Casablanca

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Casablanca is pretty much the definition of a classic. Before I knew anything about Films, I would always get it confused with Gone with the Wind because they were the most famous films I knew the titles of. I don’t know why I just admitted that embarrassing fact about myself, besides to show that the title throughout the years has almost become bigger than the film itself. That’s not strictly true; I remember doing one of those ice breaker games recently and a lot of people said their favorite movie was Casablanca which really surprised me. I’m just trying to warn those who have not seen it that it could be a bit underwhelming. This is my fourth viewing and I’m only just starting to get underwhelmed by it; the first time I saw it I was completely blown away.

Casablanca is WWII’s dumping ground for refugees, at least in this film it is anyway. One such refugee is Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), a Czech resistance leader who has escaped from a concentration camp (I honestly didn’t know that could ever happen!). With him is Isla Lund (Ingrid Bergman), who he is secretly married to (hence the name difference). They need to obtain exit visas to be allowed to catch the plane from Casablanca to Lisbon, which will then lead them to America. Complicating this is the presence of Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt), a Nazi looking to capture Laszlo and take him back to France. Captain Louie Renault (Claude Rains) is helping him out because he’s an amoral corrupt official and that’s what he does.

Further complicating matters is the central romance of the story, which is also the main reason the film is so famous. Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa fell in love just before the Nazis invaded France, but Ilsa left him after she found out Victor had not died in the concentration camp as she had supposed. Rick went to Casablanca thinking that Ilsa did not love him and developed a very cynical worldview that isolates him from others. He now runs a cafe and spends his time convincing everybody he doesn’t care about anything. He says these types of things so much over the course of the film, you get the feeling that he’s trying to convince himself of his indifference as much as anybody else. He valiantly tries to continue that when Ilsa and Victor walk into his cafe, but he can’t quite pull it off.

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Before they even showed up however, a certain scumbag’s death (Ugarte, played by Peter Lorre) leaves Rick with the only means of escape: two letters of transit that cannot be questioned. This leaves Victor and Ilsa at the mercy of Rick, and his internal conflict over how to resolve his relationship with Ilsa is the central conflict of the film. If you haven’t seen the film before, you will not be able to tell what Rick is going to do until he actually does it (at least I wasn’t). Because the film has built him up as having a sort of double identity, one where he “[runs] guns to Ethiopia and [fights] against fascists in Spain,” and another where he only looks out for his own interests. Up until the end, it could really go either way. The ending is intense when you’re seeing it for the first time, and in all subsequent times it’s still very enjoyable because the other characters don’t know what’s going on in Rick’s head either.

SORT OF SPOILERS IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPH. READ WITH CAUTION.

What people remember most about Casablanca is the romance, but what I remember is the bromance. Louis and Rick sort of banter back and forth for the whole film and give an impression of adversaries, but you get the feeling they understand each other pretty well. By the end, they have worked together for a common cause and have bonded tremendously. At the beginning, Louis guesses that Rick “is a heart a sentimentalist,” and by the end he knows he’s right. He is fully able to judge Rick’s character because they are very similar. I read somewhere awhile ago that someone in their infinite wisdom was thinking of doing a Casablanca sequel, WHICH I DO NOT APPROVE OF, but if I did it would kind of be cool to see Louis and Rick go on adventures where they fool everybody into thinking they don’t care and then save them when they least expect it. I might not have been too mad if they had made a sequel like that back in the forties. I’m not sure if it would have worked, but it’s too late now so don’t even try. Casablanca is already a classic and you DO NOT mess with the classics.

While I’ve gotten used to Rick coming around and doing the noble thing by the end of the film, this last time I was a bit surprised at how much I was affected by Louis helping him out. He doesn’t really know anything about it beforehand; Rick tells everybody a different story than he actually has planned, so Louis is somewhat surprised by all of this but just goes with it. It’s great. The part where he trashes the Vichy water really got to me this last time. We get lots of comments about how Rick might actually be a good guy, but Louis basically gets none of that. The first time I saw it I had him marked out for a total villain, a charming villain but a villain nonetheless. He does more wrong than Rick ever does and he doesn’t even have the heroic past. His redemption is almost more moving to me than Rick’s is now because for the past three times I’ve watched Casablanca, I had not been too focused on Louis. For shame.

