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January 27, 2010

Question for Catholics - oh, and a review of a bad movie

Back in January of 2007, I decided to crack open a boxed set of 8 "War Classics" movies that my wife had bought me (they were cheap, which is a good thing).  The first one I decided to watch was Casablanca Express.  A truly hideous World War II movie starring Jason Connery about a German attempt to waylay Winston Churchill on his way to the Casablanca summit.  I will post the review here, in its entirety (I originally posted it at Epinions).  I do this because:

a) I love writing snarky reviews, as I think they're the funniest ones I write, and I'd like to share it with my loyal readers

b) As context for my question to anybody who knows Catholic ritual.  If you really don't want to read the review, I'll clearly mark where it's over and you can just move on to the question.

But it won't be nearly as much fun.

Review after the break (it's slightly edited from the original Epinions version).

I've seen some silly movies in my time, but nothing really jumps to mind now that I've just seen Casablanca Express, a World War II movie directed by Sergio Martino and starring Jason Connery. The movie was made in 1989, and yet it is included in a package of DVDs made by Platinum Disc called "War Classics". To include this movie in a set of "classics" really waters down that word to almost complete irrelevance. Still, it was fun in a hokey kind of way, especially if you're a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The plot, what there is of it, concerns an attempt by the Germans to kidnap Winston Churchill on the way to his meeting with Roosevelt in Casablanca. Churchill's plane is attacked by a German bomber and diverted to an Allied base, from where he must take a train to Casablanca. The good guys try to get him to Casablanca without anybody knowing, but the Germans catch wind of it. The train is waylaid by a German spy who then leads a contingent of German paratroops into an attack on the train. British special agent Alan Cooper (Jason Connery) must stop the insidious plan before the Germans can make off with Churchill, which would be a propaganda coup!

The problems with Casablanca Express must be seen to be believed, but they begin with horrible acting (except passable acting from Glenn Ford and Donald Pleasance, who look almost embarrassed to be in this flick). The dialogue is humorously bad at best and dreadful at worst. The music is trite, synthetic swill that doesn't fit the mood at all but attempts to showcase the "action" in the film. I can't think of a single good thing to say about anybody's performance in doing their jobs in this movie. Ok, one thing. Jinny Stefan, who plays Lt. Lorna Fisher and Connery's love interest, is fairly attractive and actually shows some skin (yes, there is brief nudity in this movie, for those of you who are turned off by that but not by everything else that's wrong with this picture).

The worst thing about Casablanca Express, however (and yes, worse than all mentioned above) is the internal and external logic and realism in the movie. Historical accuracy be damned seems to be Martino's attitude. First, to my knowledge, there were no US Marine units in North Africa. There were some individual Marines, but I don't think there were any actual units that could be sent to Churchill's rescue. Secondly, there's the strangeness with Churchill's plane being diverted. What, it was unescorted? And attacked by a German bomber? That's way out there.

I've also heard other problems with uniforms and the like (which I can't really tell), but I will mention that, given all of these other accuracy problems, I find it strange that it appears they actually got the German paratrooper helmets correct (or at least the fact that they were different from the normal German army helmets).

As for internal logic, there are scores of problems here. Internal continuity seems to be fine (at least I didn't notice anything egregious), but the thought processes behind what's in the movie are just baffling. Why all the emphasis on the civilians and others on the train? We see two extremely flirtatious ladies, a priest with some nuns who also interact with an apparent Moslem imam (or at least some sort of Moslem religious figure), and strangest of all, two gay British soldiers. Removing them would shorten the movie considerably, as Martino spends a lot of time with them. But why not at least give them some depth? That way, when a bunch of them are killed, we actually care? Instead, they're flatter than an unassembled cardboard box and when they die, we say "oh, how vicious of those nasty German soldiers!" instead of "oh, I really wished he/she had lived." I could list a lot of the other issues and make this review a lot longer than it is, but trust me, it's full of them.

Then there are the errors that you just have to laugh at because otherwise you'll cry, such as one crossbow bolt to the back/gut killing a soldier so quickly that he can't even scream. Or Fisher knowing to use the radio to call reinforcements when there's no way she could know whether the bombs had been defused yet (which was when she was supposed to use the radio). These are the types of errors that are actually fun to talk back to if you're watching the movie with somebody else.

Finally, I have to mention two strange inclusions in the film. First, the whole conspiracy thing about Churchill knowing ahead of time about the attack on Pearl Harbor but not telling Roosevelt about it so that the US would enter the war is brought up but then subsequently dropped. Glenn Ford's character had a family member die at Pearl and he seems very angry at Churchill, but that quickly fades to nothingness. Why bring this up in an action movie where you know you will never be able to address it as an actual controversy? And then there is an argument among two of the passengers about Vichy France collaborating with the Germans that is brought up for no apparent reason as well. What's with the needless philosophizing in a bad popcorn flick?

All in all, Casablanca Express isn't really worth the 90 minutes you spend watching it, unless you're going to laugh at it (or give it a scathing review!). The result of the film is weaker than the sum of its parts, and considering how weak those parts are, that's pretty bad. Avoid this one unless you have to. And if you do, then get in the right frame of mind. You could have some fun with it.


Ok, so that's the review.  In the comments section of the review, I came up with another question that just struck me as wrong about this movie.  However, I'm not up on my Catholic traditions, so I'm throwing this out there to everyone who might know the answer.  Here's the comment:

" I'm not up on my Catholic rites, but the priest is shot by the Germans and is dying (oh, come on, you know you don't really care about spoilers in this movie, do you?). One of the surviving nuns asks the Moslem to issue last rites to the priest, guiding him with what he needs to do (hand motions and the like). The Moslem makes the sign of the cross on the dying priest and says whatever needs to be said. The priest dies at peace.

Is this even remotely possible? Can any religious figure issue Catholic last rites in a pinch? What should have been done in that situation?

I'd really love to know, since I can't believe this movie would actually be accurate in any way.

So, can anybody help me?  This has been bugging me off and on for 3 years now. 

Help me, Obiwan Kenobi.  You're my only hope.

And I hope you enjoyed the review, too. 


  1. Sounds like you didn't much like this movie.LOL I love it when you bad mouth a book or movie.

  2. I haven't watched the movie (and having read your review, I'm thinking...never) but I'm guessing they are trying to portray Christian-Muslim unity.

  3. It is my understanding that if death is imminent,anyone can administer "last rites" (now called sacrament of the sick because you no longer have to be dying to recieve it). I do know that some doctors and nurses know how to do this in ER and ICU settings. The rules do change over time so I am uncertain if this was acceptable practice for the historical context of your movie.

  4. Mom: I can sometimes be at my best when I do that. :P

    Asher: That may be why they included it, but I was asking more whether it was realistic or not

    Anonymous: Thank you! That's the answer I was looking for. Probably the closest I'm going to get unless a historian finds this post. :)

  5. My wife, who was raised Catholic, says that "anonymous" is correct with one exception.
    Anyone THAT WAS BAPTIZED CATHOLIC may administer the sacrament of the sick.

  6. Oho!! So the movie *was* wrong.

    Why does that not surprise me?

    Thanks, Frank. Much appreciated.

  7. There's more: my brother-in-law who is a Catholic Deacon (and very well-informed religious historian) has now weighed in with this:
    "No, only a priest could administer the sacrament of anointing, and he could not minister it to himself. However, any run of the mill moslem could validly perform a baptism to someone in the same circumstances, but who had never been baptized."

  8. Hi Frank

    I'm not sure I understand what you mean, in this case. How does it apply in this case?

    I love this. Getting an answer after 3 years. Should have tried here long ago. :)


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