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Casablanca [1942 film] by Michael Curtiz
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Casablanca [1942 film]

by Michael Curtiz (Director), Julius J. Epstein (Screenwriter), Philip G. Epstein (Screenwriter), Howard Koch (Screenwriter)

Other authors: Ingrid Bergman (Actor), Humphrey Bogart (Actor), Marcel Dalio (Actor), Arthur Edeson (Cinematography), Sydney Greenstreet (Actor)6 more, Paul Henreid (Actor), Madeleine LeBeau (Actor), Peter Lorre (Actor), Claude Rains (Actor), Max Steiner (Composer), Conrad Veidt (Actor)

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A wealthy, influential rogue in WWII Morocco refuses to take sides.

It’s not possible to like movies and not love Casablanca. It just can’t be done.

Concept: A
Story: A
Characters: A
Dialog: A
Pacing: A
Cinematography: A
Special effects/design: B
Acting: B
Music: A

Enjoyment: A Plus

GPA: 3.9/4 ( )
  comfypants | Jan 10, 2016 |
Casablanca

Humphrey Bogart – Rick Blaine
Ingrid Bergman – Ilsa Lund
Paul Henreid – Victor Laszlo
Claude Rains – Captain Louis Renault
Conrad Veidt – Major Heinrich Strasser
Sydney Greenstreet – Signor Ferrari
Peter Lorre – Ugarte
Dooley Wilson – Sam

Screenplay by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch
Based on the unproduced play Everybody Comes to Rick's (1940) by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison
Directed by Michael Curtiz

Premiere: 26 November 1942, New York City.

Warner Home Video, 1999. 99 min. B&W. 4:3 (1.33:1). Bonus documentary You Must Remember This (37 min).

=========================================

I really don’t know how many times I’ve seen this movie. At least a dozen; probably two dozens in just about as many years. I have always found it moving, amusing and thought-provoking. It has never failed to seem too short. It’s a perfect movie.

Now, movies are the most collaborative of all arts. You need so many things to make a great movie. But above all you need the one thing you need for a great novel, too. You need great characters, well-written, compelling and believable characters. This is what Casablanca is shamelessly full with. What is more, they are beautifully acted to the smallest part. Who can forget Sascha, the crazy Russian barman, and his killer line “Yvonne, I love you, but he pays me”?

Humphrey Bogart famously said he was not a great actor and he probably meant it. I’m not sure I agree with him there. Looking briefly through his filmography, I can’t help noticing a remarkable versatility. He nailed the two most famous private dicks of all time, Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, with such precision that the following generations have paled in comparison. Rick Blaine, though not a sleuth, belongs to the same species of sharp-tongued tough guys who look unusually smart with a gun or a cigarette. But Bogie has played equally well a good-natured regular fellow in The African Queen (1951), a mentally deranged navy captain in The Caine Mutiny (1954), something like a villain in The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948) and even a romantic lead in Sabrina (1954), one of the finest comedies of all time.

Rick Blaine is surely one of the greatest characters, in every sense of the world, who have ever graced the silver screen. He doesn’t remember last night because it was “so long ago” and he never makes plans for tonight – “that far ahead”. He is profoundly cynical and blunt to the point of rudeness. He likes to pretend he cares nothing about the world and the cause Laszlo is ready to die for. He says defiantly things like “I’m the only cause I’m interested in” and “I stick my neck out for nobody”. He doesn’t seem to think much of people. When Ugarte wants to know if he despises him, Rick’s answer is “If I gave you any thought I probably would.” He means that. The scenes with Ugarte show Rick at his most uncompromising best:

Ugarte: Heh, you know, watching you just now with the Deutsche Bank, one would think you've been doing this all your life.
Rick: Oh, what makes you think I haven't?
Ugarte: Oh, n-n-n-nothing, but when you first came to Casablanca, I thought...
Rick: You thought what?
Ugarte: Hm, what right do I have to think, huh?

Ugarte: Too bad about those two German couriers, wasn't it?
Rick: They got a lucky break. Yesterday they were just two German clerks. Today they're the "Honored Dead".
Ugarte: You are a very cynical person, Rick, if you'll forgive me for saying so.
Rick: I forgive you.

But under that "cynical shell", as Captain Renault discovers, Rick is "at heart a sentimentalist”. The minor episode with the Bulgarian couple who tries to leave Casablanca is telling. Rick is brusque with the lady, but then he goes to the roulette table and arranges for her husband to win enough money for their journey. When Louis cites his record of fighting on the side of the underdog, Rick remarks that he was well-paid, but he can’t fool the shrewd police inspector who immediately observes that “the winning side would have paid you much better.” Of course, it is the Paris affair with Ilsa and its “sequel” in Casablanca that turn Rick into a human being worthy of our admiration. They reveal extraordinary courage, nobility and common sense. The finale with the foggy night at the airport, “We’ll always have Paris” and “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” is one of the greatest scenes in movie history.

