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374 out of 443 people found the following review useful:

We'll Always Have Casablanca

10/10
Author: RWiggum from Erlangen, Germany
29 March 2004

Spoilers ahead, but then again, who isn't familiar with Casablanca, even if one hasn't seen it?

I've been watching 'Casablanca' over and over again since I bought the Special Edition DVD, and is there any film out there one can watch again and again without ever being tired of it? And does any film appeal to a broader audience? Just everything about it seems to be as close to perfection as it only can be.

But what exactly is so special about it? Is it its great genre mix, never equaled by another film? When we think of 'Casablanca' first, we remember it as a romantic film (well, most of us do). But then again, its also a drama involving terror, murder and flight. One can call it a character study, centering on Rick. And there are quite a few moments of comedic delight, just think of the pickpocket ("This place is full of vultures, vultures everywhere!") or the elderly couple on the last evening before their emigration to the US ("What watch?").

But 'Casablanca' is not only great as a whole, it still stands on top if we break it apart and look at single lines of dialog, scenes or performances alone. Is there any other film which has more quotable dialog than 'Casablanca'? 'Pulp Fiction' is on my mind here, and 'All About Eve' and 'Sunset Blvd.' come close, too, but still I think 'Casablanca' tops everything else. And not only is the dialog great, it's unforgettably delivered, especially by Humphrey Bogart ("I was misinformed.") and Claude Rains ("I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here"). Many of scenes have become a part of film history; the duel of 'Die Wacht am Rhein' and 'La Marseillaise' is probably one of the greatest scenes ever shot (the only I can think of that would rival it for the #1 spot is Hynkel and the globe from Chaplin's 'The Great Dictator'), and the last scene is probably even familiar to the few people who've never seen 'Casablanca'. Am I the only one who is absolutely convinced that the film wouldn't have become what it is today if Rick and Ilsa would have ended up as the lucky couple?

About the performances: So much has been said about the uniqueness of Humphrey Bogart's and Ingrid Bergman's chemistry as Rick and Ilsa, about Claude Rains' terrific turn as Renault, about the scene-stealing performances by Peter Lorre (one of the 10 all-time greatest actors) as Ugarte and Sydney Greenstreet as Ferrari and about Dooley Wilson stopping the show as Sam. I'd love to emphasize here two other performances, one that is not mentioned quite as often and one which is blatantly overlooked: Conrad Veidt as Major Strasser had a really difficult task here, as his character is the only evil one, but still Strasser is not a one-dimensional character, and it took more than 50 years until another actor gave an equally (maybe even more) impressive performance as a Nazi, Ralph Fiennes in 'Schindler's List'. But why no one ever mentions S. K. Sakall, who plays Carl, the jolly waiter at Rick's Café Américain, is beyond me. He has definitely more screen time than Lorre, Greenstreet and Wilson, and probably about as much as Veidt, and he's a joy whenever he's on the screen. I simply love his reaction when the pickpocket ("Vultures everywhere!") accidentally bumps into him, or the reaction to the "What watch"-dialog. Or how he says he gave Strasser the best table, "being a German, he would have taken it anyway". His performance is simply criminally overlooked.

So is there a weakest link in 'Casablanca'? Every film, no matter how close to perfection, has a minor flaw or two, so one can find them in 'Casablanca', too, if one really tries hard. So yes, one might ask how much sense the entire mumbo jumbo about the letters of transit makes. One might point out that Paul Henreid, although his performance is certainly good, doesn't come close to the greatness of any of his co-stars. However, the film is so close to perfection that I'm almost ashamed that I'm so desperately trying to find less-than-perfect elements.

So whatever films will come, how many sequels will overflow the screen, and how much junk we will have to sit through, one thing is certain if we're desperate to see a great film: We'll always have Casablanca!

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338 out of 394 people found the following review useful:

A masterwork for all time...

