Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Casablanca the Series: Master Builder's Woman


A mere two episodes into Casablanca the series and I already note a bad pattern.  Sam (Scatman Crothers) will open the episode with a song.  A problem will arrive, Rick Blaine (David Soul) helps, a woman is involved with whom Rick will himself become involved with, Major Strasser (Paul Horgan) will bungle things, and Rick and Captain Renault (Hector Elizondo) will chat about the events they've been involved in as a recap.

Master Builder's Woman fails to meet the already low bar Casablanca has set for itself.  It might as well be a repeat of Who Am I Killing? because it pretty much follows the same structure. 

Major Strasser (Paul Horgan) is entertaining a German engineer, Fritz Torkel (Richard Venture), a version of Albert Speer.  He is going to build a major railway to connect Europe to the West African front (or join Africa and South America again, I'm not sure which was the more outlandish Teutonic plot).  He is also in the company of a beautiful Frenchwoman, Michelle Nessant, (Madolyn Smith Osborne).  Maitre'd Carl (Arthur Malet) sees her as collaborationist bitch, but as is the case, he's got that all wrong too, but more on that later.

Strasser is hunting down a Resistance leader code-named Henri-Henri, and there is a connection to Rick.  The café owner gets a message to meet a Red Fox, whom Rick had worked with when he was in Spain.  In any case, Rick at first refuses to help.  Henri-Henri needs exit visas to get out of Casablanca with important plans for the railroad, which the Allies desperately need.

Into this mix comes perky journalist Liz Grant (Kim Alamanzar), who wants an interview with both Rick and Henri-Henri.  As it turns out, Henri-Henri is....MICHELE HERSELF!  She urges Rick to help her, and he does, although it involves a little sexy-time much to the irritation of Strasser, who'd like to tap that himself.

Thanks to a little subterfuge and the unwitting assistance of Liz, Henri-Henri escapes and Torkel is sent to Germany in disgrace.  

If they hadn't already been satisfied with raiding the Casablanca name, Master Builder's Woman decided to basically raid the Casablanca plot almost verbatim.  We have the Resistance leader needing Rick's help, we have exit visas, Strasser on the hunt, a raid at Rick's Café Americain and Renault telling his men to 'round up the usual suspects'. 

Given how often Rick's Café appears to be raided, it's any wonder that he manages to stay open for business or would even want to. 

Bob Foster's script went beyond using Casablanca for crib notes.  It went into laugh-out-loud territory.   Naming the mysterious figures "Red Fox" and "Henri-Henri" just is funny.  Was Foster watching Sanford and Son while typing the script out?  Did either he or director Robert Lewis never stop to wonder, 'will people take this name seriously'?

That isn't for me to say.  What I can say is that here, the Germans are laughably silly and cartoonish.  Horgan in particular looks funny as Strasser, waving his gun around like a spoof of a Nazi that accidentally wandered away from a Mel Brooks film and somehow ended up here.

Soul to his credit at least didn't sound as much like Humphrey Bogart as last time.  Now he seems to have started channeling Burt Lancaster in voice and speech.  The idea that Michelle is really Henri-Henri is no mystery.  I figured that out as soon as she showed up with the good Fritz, and there are other elements that are downright idiotic.

Wouldn't a simple bribe for Michelle have worked rather than go through all these hoops and ladders to get the exit visa?  No one knew she was "Henri-Henri", so why not just pay off Renault and be done with it?  Why would this 'experienced' journalist just pretty much shout, "Oh, RICK sent me"?  It reminds me of The Glass Bottom Boat, where Doris Day was mistaken for a Soviet spy.  She gets wind of this idiotic idea and decides to have fun with it, using her dog "Vladimir" to confuse the clueless CIA and NASA.  She sends them on a wild goose chase to her father's home, where her father grows angry and irritated every time someone comes to the door saying, "Vladimir Sent Me".  He responds by punching them, which is what someone at Warner Brothers should have done when this project as presented came to them.

However, since Master Builder's Woman won an Emmy for Best Cinematography in a Series, it gets a point for that.  Seriously, we can call this "The Emmy-Winning Casablanca".  It's almost as ridiculous and revolting as the phrase "Emmy winner Steven Moffat", but like so many real-life horrors, this is a sad fact of life. 

Again, a prequel COULD have worked, but given how formulaic and repetitive the stories were, and that it added nothing to the film itself, any hope that Casablanca would have been any good died faster than Fred Sanford could tell Elizabeth he was coming to her. 

Still waiting for The Big One.
The REAL Redd Foxx...


Three Out of Five: Jenny

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