction – that makes it a glorious unexpected delight.

When Louis asks what in heaven’s name brought Rick to Casablanca, Rick replies “My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.”

Louis: The waters? What waters? We’re in the middle of the desert.

Rick: I was misinformed.

Not only is Casablanca the most romantic film you’ll ever see, it is also one of the funniest. The script by Julius and Philip Epstein is shot through with sparkling wit and tremendous throw-away one-liners, all delivered by a cast at the very peak of their powers. It’s one of my top five films of all time and the only film that has ever come close to its delirious doomed romanticism is John Madden’s exquisite Shakespeare in Love (1998).

But it’s those one-liners that get me every time:

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”

“We’ll always have Paris.”

Unlike me, my wife is not a hopeless romantic - she’s a practical, level-headed artistic woman who knows what she wants. But for me (and I know she feels the same way too – even though she’ll probably never admit it) we’ll always have Casablanca.