10/10
Author: kdryan
10 November 2004

There is a scene about halfway through the movie Casablanca that has become commonly known as 'The Battle of the Anthems' throughout the film's long history. A group of German soldiers has come into Rick's Café American and are drunkenly singing the German National Anthem at the top of their voice. Victor Lazlo, the leader of the French Resistance, cannot stand this act and while the rest of the club stares appalled at the Germans, Lazlo orders the band to play 'Le Marseilles (sic?)' the French National Anthem. With a nod from Rick, the band begins playing, with Victor singing at the top of HIS voice. This in turn, inspires the whole club to begin singing and the Germans are forced to surrender and sit down at their table, humbled by the crowd's dedication. This scene is a turning point in the movie, for reasons that I leave to you to discover.

As I watched this movie again tonight for what must be the 100th time, I noticed there was a much smaller scene wrapped inside the bigger scene that, unless you look for it, you may never notice. Yvonne, a minor character who is hurt by Rick emotionally, falls into the company of a German soldier. In a land occupied by the Germans, but populated by the French, this is an unforgivable sin. She comes into the bar desperately seeking happiness in the club's wine, song, and gambling. Later, as the Germans begin singing we catch a glimpse of Yvonne sitting dejectedly at a table alone and in this brief glimpse, it is conveyed that she has discovered that this is not her path to fulfillment and she has no idea where to go from there. As the singing progresses, we see Yvonne slowly become inspired by Lazlo's act of defiance and by the end of the song, tears streaming down her face, she is singing at the top of her voice too. She has found her redemption. She has found something that will make her life never the same again from that point on.

Basically, this is Casablanca in a nutshell. On the surface, you may see it as a romance, or as a story of intrigue, but that is only partially correct.

The thing that makes Casablanca great is that it speaks to that place in each of us that seeks some kind of inspiration or redemption. On some level, every character in the story receives the same kind of catharsis and their lives are irrevocably changed. Rick's is the most obvious in that he learns to live again, instead of hiding from a lost love. He is reminded that there are things in the world more noble and important than he is and he wants to be a part of them. Louis, the scoundrel, gets his redemption by seeing the sacrifice Rick makes and is inspired to choose a side, where he had maintained careful neutrality. The stoic Lazlo gets his redemption by being shown that while thousands may need him to be a hero, there is someone he can rely upon when he needs inspiration in the form of his wife, who was ready to sacrifice her happiness for the chance that he would go on living. Even Ferrai, the local organized crime leader gets a measure of redemption by pointing Ilsa and Lazlo to Rick as a source of escape even though there is nothing in it for him.

This is the beauty of this movie. Every time I see it (and I have seen it a lot) it never fails that I see some subtle nuance that I have never seen before. Considering that the director would put that much meaning into what is basically a throw away moment (not the entire scene, but Yvonne's portion) speaks bundles about the quality of the film. My wife and I watched this movie on our first date, and since that first time over 12 years ago, it has grown to be, in my mind, the greatest movie ever made.

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238 out of 284 people found the following review useful:

The Fundamental Things Apply...

10/10
Author: Bill Slocum (bill.slocum@gmail.com) from Greenwich, CT United States
16 January 2005

"Casablanca" remains Hollywood's finest moment, a film that succeeds on such a vast scale not because of anything experimental or deliberately earthshaking in its design, but for the way it cohered to and reaffirmed the movie-making conventions of its day. This is the film that played by the rules while elevating the form, and remains the touchstone for those who talk about Hollywood's greatness.

It's the first week in December, 1941, and in the Vichy-controlled African port city of Casablanca, American ex-pat Rick Blaine runs a gin joint he calls "Rick's Cafe Americaine." Everybody comes to Rick's, including thieves, spies, Nazis, partisans, and refugees trying to make their way to Lisbon and, eventually, America. Rick is a tough, sour kind of guy, but he's still taken for a loop when fate hands him two sudden twists: A pair of unchallengeable exit visas, and a woman named Ilsa who left him broken-hearted in Paris and now needs him to help her and her resistance-leader husband escape.

Humphrey Bogart is Rick and Ingrid Bergman is Ilsa, in roles that are archetypes in film lore. They are great parts besides, very multilayered and resistant to stereotype, and both actors give career performances in what were great careers. He's mad at her for walking out on him, while she wants him to understand her cause, but there's a lot going on underneath with both, and it all spills out in a scene in Rick's apartment that is one of many legendary moments.

