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Saw this classic in DVD format the other night. I must confess that it
looks just as good as I remembered it. Michael Curtiz's film is a
curious one. It enjoys presently perhaps more popularity than when it
originally made its debut in 1942. As new generations discovered the
picture, they made it a timeless film, and generations to come will
also be charmed by it.
The story of Rick and Ilsa and their impossible love affair will be something to be treasured by film lovers forever. Casablanca in the 40s was a hot bed of intrigue; lots of people tried to get there, but perhaps leaving the place was harder because the red tape of that era and the fact that the Nazis had a way to spoil a party.
In a lot of ways, this is a dated film. By today standards it would be politically incorrect. But ultimately, we all fall under the spell that Michael Curtiz created and for almost two hours we are in Casablanca among the spies and would be travelers eavesdropping into their conversations and the different schemes going on.
Humphrey Bogart was an actor without the looks of some of the handsome male stars of that era, yet, he is mesmerizing as Rick Blaine. It would be hard to imagine another actor playing Rick other that Bogart. Ingrid Bergman was at the height of her career when she made the film. Her chemistry with her co star is one of the best things going, since they made it believable.
The rest of the cast is flawless. Paul Henreid, as Victor Lazlo, cuts quite a figure and it is hard to think Ilsa would prefer Rick to this suave and sophisticated man. Claude Rains is good as Capt. Renault. Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, S.K. Sakall, and above all Dooley Wilson, as Sam, made a magnificent contribution to the film in small roles.
Casablanca gets better and better, as time goes by.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
No film captures the classical Hollywood style quite so well as
"Casablanca." The film seamlessly combines romance and intrigue in its
exotic location, remarkably conveyed by mere studio sets. The black and
white cinematography is perfect for capturing and adding mood to the
smoke filled rooms, war torn city streets, and foggy airports that
compose the world of this film. Despite seeming a product of its time,
"Casablanca" is truly a timeless piece of entertainment. It would be
futile to recount the plot here. Even those who have never seen the
film are likely to be aware that "Casablanca" is the film where Ingrid
Bergman is forced to chose between old lover Humphrey Bogart and her
resistance leader husband (the often overlooked Paul Henreid). Bergman
as Ilsa Lund, the center of the love triangle, is magnificent here. She
communicates with such ease the very different types of love she feels
for each man in her life, and we sympathize with her struggle. Of
course, Bogart too created a legendary performance as café owner Rick
Blaine. Seeing him transform from the man who will stick his neck out
for nobody to someone content with making a great self-sacrifice is one
of the joys of the film.
Bogart and Bergman are leading players among equals however, and are rightly matched by numerous character actors, not the least of which is Claude Rains. In his portrayal of French Vichy officer Captain Renault, he hits the perfect notes to show off both the corrupt and goodhearted sides of the character. He also gets to deliver some of the film's best comedic one-liners. Another unforgettable actor is Dooley Wilson as the congenial piano player Sam, who of course provides the quintessential rendition of "As Time Goes By". Director Michael Curtiz certainly does these fine actors justice. The film has some striking visuals too. Be on the lookout for the raindrops on a letter which look more like tears, and the symbolism provided by a bottle of water towards the film's end. Viewers aware of the many troubles that plagued the production of "Casablanca," should be amazed at the manner in which the film as a whole is able to so greatly transcend the sum of its parts.
When you pause and really consider it, "Casablanca" is a much simpler film than many others also hailed as classics. It was based on an unremarkable (and unproduced) stage play, shot on a modest budget, and released with the thought of the natural appeal it would carry for its wartime audiences. And yet it has endured so long beyond that. Much has been made on the subject of reading "Casablanca" as a political allegory, with Rick representing isolationist America, Lazlo the Free French, so on, and so on. This rightfully compels the film student in me. But in all actuality, the romantic in me is much more captivated by the story of three little people caught up in the problems of a crazy world. The nuances of the characters, the sense of urgency ominously hanging over every scene, and the tear jerking story of love lost, found, and lost once more in the name of a bigger cause are the elements that stay with us. For me, as well as countless other film lovers around the world, the first viewing of "Casablanca" proves to be the start of a very beautiful friendship.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Bloom said of Shakespeare that he invented humanity. Films will always have less depth than poetry, but they can have a similar, profound effect on popular culture. Movies are seldom about life, but life is often about film, the few films that find the groove.
This film invented -- to a substantial degree -- what it meant to be a post-war American. It is not so much that it was perfect, but that we have remolded ourselves around it, as part of the victor's healing.
I recently saw some other Bogart films (like `Treasure'), and they amazed me in how poorly they worked. How mannered his acting seemed.
