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Paul Henreid 'Casablanca': Taking Tyranny Seriously

Paul Henreid CasablancaPaul Henreid in 'Casablanca': Freedom Fighter on screen, Blacklisted 'Subversive' off screen

Turner Classic Movies' Star of the Month of July 2013, Paul Henreid, bids you farewell this evening. TCM left the most popular, if not exactly the best, for last: Casablanca, Michael Curtiz's 1943 Best Picture Oscar-winning drama, is showing at 7 p.m. PT tonight. (Image: Paul Henreid sings “La Marseillaise” in Casablanca.)

One of the best-remembered movies of the studio era, Casablanca – not set in a Spanish or Mexican White House – features Paul Henreid as Czechoslovakian underground leader Victor Laszlo, Ingrid Bergman's husband but not her True Love. That's Humphrey Bogart, owner of a cafe in the titular Moroccan city. Henreid's anti-Nazi hero is generally considered one of least interesting elements in Casablanca, but Alt Film Guide contributor Dan Schneider thinks otherwise.

In any case, Victor Laszlo feels like a character made to order for Paul Henreid, not only in terms of looks and demeanor, but also in terms of the actor's off-screen political beliefs. Apparently someone who took tyranny seriously, Henreid fell afoul of the Nazis in the '30s and of American right-wingers in the late '40s, when he was accused of being a Communist sympathizer – much to the detriment of his Hollywood career.

Back to Casablanca: I've always failed to grasp the film's popularity. If I were to list my top 50 romantic movies, this Warner Bros. production likely wouldn't be included among them. Perhaps it's because I find Humphrey Bogart's Bogart characters hard to swallow. (Bogart's anti-Bogart characters, e.g., those found in The African Queen and The Caine Mutiny, are infinitely more interesting.) Anyhow, even if you're not a Bogart fan and/or don't care for romantic movies, Casablanca offers a whole array of scene-stealing supporting players, among them Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre.

Paul Henreid: The Conspirators; Goodbye Mr. Chips

Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, a sort of twisted Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, can also be seen in The Conspirators (1944). In that Jean Negulesco-directed romantic thriller, instead of Casablanca, you get Lisbon. Instead of Ingrid Bergman, you get Hedy Lamarr (who had been offered Bergman's role in Casablanca). Instead of Paul Henreid as an underground leader you get him as a guerrilla leader. But the war is the same – well, minus Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains, and Conrad Veidt.

Richard Thorpe's Ten Thousand Bedrooms (1957) is a romantic comedy featuring Dean Martin minus Jerry Lewis. Paul Henreid has a small role in this one and in the all-star World War II adventure drama Operation Crossbow (1965), one of the many expensive war movies of the '60s that tried to replicate the critical and box office success of J. Lee Thompson's The Guns of Navarone. I haven't watched Operation Crossbow, but the cast, headed by Sophia Loren and George Peppard, is (mostly) superb – e.g., Tom Courtenay, Anthony Quayle, Lilli Palmer, Helmut Dantine, Richard Todd, Sylvia Syms. Hopefully, these performers are given more to do than most of the stars in another World War II epic of the '60s, The Longest Day.

Directed by Sam Wood, Goodbye Mr. Chips (1939) is unabashedly sentimental. Some will love it and cry rivers. Others will roll their eyes and feel the urge to have their blood-sugar level checked. Robert Donat – who did much better work in The 39 Steps and The Count of Monte Cristo (to name two) – won a Best Actor Academy Award for his performance as a dedicated teacher at an English boys' school. Best Actress nominee Greer Garson, in what amounts to a supporting role, is the Love of His Life. Of note: Among those Donat beat at the Oscars was Gone with the Wind's Clark Gable; the newcomer Garson, however, failed to beat Vivien Leigh. But no matter, she would become Queen of MGM in the '40s. And finally, I should add that the supporting cast in Goodbye Mr. Chips is tip top.

Paul Henreid movies

5:00 PM THE CONSPIRATORS (1944). Dir.: Jean Negulesco. Cast: Hedy Lamarr, Paul Henreid, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Victor Francen, Joseph Calleia, Carol Thurston, Vladimir Sokoloff, Eduardo Ciannelli, Steven Geray, Luis Alberni, Anthony Caruso, Kurt Katch, George Macready, Wilbur Mack, Paul Panzer, Frank Reicher, Edward Van Sloan, Philip Van Zandt. Black and white. 101 min.

7:00 PM CASABLANCA (1942). An American saloon owner in North Africa is drawn into World War II when his lost love turns up. Dir.: Michael Curtiz. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt, S.Z. Sakall, Madeleine Lebeau, Dooley Wilson, Joy Page, John Qualen, Leonid Kinskey, Curt Bois, Marcel Dalio, Helmut Dantine, Monte Blue, George Meeker, Barry Norton, Paul Panzer, Norma Varden. Black and white. 103 min.

9:00 PM TEN THOUSAND BEDROOMS (1957). Dir.: Richard Thorpe. Cast: Dean Martin, Anna Maria Alberghetti, Eva Bartok, Dewey Martin, Walter Slezak, Jules Munshin, Paul Henreid, Marcel Dalio, Evelyn Varden, Lisa Montell, Lisa Gaye, John Archer, Dean Jones, Monique van Vooren. Color. 114 mins. Letterbox Format.

11:00 PM OPERATION CROSSBOW (1965). Dir.: Michael Anderson. Cast: Sophia Loren, George Peppard, Trevor Howard, John Mills, Richard Johnson, Tom Courtenay, Jeremy Kemp, Anthony Quayle, Lilli Palmer, Paul Henreid, Helmut Dantine, Richard Todd, Sylvia Syms, John Fraser, Barbara Rütting, Maurice Denham, Patrick Wymark, Karel Stepanek, Richard Wattis, Allan Cuthbertson. Color. 116 mins. Letterbox Format.

1:00 AM GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS (1939). A cold-hearted teacher becomes the school favorite when he's thawed by a beautiful young woman. Dir.: Sam Wood. Cast: Robert Donat, Greer Garson, Terry Kilburn, John Mills, Paul Henreid, Lyn Harding, Judith Furse, Frederick Leister, Louise Hamilton, Milton Rosmer, Austin Trevor, David Tree, Edmund Breon, Jill Furse, Scott Sunderland, Clive Dunn, Cyril Frankel, Martita Hunt, Jack Lambert, John Longden, Patrick Ludlow, Guy Middleton, Phyllis Morris, Cyril Raymond, Michael Shepley, Nigel Stock. Black and white. 114 min.

Paul Henreid movie schedule via the TCM website. Photo of Paul Henreid singing “La Marseillaise” in Casablanca: Warner Bros.

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