"Casablanca" is a great romance, not only for being so supremely entertaining with its humor and realistic-though-exotic wartime excitement, but because it's not the least bit mushy. Take the way Rick's face literally breaks when he first sees Ilsa in his bar, or how he recalls the last time he saw her in Paris: "The Germans wore gray, you wore blue." There's a real human dimension to these people that makes us care for them and relate to them in a way that belies the passage of years.

For me, and many, the most interesting relationship in the movie is Rick and Capt. Renault, the police prefect in Casablanca who is played by Claude Rains with a wonderful subtlety that builds as the film progresses. Theirs is a relationship of almost perfect cynicism, one-liners and professions of neutrality that provide much humor, as well as give a necessary display of Rick's darker side before and after Ilsa's arrival.

But there's so much to grab onto with a film like this. You can talk about the music, or the way the setting becomes a living character with its floodlights and Moorish traceries. Paul Henreid is often looked at as a bit of a third wheel playing the role of Ilsa's husband, but he manages to create a moral center around which the rest of the film operates, and his enigmatic relationship with Rick and especially Ilsa, a woman who obviously admires her husband but can't somehow ever bring herself to say she loves him, is something to wonder at.

My favorite bit is when Rick finds himself the target of an entreaty by a Bulgarian refugee who just wants Rick's assurance that Capt. Renault is "trustworthy," and that, if she does "a bad thing" to secure her husband's happiness, it would be forgivable. Rick flashes on Ilsa, suppresses a grimace, tries to buy the woman off with a one-liner ("Go back to Bulgaria"), then finally does a marvelous thing that sets the whole second half of the film in motion without much calling attention to itself.

It's not fashionable to discuss movie directors after Chaplin and before Welles, but surely something should be said about Michael Curtiz, who not only directed this film but other great features like "Captain Blood" and "Angels With Dirty Faces." For my money, his "Adventures Of Robin Hood" was every bit "Casablanca's" equal, and he even found time the same year he made "Casablanca" to make "Yankee Doodle Dandy." When you watch a film like this, you aren't so much aware of the director, but that's really a testament to Curtiz's artistry. "Casablanca" is not only exceptionally well-paced but incredibly well-shot, every frame feeling well-thought-out and legendary without distracting from the overall story.

Curtiz was a product of the studio system, not a maverick like Welles or Chaplin, but he found greatness just as often, and "Casablanca," also a product of the studio system, is the best example. It's a film that reminds us why we go back to Hollywood again and again when we want to refresh our imaginations, and why we call it "the dream factory." As the hawker of linens tells Ilsa at the bazaar, "You won't find a treasure like this in all Morocco." Nor, for that matter, in all the world.

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197 out of 256 people found the following review useful:

I've loved this film for thirty years.

10/10
Author: Rob Stewart (questor@dmv.com) from Delaware, USA
29 November 2000

Casablanca is a film about the personal tragedy of occupation and war. It speaks to the oppression of the one side - and the heroism and self-deprecation of the other. From opportunists, to isolationists - from patriots to disenchanted lovers - the film has everything a man or woman would enjoy. Bravery, courage, intrigue, romance, beauty and love. Leading actors to please any appetite. Watching this film is to step back to a world that doesn't exist - yet to know it. It is to experience lives that have never been lived - but are "real to you." It is to know pain and joy, pride and pity for characters that are a fiction - yet are so real that you can't help but get lost in their story.

Amazing cast, memorable dialogue, unforgettable story. Through this film, Casablanca will always live in my heart and I will think of its characters as family.

Seeing it for the first time is truly the start of a romance with ideals that will live in you long after credits end.

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137 out of 180 people found the following review useful:

Of all the classics in all the films in all the world, this is the best!

Author: John Wayne Peel (jwpeel@tiac.net) from United States
11 August 2004

This is a film that MUST belong in every video collection in the U.S. is not in the world. The stories about it's making are legendary from the constant rewrites to the apocrypha of casting stories.