We have beautiful faces in other films, even this face (which we still have in Isabella). But nothing seems to compete for the certain archetype of passionate commitment, of pathetic yearning, of immature desire, of refugee desperation.
The interior sets -- and how they are photographed -- show a definite post `Citizen Kane' influence. In fact, one can see much of the Mercury Player flavor in these characters, particularly Greenstreet.
But you know, this film has so melded with dreams that you don't need to screen it.
I am not getting into the "The greatest picture of all-time" debate.
It's too subjective but if I forced to cast a vote, I would give this
the most serious consideration. I mean, what aspect of this film isn't
The dialog is superb, one of the best ever put on film. The acting is great, cinematography first-rate and the story offers an interesting mix of drama, action, romance, music...you name it. This film has everything but color, which might prohibit of a lot of younger folks from ever checking this classic out. That would be a shame because film- making doesn't get much better than "Casablanca."
All of this doesn't mean it's my favorite film of all-time. It isn't even in my top ten but I always find it very, very enjoyable and the latest 2-disc DVD transfer makes it even better to view.
Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, of course, are the stars but I always found Claude Raines' character the best to watch. His witty dialog as the police chief always makes me smile. He has many clever lines and isn't a guy you can figure out. He and Bogart's character are similar, essentially coming across as people who only care about themselves but deep inside are good-hearted people.
The ending is much discussed and very famous and helps make the movie so revered. There has been so much written about this film that there I won't add more except to make one negative statement but that's about a line in the story and not a reflection on the quality of the film. I wasn't impressed that Bergman, despite being married, was willing to run off with Bogart, claiming she "doesn't know" what's right or wrong! Are you serious? Well, judging by the marriage records of Hollywood over the years, maybe they don't know adultery just might be wrong. Anyway, other than that, this is a great movie with many, many classic scenes. Bergman never looked prettier, albeit the aid of soft lens shots on her closeups, and Bogey was never more, well, Bogey, than in here. Add Paul Henreid, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and other fine actors and wow, what a cast!
An added bonus is hearing "As Time Goes By" throughout the film, a haunting song. Actually, there are several songs played, mainly by pianist Dooley Wilson, and they're all fun to hear. As I said, one could go on and on about this movie. 'Nuff said.
When people ask me what is the best movie of all-time is I don't flinch, I just say "Casablanca". It has everything a great movie should have: romance, sacrifice, wonderful lines, a memorable song, incredible acting (even in the smallest roles) and it is one of the few non-film noir movies filmed in the B&W era that I wouldn't want to see refilmed in color (that is in definite contrast to "I Know Where I'm Going!" which begs to be refilmed to show the beauty of its vistas). But the key that makes everything works is the ending. I don't think the ending that exists in Casablanca could be filmed today and though most have seen this movie (or any of its parodies) I don't want to give anything away. But I encourage you to compare the ending of this movie with the endings of other romantic movies such as "An Affair to Remember", "Sleepless in Seattle" and even the most recent animated "Sinbad" movie. Contrast their endings with Casablanca's ending and you see how Casablanca resonates. Many movies have tried to emulate the ending of Casablanca but it never quite rings true because hollywood movies aren't allowed to have this ending yet the only ones who try are either independent or anti-hollywood.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"This is a beginning of a beautiful friendship" that is how this unforgettable and everlasting movie, which talks about love, friendship, loyalty, intrigue, and survival ends. The play takes place in the city of Casablanca, and even though we are unable to see the city (because the action takes place mainly in Ricks' bar), the life of the city is present. On one side are refugees waiting to escape from the horrors of war, and on the other are those who still enjoy nights full of gambling and entertainment, or smuggling and enrichment. The love story is started in war Paris, and revived through the memories in the currently more peaceful Morocco. The fact that love is stronger and larger than any other living thing, and subordinate to world events, is show in the decisions Rick (H. Bogart) makes. Although the movie is black-and-white, it even more emphasizes time events. There is also a color version of the film, but it feels like something is missing. If you have a chance to watch it, you shouldn't miss this masterpiece. And if you have watched it... Play It Again Sam.
Love and sacrifice during WWII underlie the story about a café owner
named Rick (Humphrey Bogart), and his link to two intellectual refugees
from Nazi occupied France. Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) and Victor Laszlo
(Paul Henreid) seek asylum here in politically neutral Casablanca and,
like other European refugees, gravitate to Rick's upscale café, near
the city's airport, with its revolving searchlight.
Rick is a middle-aged cynic who also has a touch of sentimentalism, especially for people in need, like Ilsa and Victor. The film's story is ideal for romantics everywhere.
