REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


CASABLANCA “Siren Song” April 10, 1956. ABC – Warner Brothers. CAST: Charles McGraw as Rick Blaine, Marcel Dalio as Renaud. GUEST CAST: Mari Blanchard as Elsa Norden, James Mitchell as Francisco, Roberta Haynes as Maria, and Hayden Rorke as Henderson. Written by Frederic Brady. Directed by Richard L. Bare. Produced by Jerome Robinson – Executive Producer: William T. Orr. Based on film CASABLANCA (1942) – One of the rotating series under the title WARNER BROTHERS PRESENTS

   Despite its constant efforts to stop such behavior, YouTube is a great source for the TV fan. You never know what TV treasure you will find there. In this case it is a lost episode of the ABC-TV series CASABLANCA (1955-56).

   For those who have seen the TV premiere episode of CASABLANCA (1955-56) “Who Holds Tomorrow” (available on “Two Disc Special Edition” CASABLANCA – the film; DVD), “Siren Song” will show how far the series fell in its attempt to capture the magic of the movie.

   “Siren Song” is a complete episode of CASABLANCA, but missing the WARNER PRESENTS opening host segment by Gig Young and the end segment that went behind the scenes to promote a Warner Brothers film.

   The film CASABLANCA (1942) is still considered one of the greatest films ever made. The romantic adventure of two people and their doomed love affair still has meaning today.

   Warner Brothers has made two attempts at adapting the film to TV. I reviewed the NBC 1983 version here.

   The 1955 attempt was one of the rotating series under the title WARNER BROTHERS PRESENTS, along with KING’S ROW, CHEYENNE and a dramatic anthology. CASABLANCA would last only ten episodes of the scheduled thirteen.

   The series aired on Tuesday at 7:30 to 8:30 on ABC. Opposite on CBS was NAME THAT TUNE followed by NAVY LOG, on NBC it was DINAH SHORE then PLYMOUTH NEWS CARAVAN, at 8pm NBC rotated the MILTON BERLE SHOW, MARTHA RAYE SHOW and the CHEVY SHOW. DuMont left the time period to its local affiliates.

   “Siren Song” is a good but predictable TV noir complete with a man-hating femme fatale. The series itself had several flaws with the most serious being Charles McGraw in the Bogart role of the tragic romantic hero Rick Blaine.

   Retired matador Francisco yearns to return to the glory of the bullring. He ignores the warnings of his wife and his friend Rick that Francisco is too old to survive the ring.

   Everyone notices the beautiful blonde Elsa enter, a femme fatale who few men can resist. Elsa finds pleasure in destroying men. She discards her current lover and sets her sights on Francisco.

   Francisco falls for her charm, abandoning his loyal loving wife. It does not take much for Elsa to convince Francisco to fight the bull again.

   The film CASABLANCA proved too iconic for this early TV series to live up to, even for the premiere episode “Who Holds Tomorrow” that actually tried.

   Comparing the entrance and interior sets of Rick’s Café Americain in “Who Holds Tomorrow” to “Siren Song” illustrates the series budget cuts and that Warner Brothers had given up on the series.

   Director Richard L. Bare (77 SUNSET STRIP) did well in capturing the noir mood of the predictable script and the filming of the bullfighting scene was impressive for its time, but Casablanca, the city as well as the heart of the film, were missing.

   The series was set in contemporary 1955 Casablanca and portrayed the locale as a center of Cold War intrigue. However in the real world at that time Casablanca was a center of revolution between the Moroccans and the French and Spanish. During the time this series was on the air the French officially granted Morocco its independence.

   The tension between the natives and the French (and Spanish) was ignored in this episode and while politics played no role in “Siren Song,” the turmoil of the time should at least have been part of the background atmosphere.

   Even a greater mistake was the relationship between Rick and Renaud took a step back as if the movie’s ending never happened. Marcel Dalio was no Claude Raines but in a nice piece of trivia, he had played the role of Emil the croupier in the movie version.

   The fatal flaw was Rick. It is no surprise that McGraw failed to match Bogart as the tragic romantic hero. A bigger problem was Rick of the movie was not the Rick of this series. TV Rick seemed content, almost happy with his life. Where was the angst of the movie’s Rick that made the character so romantic?

   This episode as with many of early TV series focused on guest characters more than the main star of the series. But CASABLANCA’s appeal was more about Rick than the premise. The audience was there for Rick, not some story about random characters.

   The guest cast did OK. Mari Blanchard (DESTRY) was at her best, showing the glee she felt as she used a man and cruelly sent him off to his doom. Today’s old TV fans will notice Hayden Rorke from I DREAM OF JEANNIE, playing the man who paid the bills for his time with Elsa. James Mitchell (ALL MY CHILDREN) as Matador Francisco handled the bullfighting scene better than the self-pitying side of the retired bullfighter.

   The major film studios had always looked down on TV as the enemy, but Disney’s financial success of TV series DISNEYLAND the season before and how Disney used it to promote its other product convinced other major studios to give TV a try.

   WARNER BROTHERS PRESENTS was that series for Warner Brothers. While CASABLANCA and KING’S ROW were TV failures and other studios attacked Warner Brothers and ABC for the behind the scenes segment as being a six-minute free commercial for Warner Brothers films (which it was), the huge success of the third series CHEYENNE would keep Warner Brothers happy with the profits from the TV business.

   Without more episodes its remains difficult to judge this attempt to bring CASABLANCA to the small screen, “Siren Song” was a better than average TV noir drama for the early days of television. But anyone expecting to find the romance adventure worthy of the name CASABLANCA will be disappointed.