What is amazing to me, and the reason I believe it holds audiences almost spellbound in successive viewings, is the connection with the horrors of World War II was almost every single cast member. Sidney Greenstreet had lost a son in combat, and a number of the cast members fled Europe to escape the ravages of a Hitler regime. Even the evil Nazi character Major Strasser (played with relish by Conrad Veidt) had left Nazi Germany to escape almost sure internment and possible death in a concentration camp. Here was a man who was a legend in German film history as the murdering somnambulist (a possible warning about the Nazi soldiers to come?) and because of the vicious anti-Semitism and racism of the Germany of the '30s and '40s, we in America and in Hollywood were given a great gift.

Everyone in this film is fabulous, but it is the chemistry of Rick (Bogart) and Ilsa (Bergman) been truly holds the film together. When I saw this film almost frame by frame in the limited book series of classic films that were produced in the late 1960s, I was stunned by the subtlety of facial expressions that conveyed so much of Rick Blaine's character by a marvelous actor Humphrey Bogart. There is a reason why he was named the actor of the century.

While every person in the film becomes a real flesh and blood presence, the story of Rick and Ilsa is the center of this cinema feast.

I must confess that I have seen this picture so many times that I can recite every single line in the movie to the consternation of my wife who can't watch it with me anymore.

The line that sticks out the most for me, and which against cheers from New Yorkers whenever it plays in the theater. It is when Bogart says to the Nazis seated at his table, "There are parts of New York I wouldn't advise you to invade." And what makes this line so memorable is that Humphrey Bogart did indeed star in another motion picture for Warner Brothers where that very thing formed the basis for the script. That movie was "All Through The Night." I love this movie too, and I'm not even a New Yorker.

There have been many attempts to revisit "Casablanca," but only the original makes you really feel what it was like to live through "The Good War" in a faraway place like Casablanca in French Morocco.

Even though such trickery as midget airport workers, fog machines and cardboard cutout airplanes were utilized, this film convinces through its beautiful story with many layers, and characters that are so well realized.

If you've never seen this movie before, shame on you and see it immediately. If you only seen it once, I believe you will come back to it more than once. This is just about the most perfect film ever made and it is a miracle that that is so considering that there were so many hands in the pie. (Excuse me for my mixing my metaphors. It's late, and I get emotional just thinking about this classic film masterpiece.)

Play it again and again and again and again, Sam.

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120 out of 152 people found the following review useful:

"I should never have switched from scotch to martinis."

10/10
Author: JFHunt from Manhattan
6 December 2006

The Petrified Forest convinced the world Bogart was a bad guy. And for years he shocked and awed the audience with roles fitting that image. The Maltese Falcon showed a new kind hero, one with an edge. Bogart, with all the right things to say and seemingly never losing his cool. Then came Casablanca and the ages. The man's – man comes with a heart. Arguably, three of his best pictures. All showing a change in a man's character and the depths of what acting is supposed to be. Maybe it was Warner Bros all along. Maybe Bogart was simply Bogart.

What can I say about this film that hasn't been said in over 60 years since its release. Is it a great film? Yes. Is it a showcase for Bogart? If not, than what else. Was Bogart the coolest guy to ever live? Absolutely. Casablanca is a different kind of love story, more likely to infect rather than effect.

She almost makes me believe it every time. When she says, "You're very kind." Bergman was more than just beautiful. And with Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt and Peter Lorre, cinema magic was created. But to me, Bogart was the greatest actor of all time. It's hard for me to believe he died almost 50 years ago. Every time I watch his films, it's like they were made yesterday. And that's why he is timeless. I'm still trying to figure him out.

"I should never have switched from scotch to martinis." Is said to be Bogart's last words. A legend, indeed.

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95 out of 115 people found the following review useful:

.....it's still the same old story, a fight for love and glory, a case of do or die, the world will always welcome lovers, As Time Goes By."

