The Anti-Casablanca: Nicholas Ray's Bitter Victory Tonight at Belcourt



Cinematic Conversations: Bitter Victory
Where: The Belcourt
When: 7 p.m. Mon., Nov. 28

See this movie, and you may wonder why it isn’t as much a part of the shorthand of cinema history as Kubrick’s Paths of Glory or Lawrence of Arabia. At the very least, you’ll wonder why it isn’t more famous. In spite of casting clashes, script confusion and his own offscreen demons, director Nicholas Ray delivered a harrowing masterpiece in this bleak 1957 anti-war drama — which, as Jonathan Rosenbaum suggested, amounts in some ways to an anti-Casablanca that questions Rick’s stoic machismo as well as Victor Laszlo’s strictly patriotic motivation.

Richard Burton, radiating scorched-earth cynicism, plays the British captain dispatched to steal secret documents from Rommel’s Libyan headquarters; Curt Jurgens (intended for another role by Ray) is the commanding officer who married Burton’s former lover (Ruth Roman). As the men get lost in the Libyan desert with an increasingly disgruntled detail (including a young Christopher Lee), the mission disintegrates into chaos, while director Ray turns the blinding sandscapes into a sci-fi wasteland — the black-and-white CinemaScope frame becomes a white void dotted with scared, mutinous astronauts.

The movie offers plenty to discuss at The Belcourt’s “Cinematic Conversatons” series, a sort of cinematic book club that convenes immediately after each film. Tonight’s meets at Fido for the post-film talk after the 7 p.m. show.

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