END SPOILERS.

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I have a couple of issues with this film though, and one is Ilsa. Ingrid Bergman does a great job with her, as per usual, but really she is not that interesting. The only purpose she has is to be the desirable woman, and by doing this she creates an obstacle. Rick has moral dilemmas, but Ilsa just wants to get out of there. I suppose there’s more of a character there but they didn’t want to go into it, perhaps they thought it would detract from Rick’s character arc. Maybe my problem with her is that I would like to see her doing more; Laszlo’s a resistance leader, Rick has the letters of transit, but Ilsa is just like this prize that goes to whichever man. I mean, there is that one scene when she goes to ask Rick to give her the letters, but basically that’s the only thing she actively does. I still love Ingrid and she falls in love with Bogie wonderfully in this movie, which is good because that’s basically her only job.

The dialogue is my favorite thing about this film. While it is cheesy and melodramatic at some of the romantic points, at other times it’s really snappy and humorous. There’s this one scene in Rick’s where the German waiter comes over and talks to this German couple who are leaving for America. To practice, they are only speaking English, and doing pretty well until after they are done explaining this. The waiter does the best he can, saying “you will get along beautiful in America,” which is hopeful, funny, and sad all at the same time. The best dialogue besides these occasional lines with Rick’s customers is usually Louis (or maybe I just think that because he is my new favorite character from this film) saying something humorous about how cynical he is, and Rick has many of these lines too. My favorite is probably when a “gun is pointed right at [Louis’s] heart,” to which he answers “that is my least vulnerable spot.”

There are so many good things about Casablanca: the romance, the bromance, “As Time Goes By” which is Rick and Ilsa’s song, the dialogue, the suspenseful ending, redemption and sacrifice, Nazis getting defeated, and a totally immersive setting. It is truly a classic in every sense of the word. While I am growing more used to it, I still love the film and managed to find a lot of new things to appreciate that I had either rediscovered while watching or just noticed while writing this up. Casablanca is one of the best picture winners that actually goes down in history as a classic, but looking up the awards it did not win as many as I had expected. It was nominated for best picture, best director, best actor, best supporting actor for Rains, screenplay, cinematography, editing, and score. Out of these it won only three: best picture, best director, and screenplay. I feel like a film with this reputation should have won more, but it won some big ones and definitely went down in history. The insult of only getting three awards “don’t amount to a hill of beans” when you have the recognition of time that Casablanca has.
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“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Long story short: 4/4 stars

8 responses to “Casablanca

  1. It’s in my top five favorite films of all time category. Have you seen Ingrid in Hitchcock’s Notorious? She plays quite a different female–not innocent sweet like Ilsa. Nice review!

  2. mmm i really liked the dialouge too, mostly picking out the lines that we use every day without realizing it came from this. and i really like the sing off scene. i am shocked, shocked, to find gambling going on in this establishment! here are your winnings sir. oh thank you.

    • Oh yeah that’s my sister’s favorite part (the gambling line). The sing off scene is awesome, everybody has so much conviction there. If only actual wars were fought that way.

      • by singing? lol yeah. but theres a reason for that, a lot of the extras they were using were refugees from occupied europe so most of them werent even acting in that scene. i think i read one account that said when they were done shooting almost every one had teared up. and that one woman who was crying wasnt acting at all…great scene.

        • Oh wow. That would explain it. That must have especially got everybody when it actually came out in ’43 you know? I still have a problem because whenever I hear the French national anthem for a split second I always think it’s going to be All You Need Is Love by The Beatles ha ha!
          Fantastic scene. I’ve always loved that part.

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