10/10
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
8 March 2006

It's one of the great Hollywood legends how George Raft helped make Humphrey Bogart a leading man by turning down in succession, High Sierra, The Maltese Falcon, and Casablanca. Maybe Raft showed some good sense in letting a better actor handle those roles. In any event we've got some proof in the case of Casablanca.

Check out some time a film called Background to Danger that Warner Brothers did with George Raft that also featured Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. Had Raft ever done Casablanca the film would have been a routine action/adventure story just like Background to Danger. Instead with Bogey we get that, but also one of the great love stories of the century.

Humphrey Bogart set the standard for playing expatriate American soldiers of fortune in Casablanca. Right now he's between wars running Rick's Cafe Americain in Casablanca in Morocco, an area controlled for the moment by the Vicky French government. He's got his fingers in a whole lot of pies, but Bogey operates with his own code of ethics. He sticks his neck out for nobody.

Nobody except the great love of his life Ingrid Bergman who left him mysteriously in Paris as he was fleeing the oncoming German occupation. She walks back into his life with a husband, Paul Henreid who is a well known anti-fascist leader.

The rest of the film is a contest for Bogey's soul. Torn between his great love, his own anti-fascist beliefs, and certain practical necessities of operating a liquor and gaming establishment in a hostile environment.

So many things combine to make Casablanca the great film it is. Ingrid Bergman's lovely incandescence melding and melting Bogey's cynical screen persona. The indelible characterizations of Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt and the whole rest of a 100% perfectly cast film. And the revival of a great ballad which serves as Casablanca's theme song.

I say revival because As Time Goes By was introduced in 1931 in the George White Scandals on Broadway by Rudy Vallee. He made a record of it which sold quite a few disks back then. But by the merest of coincidences there was a strike that lasted two years that just began around the time Casablanca came out. The Musicians Union struck against the record companies. With no new records being made RCA Victor re-released Vallee's record and it became a monster hit on revival.

Also when Casablanca came out as if the White House had a personal interest in the film FDR and Churchill had the first of their wartime conferences in----Casablanca of all places. Jack Warner must have said a prayer for that to happen.

There are so many classic scenes and lines from Casablanca you can write a comment just by listing them. But my favorite has always been when the Germans have taken over Rick's place and are singing some of their songs, Paul Henreid goes to orchestra leader and asks him to lead La Marsellaise. With a nod from Bogey, the orchestra plays, Henreid leads them and the rest of the non-Germans in the cafe join in. Over 60 years later, one still gets a thrill from that act of defiance.

Bogart and Rains were nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. Any of the others could have been as well. As I said before Casablanca is perfectly cast right down to minor roles like Curt Bois as a pickpocket, John Qualen as a fellow resistance leader, and S.Z. Sakall as a waiter at Rick's. If there was an award for ensemble cast, Casablanca would have won it. As it was it did win for Best Picture of 1943 and best director for Michael Curtiz.

Casablanca will be seen and loved by filmgoers for generations unto infinity, as time goes by.

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89 out of 112 people found the following review useful:

A Classic Worth Remembering

Author: Snow Leopard from Ohio
6 December 2001

While there's not anything new to be said about "Casablanca", it's good to see one of the classics still getting some attention. By most standards it is at least very good, and there are good reasons why so many still remember it so fondly. Not everyone who watches it today shares the opinion that it is a classic, but it's still good to see fans of modern movies giving it a try for themselves.

The cast is one of its main strengths, not just Bogart and Bergman but also the fine supporting cast. Rains, Greenstreet, Lorre, and the others are indispensable to the atmosphere and the story, and each has some very good moments. It does have its imperfections, but it was not expected to be a classic or blockbuster - everything you read about the production suggests that it was made in a rather slap-dash fashion, under constraints that would have wrecked most other films. It's not hard to see the little ways that this affected the finished product, such as the times when the plot strains credibility a bit, or the characters seem to behave somewhat oddly. (In particular, it might have been even more satisfying if Bergman's character had been a little stronger - Ilsa is charming, but that's entirely thanks to what Bergman does with her; the character herself as written seems somewhat shallow.)

