Directed by Michael Curtiz
During World War Two in unoccupied Casablanca a lonely yet successful nightclub owner struggles to deal with his emotions when his former lover Ilsa arrives with her husband.
Winner of three Oscars and filmed during a time when World War Two was still in its infancy, itís hard to believe that it was released over sixty-five years ago but its popularity has never waned. The movieís protagonist is hard-bitten Rick Blaine (Bogart), who seems to consume several bottles of alcohol each night. Blaine is the owner of a popular nightclub who surrounds himself with staff he regards as his family. And who is the closest member Blaine finds himself spending time with? Why, only the ever-talented pianist Sam (Wilson) who is both a friend and a confidante. In this comfortable world Rick has created, he seems to have the perfect life when compared with those who are suffering at the hands of fascism around the world. However, this is all to change.
Enter Ilsa (Bergman) and her resistance-leader husband Victor (Henreid). He thought she would never be seen again; their Paris romance supposedly ending just before the Naziís goose-stepping into the French capital made him presume that she hadnít escaped in time. How wrong he was. Many months of living in this isolated bubble has changed Rick, and Ilsa sees this. The Rick she meets in Casablanca is not the Rick she loved in Paris.
Her husband Victor is not exactly a placid fellow. A resistance leader respected around war-torn Europe, he has escaped capture more times than one cares to remember. And he is not alone in Casablanca. Admirers of his heroism seem to follow him wherever he goes, including his enemies. Major Strasser, (Veidt) seems hell-bent on capturing Victor. Thereís only one way out for him and his beloved and, to Victorís dismay, Rick is their Get out of jail free card. Irony at itís very finest.
Beneath Rickís alcoholism and hard-skin lies a caring soul. He hires those escaping from the Naziís and even pays them when they donít work. Rumour has it; he has papers of transit that an acquaintance of Rick gave to him in order to pass onto Victor. But Ilsa is the woman he once loved. Surely he wouldnít let her leave with Victor, rather than stay with himself and experience love once more; the one emotion that his seemingly imperturbable existence is devoid of?
It would be naÔve to comment on Casablanca as a movie of its time; propaganda material whose existence was to persuade the American government of joining the Allied forces. But the movie is much more than that; Casablanca acts as a benchmark of quality.
The acting is sublime, directed beautifully by Curtiz and the mise-en-scene a pleasure to watch. At a time when Hollywood was reluctant to hire a substantial cast of non-American actors the film was revolutionary. Bogart, Wilson and a young actress named Joy Page were the only actors born on American soil. Many of the cast, including Veidt, had fled the evils of Nazism. The scene where the whole of the bar stand up against the Naziís chanting their patriotic song by replying with La Marseillaise is testament to the human spirit; that not even the hardship of fleeing their enemies can destroy their soul.
I agree that the movie is fictional in that Casablanca was never a place during World War Two where refugees fleeing the Naziís could hide in safety, but its contribution to cinema is second-to-none. Who could honestly be truthful in saying that when hearing hereís looking at you kid or of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine not instantly picture Casablanca? For a film whose script was written by the day, and its ending not even determined at the very end of shooting, it is a miracle that the film was ever released, let alone having the quality that even inspired the French New Wave directors.
Other movies released during this time, such as The Third Man, are indeed classics but what other film has permeated the populace in such a grand way? Casablanca is indeed a classic movie, and one of the best. Rumour has it, Hollywood is thinking of remaking it. Please, of all the films that could be remade, do not mess with a true legend.