Monday, February 23, 2009

Casablanca (1942)

I've been trying to establish a tradition of attending the Valentine's Day screening of Casablanca at the Brattle Theatre ever since I started college, but have since only been able to go once. This year it was totally sold out because I guess we didn't plan ahead plus it was a Saturday. Dang. Luckily one of our group had a super awesome deluxe box set situation of the film, so we settled in for a viewing with the additions of beer, Chinese food, and outspoken commentary.

Based on the then-unpublished play, Everybody Comes to Rick's, the basic plot of Casablanca centers around Rick (Humphrey Bogart), a cynical American bar owner, and his former love Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman). Set during the earlier years of WWII in the Moroccan city of Casablanca, the film highlights the myriad European refugees attempting to gain exit visas so they can escape to America, only to be thwarted by the Nazi soldiers stationed there to ensure the citizens answer to Vichy France. Rick's club sees all kinds of kooky frequenters, many biding their time until they are able to leave, others trapped indefinitely. He is a mysterious figure to all, maintaining an aloofness from even the inquisitive and immoral Captain Renault (Claude Rains) who desperately tries to figure him out. Unexpectedly, Rick agrees to temporarily hold important exit papers for the crooked Ugarte (Peter Lorre), only to see him shot by soldiers minutes later.

Enter the famous rebel leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) and his alluring wife Ilsa, and Rick is, seemingly for the first time in his life, floored. Through ambiguous conversations and a telling flashback, their love story is revealed. They had been together in Paris for a short while and had plans to leave when the Germans began invading, but Ilsa never showed up at the train station, leaving Rick devastated as he rode away along with piano player and bff Sam (Dooley Wilson). He's never forgiven her and hoped to never see her again. Victor is wanted by the Nazis and must make it to America as soon as possible, and it is widely suspected that Rick holds the missing exit papers. Therefore, it's up to Rick to decide who can leave, while the Nazis plan their move against Laszlo and whoever has the papers.

Casablanca is rightfully considered a classic: everything from its story, cinematography, music, and performances is just top-notch. It's a star-crossed-lovers tale with much more depth and realness than anything Shakespeare concocted (whatever, Romeo and Juliet sucks). Bogart and Bergman ooze chemistry, creating naturally riveting scenes every time they are together. Rick is confident, inscrutable, and immovably cool. Ilsa is magnetic and strong, but sympathetic. Even though comparatively little screen time is actually devoted to their romance, I would still easily label it one of my favourite romantic films. That's just how good they are.

This is an intricately crafted film, filled with entertaining side conversations and affecting characters. It's a portrait of the city during a specific time period, fraught with tension and desperation. It's not action-packed or thrillingly paced, but never dull. Each moment has significance in some way. Casablanca manages to be funny and whistful, hopeful and hopeless all at the same time. It has its flaws like anything else, but nothing could detract from its iconic themes of enduring love and the fight for freedom. Let's just hope nobody tries to remake it.


Sing along!

The most moving scene in the film. I have no particular national pride for any country, but this somehow manages to get to me every time.


  1. It's a great film although a mate of mine has the theory that it's a love story between Rick and captain Renault. He may be right, but now I cant watch the ending without thinking about it.

  2. Hahaha my friends and I are pretty sure about that too. At the very least, Renault is way into sleeping with Rick, even if Rick doesn't feel the same.

  3. @The Igloo Keeper, Interesting concept. Every other analysis has been on the Rick-Lazlo-Ilsa triangle. It be great see someone explore the Rick-Renault attraction. Heehee...

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