But it turned out anyway to be an excellent combination of actors, characters, and story, a combination that more than makes up for everything else. Different viewers probably remember and enjoy "Casablanca" for different reasons, because it seemingly has a little of everything. While perhaps not perfect, it is well worth remembering and watching.

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83 out of 102 people found the following review useful:

Cinema par Excellence!

10/10
Author: Righty-Sock (robertfrangie@hotmail.com) from Mexico
28 November 1999

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Michael Curtiz's "Casablanca" opens on maps while a narrator gives a detailed exposition of the many twists and turns of Casablanca in the French Morocco, as a refugee route from wartime Europe...

The Nazi envoy, Major Heinrich Strasser puts it: 'Human life is cheap in Casablanca." Of course because a man may be executed in its crowded market before Marshal Pétain's portrait or where a charming girl may guarantee an exit visa by spending her night with the Prefect of Police...

Rick's Café is the point of intersection, the espionage center, the background for Allied offensive, the focal point as refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe seek to gain exit visas to Lisboa... The interesting club so well organized, leads to an open arena of conspiracy, counterspies, secret plans, black market transactions, in which the games and fights are between arrogant Nazis, patriotic French, idealists, murderers, pickpockets and gamblers around a roulette wheel, where a ball could rest on Rick's command against the settled number 22...

"Casablanca" is an adventure film which victory is not won with cannons and guns... The action, the fight, the war takes place inside Rick's walls rather than outside...

But who is this Rick? What is his magical power? His secret weapon? Rick is the anti-fascist with hard feelings, the former soldier of fortune who has grown tired of smuggling and fighting, and is now content to sit out the war in his own neutral territory... Even loyalty to a friend doesn't move him as he refuses to help Ugarte, a desperately frightened little courier who is fleeing from the police...

Emphatically, Rick says, "I stick my neck out for nobody." But we know he will do just that in a very short time, for into his quiet life comes a haunting vision from his past, the beautiful woman he still loves and bitterly remembers... She is married to an underground leader and she desperately needs those papers Rick conveniently now has in his possession... The cynical Rick's facade of neutrality begins to weaken as he recalls the bittersweet memories of his past love affair, memories triggered repeatedly when the strains of "As Time Goes By" come from Sam, his piano-playing confidante...

But "Casablanca" basic message is a declaration of self-sacrifice... War World II demanded all! The words stated by Rick at the airport had their impact: 'The problems of three people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.' It goes without saying that Bogart is incomparable when he seems most like himself... His way with a line makes "Casablanca" dialog part of the collective memory: 'I remember every detail. The Germans wore gray. You were blue.'

Intermixed in this intrigue are all the fascinating and beautifully acted supporting roles… With his customary skill, Claude Rains plays Major Renault, a prefect of police who is like Bogart in many ways... He, too, claims neutrality, but is definitely against the Nazis... He is Rick's most devoted adversary, tauntingly calling the man a "sentimentalist" and delivering his share of cynically amusing lines... When he makes a small bet and is encouraged to make a bigger one, he remarks that he is only a "poor corrupt official."

Ingrid Bergman is fascinating as the lovely heroine, the mysterious impossible woman of an impossible love, the tender mood of every man, the love-affair, the quality of being romantic, the traditional woman enclosed by two rivals, symbol of a besieged Europe...

Paul Henreid is Victor Laszlo, the anti-Nazi resistance leader, seeking in Morocco the two letters of transit signed by General De Gaulle...

Sidney Greenstreet is the black marketeer on good terms with Rick, the rival owner of the 'Blue Parrot,' the acceptable face of corruption...

Peter Lorre is Ugarte, the racketeer, the dealer of anything illegal, the killer, driven into a corner by the Vichy police, who has given Rick two letter of transit...

Conrad Veidt is the very essence of German rigidity, unfeeling, unconcerned about life, but firmly believing in the foolish ideology of his Nazi compatriots...

"Casablanca" covers many highlights: The Marseillaise against the Horst Wessel song inspiring sequence; the blissful days in Paris; Ilsa's emotional words to Rick in occupied Paris; the champagne toast; Ilsa's request to Sam; the poetry of the magic words and the beautiful voice of Dooley Wilson; Captain Renault's words in the airport; and the farewell...

