Casablanca


Year 1942

Humphrey Bogart as  Richard "Rick" Blaine
Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa
Paul Henreid as Victor Laszlo
Claude Rains as Capt. Louis Renault
Conrad Veidt as Ilsa
Paul Henreid as Maj. Heinrich Strasser  
Peter Lorre as Ugarte
Sydney Greenstreet   as Senor Ferrari
 
Director - Michael Curtiz
Play Author   - Joan Alison
Screenwriters   - Julius J. Epstein
  - Philip G. Epstein
  - Howard Koch

This movie is, in my humble opinion, the greatest movie ever made. Pretty heady stuff from a guy who thinks Fight Club and The Wild Bunch are two of the greatest movies ever made. I mean this is the epitome of a chick flick isn't it? All mushy and romancy and stuff like that?

Well, it is mushy and romancy, but not all mushy and romancy. And even when it is, it's not sappy, insulin needing mushy and romancy. The reason this is true is because the protagonist isn't a spineless, needy male. Oh, he's been crushed by love alright. But instead of the experience sucking the will to live from him, his devastation has made him, in true testosterone weilding fashion, cynical and successful in a profession that straddles the line between legal and illegal.

You see, Richard Blake or "Rick" (Humphrey Bogart) is a survivor and just because Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) turned his heart into hamburger meat (trivia points for the song reference of that last expression) doesn't mean that he's a useless lush.

In fact, he's quite successful. He's the owner of the hottest spot in Casablanca, a country that is acting independently from its mother country, the one that just fell beneath the boot heels of the Nazis. Or maybe the mother country just gave up, which I think is more accurate.

Of course, to make this a romance, Rick and Ilsa have to meet again. Rick needs to vent and Ilsa needs to explain why she abandoned Rick. Rick needs to decide just how cynical he's become and Ilsa needs to decide just how much personal happiness she's willing to trade.

In the end, everyone is nobel. It's stirring just how nobel people can be. It may even bring a tear to your eye and a boogie to your nose, it's so stirring.

Does that sound trite? Maybe it is. Then what makes it work? Well, there's Bogie. Bigger than life Bogie who's believable in every scene whether he's handing his heart out on his sleeve or offering up a murderer to the police. In case you miss it, Louis Renault (Claud Raines) tells you, "He's the type of man I'd be attracted to if I were a woman." Now that's charisma!

Louis, in his sometime role as Greek chorus member, let's you know all about the characters. This device, in lesser hands, would be silly. In this movie, it's seemless. To the viewer, Louis' introductions never feel heavy handed or pandering. In fact, they are so cleverly offered that they add to the entertainment experience.

And speaking of entertainment, the director does not miss an opportunity. I like the details that go into a movie and Michael Curtiz pays attention to those details. Every time Rick moves into a scene, the scene comes alive. It's as if people are waiting for his arrival before they can drink their drink, place their bets, or sing a song. The direction keeps Rick at the heart of beautifully choreographed action.

The lighting is also excellent. In the daytime shots, you can feel the heat. At night, the shadows hold unknown terror. In Rick's Place, it's safe.

Bogie and Bacall may have later steamed things up in To Have and Have Not but he and Ingrid Bergman heated it up in this one first.

And the movie isn't just about the two lovebirds. There's Ilsa's husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) who holds the audience's attention even though he doesn't have any great lines. There's the maitre'd Carl (S.Z. Sakall) who's a likable, subjectively approving, scalliwag. There's Sascha (Leonid Kinskey ) the bartender who steals a couple of scenes, or at least splits their worth. There's the one and only Peter Lorre whose part could be classified as only a cameo, but it's memorable. There's Sidney Greenstreet as one of Rick's competitors who proves that there's honor among thieves. There's Conrad Veight as the Nazi who manages to balance his scenes by never being too overwhelmingly hammy.

Then there's Claud Raines. Bogie has some good lines, but Claude Raines has the best.


Louis: Round up the usual suspects.


Louis: You know why I like you Rick? You're even more unscroupulous than I.


This last from a guy who is making deals with new brides for passage out of the country in exchange for sex.

One memorable scene involves Louis, the bartender, and Bogie. The Nazis have just told Louis to close down Rick's Place. At first Louis can't come up with a reason. Then, he blows his whistle and orders the place closed. Bogie approaches him and asks why. Louis comes up with a reason out of the seat of his pants and says, "Shocked! I'm shocked! There's gambling going on here!" At that moment, the bartender approaches and hands Louis his winnings. Silently, Bogie looks away and rolls his eyes. It's a priceless moment where everyone came together.

Don't think Bogie doesn't have his fair share of lines.


Rick: Of all the gin joints in all the world, she had to walk into mine.


Rick: Louie, this looks like the start of a beautiful friendship.

And then there's the wonderful solliloquoy where, "the problems of two people don't amount to a hill of beans."

One line that is NOT in this movie is, "Play it again, Sam." That sentence is just a way to summarize the following exchange which is in the movie.


Rick: You know what I want to hear.
Sam: No, I don't.
Rick: You played it for her. You can play it for me.
Sam: Well, I don't think I can remember...
Rick: If she can stand it, I can. Play it!

"It" is the song, "As Time Goes By".

This movie breaks rule after rule after rule. How many screenwriters are there? Three plus a play author? Usually, that's a recipe for disaster through chaos. In this case it works - in spades.

Silly dialogue like someone saying, "I think not"? You won't even notice it because it seems natural in the setting when it's spoken.

Lack of historical accuracy? It's not trying to be historically accurate. So what if there never were any such things as Papers of Transit. I believed that there were in the context of the movie.

Cheesy special effects? Well, that point does add a distraction. The idea of a plane traveling at about ten miles an hour when it takes off and lands only works when the plane is a model. Nevertheless, this pedestrian effect can be easily overlooked.

To give you some idea of how impressive Bogie is as Rick, when you see him in his tuxedo you can't help but think that this image was what Ian Flemming had in mind when he wrote about James Bond. (And I mean the "stirred not shaken" Bond and not the misspoken "shaken not stirred" movie version. Shaking doesn't bruise the gin? Of course it does. Are you nuts, Sean Connery? And since that time, the line's been incorrectly quoted as if it were originally written that way.)

Chick flick potential? It doesn't get much higher. Blasphemy? Maybe but no profanity. Adult concepts, an interesting plot, and a rapid pace keep this one enjoyable all the way through.


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