As well as a million quotable (and quoted) lines and the best made-up-as-they-went-along storyline in film history, Casablanca is distinguished by two great bits of purely facial acting, rendered mesmerisingly by director of photography Arthur Edeson. One is the shot of Madeleine LeBeau, as Yvonne, in tears as she sings La Marseillaise.
.The other is by Joy Page, as Annina, the innocent newlywed who comes to Bogart ostensibly to ask if Captain Renault will keep his word (and provide her with an exit visa if she sleeps with him) but, with her eyes, begging him for help so as to avoid having to keep her end of the bargain. (Bogart arranges for her husband to win a rigged game of roulette, and thus buy his visa.)
It has to be done with the eyes: the Hays Code would never have permitted the character’s dilemma to be stated outright. Instead, in beautifully lit close-up, she asks:
“Monsieur, you are a man. If someone loved you very much, so that your happiness was the only thing she wanted in the world, but she did a bad thing to make certain of it… could you forgive her?”
Had Hollywood enjoyed freedom from censorship at this time, we would have missed this tiny, poignant and exquisite moment of cinema. Artistic freedom equals artistic impoverishment yet again, another point for the Hays Office.
Joy Page, the actress who makes so much of this minor episode, died on April 18th at the age of 83.
It was only thanks to the obituaries that I learned she was in fact Jack Warner’s then-seventeen year old stepdaughter. (Her father was silent star Don Alvarado.) Fearing accusations of nepotism, Warner did not put her under contract, and she went to MGM for a featured role in the Dietrich vehicle Kismet. She worked steadily in television through the fifties, but her only other movie role of note, and her largest, was in Budd Boetticher’s The Bullfighter and the Lady.
But her two or three minutes of Casablanca will be her legacy, totemic of the degree of excellence in all details and departments, from the greatest to the smallest, that the old Hollywood studio system was able to achieve.
Joy Page (1924 - 2008)