Dir. Michael Curtiz
Runtime: 102 minutes
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid
One of the great classics of cinema. Most people have heard of it, but shamefully the same amount of people haven’t actually watched it. Thankfully this is a film I was introduced to as a teenager, and since then it’s something that I’ll happily watch every couple of years.
Expatriate Rick Blaine (Humphery Bogart) is living in Casablanca (Morocco), as a night club owner. His place has become a meeting point for refugees who are seeking the right kind of documentation that will help them escape the onset of World War II which is about to kick off. One day a former lover of his, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), walks into his “gin joint” with her husband who happens to be the leader of the underground freedom fighter – Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). While Rick has been surviving above the law for a while the Germans are here now, led by Gestapo Major Heinrich Strasser (Conrad Veidt). With the support of the corrupt local police vichy, Captain Louis Renault (Clause Reins), they aim to get Laszlo. Rick happens to have two letters of transit which could help that he acquired from an acquaintance (Ugarte – Peter Lorre), but Rick is bitter about Ilsa running out on him in Paris in another life, despite the idealistic affair they shared. Why should he stick his neck out again? Ilsa claims to have had good reasons for running out, but Rick is clueless. Could the missing information convince him to help Ilsa escape with her husband?
As I’ve mentioned in my introduction, this is a film that I watched as a teenager. I watched as part of a film studies course in the mid 1990’s for a classical Hollywood module. To the untrained this may come across as a story of unrequited love, but it is much more than that, much more than pianos and happy songs amidst the outbreak of war. This film is strength of character, it’s redemption, it’s tragedy, it’s courage, it’s sacrifice, it’s optimism, it’s much more. It might have elements of love, but it is a transcendence of love, it is loving love, not just two people in love.
This was one of the first films I watched as a film studies student in the mid 90’s for a classical Hollywood module. To the untrained this may come across as a story of unrequited love, but it is much more than that, much more than pianos and happy songs amidst the outbreak of war. This film is strength of character, it’s redemption, it’s tragedy, it’s courage, it’s sacrifice, it’s optimism, it’s much more. It might have elements of love, but it is a transcendence of love, it is loving love, not just two people in love.
This film was made in a different era, the Hollywood studio system was in full effect. Writers were churning out scripts on a regular basis, actors were signed to the studios and had contractual commitments to do a bucket load of films. This film was not intended to be a masterpiece, it was just another filler in a line of movies to make sure the studio was producing something rather than letting the competition take audience revenue. Bergman left the film disappointed; Bogart was tired and going through the motions – but it seemed to work, it added feeling and depth to their characters on-screen.
The plot to the film is more complex then some of the current Hollywood epics, there are a lot of things going on, even the minor characters that are woven into supporting roles seem to have their own character development and stories going on. From the corrupt Captain Renault who eventually sees they badness in the world; Sam the pianist (Dooley Wilson) who decides he is strong enough not to be ‘just’ a supporting character; patrons of the club such as Yvonne (Madeleine Lebeau) who finds her strength amidst fellow minded people despite an emotional painful start to the film. The strength of the woven stories in the plot lets you see different things the more you watch this film. As for character development, as I’ve already eluded to, this is in abundance within the film – nobody is the same person they were at the start of the film when the final curtain comes crashing down and the bombs start to drop. An elegantly written script allowed for the depth to the story and the characters, it is true that a lot of the film is dialogue driven, but it’s a smart vehicle that is used to move things forward. This cleverly written script in fact spawned many a quotable line which are in themselves as iconic as the film itself. Most of the scenes are filmed in Rick’s nightclub, and despite the film being shot in black and white, the colourful club is popping with vibrancy that transcends the noir colours it was shot in. There is so much life and so many spirits (not just the alcoholic variety) that I can close my eyes, and, in my mind, I can imagine the colours that were there. The musical score that accompanied the film was perfectly fitting and generally helps the pacing of the film, which is not generally slow anyway. At around 100 minutes there is plenty of story to tell and lots of depth to get through. Plenty to enjoy and not enough to make the film drag. Director Michael Curtiz and the writers have created a rich tapestry of a movie which went on to win 3 Oscars amongst various other awards and nominations.
As I write this review in 2020 having finally decided to put thoughts and opinions to (virtual) paper this film is now 78 years old. Sure, the film has aged, but it’s aged like a fine wine. This is a film I’d happily go back to again and again. Despite the content and the impending world war it presents, this is a beautiful film and touching film with so much goodness, albeit, occasionally wrapped in a bitter shell. There has already been so much written about this film that I don’t need to drone on much longer, I’ll just wrap up by saying that I highly recommend this film. Yes, I consider this film to be deserving of all the praise it has garnered over the years. A true classic if the word was ever deserving. And, No – the line “Play it again Sam” is not said in this film at all – let that sink in, it might win you some bets with friends!