Much of the plot takes place inside Rick's café, an ornate nightclub with archways and high ceilings. Rick's is a gathering place for an eclectic mix of patrons, from locals to those who have arrived from countries throughout Europe. It's this deliciously international ambiance of Rick's café that renders this film so appealing, with a variety of interesting accents, clothes, and uniforms. And, of course, there's Sam, the piano player, who plays all the favorites, including "As Time Goes By".
All of the film's technical elements are excellent including the script, with its colorful characters, like the debonair Captain Renault (Claude Rains); and Signor Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet), the articulate and portly "leader of all illegal activities in Casablanca". And a minor character that made an impression on me was the guitar playing female singer at Rick's (Corinna Mura), whose beautifully operatic voice was an unexpected delight in this smoke filled saloon.
The film's dialogue, though substantial, is clever and lively, like when Captain Renault observes Rick escorting an intoxicated woman out of the bar: "How extravagant you are, throwing away women like that; some day they may be scarce".
High-contrast B&W lighting renders a noir look. And that pounding score at the film's beginning is stunning; it evokes a feeling of far-off adventure.
"Casablanca" differs from traditional noir films, mostly as a result of its ending. Rick must make a choice between his own interests and the interests of others. The choice he makes enjoins viewers to a sense of courage and optimism, an individual's example of proper collective behavior in the war against Nazi Germany.
It's that kind of cynicism that makes this old-time classic endearing to a
modern day audience. "Casablanca" is a noirish melodrama set against the
back-drop of WWII and Europeans fleeing to America by way of French Morocco.
What's so refreshing about it, in spite of its classical love triangle
theatrics, is that is never places romantic love on a pedestal. It realizes
that in a world of uncertainty where neutrality is the biggest crime, there
are more noble things than love.
This movie is sited by many critics and viewers alike as one of the top three greatest films ever made. It's easy to see why. It contains probably the greatest dialogue ever written for the screen. It stars two screen icons in their greatest roles and a superb supporting cast. It's directed by Curtiz with a complete lack of pretension. There's nothing overtly artistic about it, or any sign that anybody involved was trying too hard. Essentially this was a gathering of classy professionals who set out to accomplish one thing: make an entertaining film. In the process, they might have made the greatest. Unlike so many of the other classics of this period, you never have to view it "in context" to appreciate and enjoy it. Rock solid entertainment anchored by smart writing cleverly cast and competently directed translates well in any day and age. Play it again, Sam, and it gets even better As Time Goes By.
Everyone remembers 'As Time Goes By' (the song that only stayed in the film,
so popular culture has it, because Bergman had cut her hair for 'Joan of
Arc', and couldn't retake scenes using another tune) but there is much more
to this world-weary romance.
Bogart, of course, was hardly the usual romantic movie hero. Which is possibly what makes him so perfect for Rick, in his Casablanca nightspot, on nobody's side. He spars with Claude Rains (the crooked police captain) and Sidney Greenstreet (a rival bar owner) like a trooper, has a quiet contempt for Paul Henreid (a freedom fighter) and Peter Lorre (a thief), gives Conrad Veidt (the Nazi Major) as good as he gets, is on the level with employees Dooley Wilson and Cuddles Sakall.
Through all this, truly loves Ingrid Bergman (the beautiful Ilse, the love of his life). It is their story, but not the story you might expect. This is the secret, I think, of 'Casablanca' and its lasting success. From the moment we see the map and the film title to the 'beautiful friendship' line at the end, we're hooked. Every performance is a lasting joy.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I didn't understand the film properly until I read Danny Peary's essay on it in the first of his three "Cult Movies" books (which, by the way, you MUST read, although you should be aware that Peary's complaints about "The Red Shoes" aren't even near the mark). The key (and, in retrospect, obvious) insight is this: all along, Captain Renault WANTED Rick to become a hero again. As long as Rick was content to adopt a cynical, self-serving attitude, Renault, a man made of lesser material, had an excuse to do the same - and he wanted that excuse to be denied him. When it WAS denied him he was delighted. THAT'S he joined the side of the angels, without even hesitating. (It's also why he spent so much time earlier poking fun of Rick's former idealism, in an attempt to get Rick to defend it.) This probably strikes many people as obvious; I regret to say I had to have it pointed out to me.
I don't have to argue that this is a great film. We all know it is. Peary calls it the ONLY film that's everything the old-style studio films were trying to be, and he's probably right. This doesn't, of course, mean that it's the BEST film of the 1940s; better still are the bolder, more ambitious productions made by more inspired directors: "Citizen Kane", "The Red Shoes", "Fantasia", and so forth. But "Casablanca" is probably as high as it is possible to fly without making a Philistine studio executive reach for his heart tablets. This is higher praise than it sounds. And if you think it IS the best film of the 1940s, after all ... well, I can see your point of view.
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