The magic that developed from the teaming of Bogart and Bergman is enough to make a new romantic figure out of the former tough guy... To his cynicism, his own code of ethics, his hatred of the phoniness in all human behavior, he now added the softening traits of tenderness and compassion and a feeling of heroic commitment to a cause... They helped him complete the portrayal of the ideal man who all men wished to rival...

One can look at hundreds of films produced during this period without finding any whose composite pieces fall so perfectly into place... Its photography is outstanding, the music score is inventive, the editing is concise and timed perfectly... Bogart's and Bergman's love scenes create a genuinely romantic aura, capturing a sensitivity between the two stars one would not have believed possible...

"Casablanca" is a masterpiece of entertainment, an outstanding motion picture which brought Bogart his first Academy Award nomination (he lost to Paul Lukas for "Watch On the Rhine") and won Awards for Best Picture of the Year, Best Director and Best Screenplay...

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66 out of 82 people found the following review useful:

For all-around entertainment, the best I've ever seen

10/10
Author: Daniel R. Baker from United States
27 August 1999

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

CASABLANCA is the best treatment ever of the ancient theme of the love triangle. Set in World War II Casablanca, a Moroccan city under the control of the collaborationist Vichy French government, the movie starts with a news wire that two German couriers have been murdered and their letters of transit stolen. Each letter will permit one person to leave Casablanca to a neutral country.

Enter Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine, owner of the shady but cheerful Cafe Americaine. Rick is a cynical and hard-nosed man whose motto is, "I stick my neck out for nobody." Like many a cynic, Rick is an embittered ex-idealist, still nursing his wounds from being abandoned by his lover Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman). By chance he falls into possession of the missing letters of transit.

Enter Ilsa, who comes to Casablanca on the arm of Czech Resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), a few steps ahead of the Nazi police. We now have three people and two letters of transit. Who will reach America, and who will stay in Casablanca?

I know no other movie that so perfectly balances humor, romance, and drama. The soul of good drama lies in presenting characters with hard choices, and few choices are as hard, or as illuminating of the protagonists' makeup, as the choices in CASABLANCA. All of the characters must decide what they will give up for love, for honor, and for themselves. The scenes of Rick and Ilsa's love, years ago in Paris, are some of the finest romantic scenes in cinema. And the humor, particularly in the person of Casablanca's Prefect of Police, Louis Renault, has contributed dozens of dry witticisms to our everyday language - "I am shocked! Shocked! - "The Germans wore gray, you wore blue." - "I was misinformed." - "It would take a miracle to get you out of Casablanca, and the Germans have outlawed miracles." So perfectly blended are these three major elements that you cannot point to a single shot or scene that should have been eliminated from the movie. Never try to watch only one scene from CASABLANCA; you will inevitably be absorbed until the very end of the film. It is little short of miraculous that the chaotically mismanaged shooting of this movie resulted in such a magnificent final product; it speaks volumes for luck and for Owen Marks' and Michael Curtiz' post-production editing.

I have never encountered a movie whose supporting cast was so perfectly realized. Every minor character is a fleshed-out, realistic individual, from Sasha to Carl the headwaiter to Rick's competitor Ferrari to the self-effacing criminal Ugarte. Claude Rains' Captain Renault ("I'm only a poor corrupt official") steals scene after scene, and Dooley Wilson's Sam is a refreshingly loyal, charismatic and sympathetic conception from an era when almost all black characters were rendered as demeaning stereotypes. The only character who tastes of the cliche is the villainous Major Strasser, which can be forgiven in a wartime production.

The only film I have ever seen as tautly effective as CASABLANCA is GLORY. Although the 54th Mass.'s story is arguably superior even to CASABLANCA for sheer dramatic power and acting talent, GLORY lacks CASABLANCA's wonderful humor and romance, which causes me to give the edge to Curtiz' classic as the better-rounded movie. I have yet to see CASABLANCA surpassed.

Rating: **** out of ****.

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