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Casablanca (1942)

March 21st, 2006 · 1 Comment

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Much beloved Oscar winner for Best Picture of 1942, this Warner Bros. Pictures classic begins with memorable narration. Lines of Europeans fleeing the Nazi advance lead south to Marseilles, across the Mediterranean to North Africa by ship and then west across the desert by rail or automobile to the French controlled city of Casablanca. Those not lucky enough not to talk, bribe or forge their way into an exit visa are stuck here in a sweltering limbo.

We hear of Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) long before the camera arrives on his world weary, sophisticated features. Proprietor of Rick’s Café American saloon, his credo in these troubled times is that he sticks his neck out for nobody. He’s never seen drinking with customers and has only one friend left in the world, piano player Sam (Dooley Wilson) he goes back a ways with.

Gestapo agents arrive in town to investigate the murder of two German couriers and the theft of “letters of transit,” which would allow the bearer to travel freely through Nazi-occupied Europe. The thief (the terrific Peter Lorre in a bit role) asks Rick to hide the letters before French police led by the morally ambiguous Captain Renault (Claude Rains) have to shoot him dead.

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Into the saloon now enters Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), a leader of the Resistance who has escaped concentration camps in Czechoslovakia and arrives in Casablanca with a price on his head. With him is his wife Isla Lund (Ingrid Bergman), the love of Rick’s life who left him in Paris on the eve of the German occupation. Still heartbroken by her and initially resistant to get involved in Isla’s problems, Rick has a change of heart on a fog-shrouded runway.

With a witty screenplay drenched in period romance and intrigue by Juliuis & Phillip Epstein and Howard Koch and an uncredited Casey Robinson, strong direction by contract player Michael Curtiz (the camera movement and close-ups are particularly vivid), second unit direction by Don Siegel and key creative contributions from producer Hal Wallis, the highly entertaining movie seems to be the exception to the auteur theory.

Humphrey Bogart was up until the time known for playing gangsters with names like “Bugs” or “Duke” and was cast here in his first romantic lead. His chemistry with Ingrid Bergman is terrific. Through their performances you definitely feel the pain each of these lovers caused in the other. Bogart is equally strong in his scenes with Rains (“Louis, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship”), Wilson (“Play it again, Sam”) and Lorre.

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Part of the film’s timeless appeal – Roger Ebert supposes that Casablanca is on even more Greatest Films Of All Time lists than Citizen Kane – is its variety. There is truly something here for everyone: Hollywood Golden Age stars at their peak, intrigue, melodrama, romance, tragedy, World War II, a love triangle, a faithful buddy and great music (“As Time Goes By” is used to memorable effect).

The musical score is by Max Steiner, who also scored Gone With The Wind. Like that classic romance, Casablanca also ends with unrequited love, a feeling all of us can relate to on a personal level and in the movies, a powerful emotion we remember more vividly than all the times the guy predictably got the girl.

Tags: Famous line · Golden Age of Hollywood

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Hal O'Brien // Nov 30, 2007 at 7:48 am

    You don’t mention the play “Casablanca” is based on, “Everybody Comes to Rick’s,” by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. It wasn’t produced until 1991, although I almost did a production of it in Claremont from a copy of the play I’d xeroxed at UCLA. It’s very rare — UCLA no longer says they have a copy. When they *did*, it was obviously second generation, with the original having a stamp, “IMPORTANT: Return to Warner Bros. Story Library.” At the time (mid 1980s) WB said they no longer had a copy.

    A good article may be found here:

    http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-59599086.html

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