Claude Rains very nearly steals the show from Bogie. Captain Renault is quite a feather in his cap, quite on par with his stupendous Caesar against Vivien Leigh’s Cleopatra in the fine 1945 adaptation of Shaw’s play. He is an outstanding and much underrated actor, with expressive face and lovely voice. He has many of the best lines in the movie and he delivers all of them with impeccable taste. Louis, in a way, is not unlike Rick. He likes to pretend that the heart is his “least vulnerable spot” and that “Ricky” is the only man in Casablanca “with less scruples than” he, but just a little below the cynical surface he is a kind-hearted and compassionate gentleman. The relationship between Louis and Rick is indeed a beautiful friendship throughout the whole movie. For example:

Captain Renault: Rick, there are many exit visas sold in this café, but we know that you've never sold one. That is the reason we permit you to remain open.
Rick: Oh? I thought it was because I let you win at roulette.
Captain Renault: That is another reason.

By the way, one of the best things about Casablanca is the prodigious sense of humour – sometimes goofy, sometimes serious, but always uproariously funny – that permeates the flawless dialogue. Rick and Louis carry out most of it, not least in the wonderful scenes between them, and the old movie lover cannot fail to appreciate the perfect timing of their repartee or the subtle inflections that colour certain phrases. The following lines always crack me up:

Major Strasser: You give him credit for too much cleverness. My impression was that he's just another blundering American.
Captain Renault: We musn't underestimate "American blundering". I was with them when they "blundered" into Berlin in 1918.

Major Strasser: What is your nationality?
Rick: I'm a drunkard.
Captain Renault: That makes Rick a citizen of the world.

Major Strasser: Are you one of those people who cannot imagine the Germans in their beloved Paris?
Rick: It's not particularly my beloved Paris.
Heinz: Can you imagine us in London?
Rick: When you get there, ask me!
Captain Renault: Hmmh! Diplomatist!
Major Strasser: How about New York?
Rick: Well there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn't advise you to try to invade.

Captain Renault: What in heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?
Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.
Captain Renault: The waters? What waters? We're in the desert.
Rick: I was misinformed.

Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
[a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]
Croupier: Your winnings, sir.
Captain Renault: Oh, thank you very much.
Captain Renault [loudly]: Everybody out at once!

Paul Henreid may not have been a great actor, but he certainly was a very, very good one. He is just as convincing as a dashing buccaneer in The Spanish Main (1945) as he is lighting two cigarettes at the same time and giving one to Bette Davis in Now, Voyager (1942). He excels as Victor Laszlo, a fearless anti-Nazi fighter whom even the “persuasive methods” of the concentration camps couldn’t induce to betray his friends. Who can forget the tremendous scene with the singing contest between Die Wacht am Rhein conducted by Major Strasser and the Marseillaise conducted by Laszlo? Tall, elegant and distinguished, Paul Henreid has a low-key but very effecting way of portraying intensity and inner strength that fit the character to perfection. No wonder Rick himself is impressed:

Rick: I congratulate you.
Victor Laszlo: What for?
Rick: Your work.
Victor Laszlo: I try.
Rick: We all try. You succeed!

But there is much more in Laszlo than the indomitable spirit of the Resistance. He is a remarkably complex and fascinating character. He has a fine sense of humour, for example:

Berger: We read five times that you were killed, in five different places.
Victor Laszlo: As you can see, it was true every single time.

He is extremely smart and sensible fellow. He immediately understands that there was something between Rick and his wife in Paris. But he blames nobody and demands no explanation. He knows his wife was lonely. He understands. This is quite an achievement since Laszlo obviously loves Ilsa. The world would have been a much better place if more men took the infidelity of their wives like that:

Rick: You seem to know all about my destiny.
Victor Laszlo: I know a good deal more about you than you suspect. I know, for instance, that you're in love with a woman. It is perhaps a strange circumstance that we both should be in love with the same woman. The first evening I came to this café, I knew there was something between you and Ilsa. Since no one is to blame, I – I demand no explanation. I ask only one thing. You won't give me the letters of transit: all right, but I want my wife to be safe. I ask you as a favour, to use the letters to take her away from Casablanca.
Rick: You love her that much?
Victor Laszlo: Apparently you think of me only as the leader of a cause. Well, I'm also a human being. Yes, I love her that much.

Laszlo too, like Captain Renault, clearly sees through Rick’s how-misanthropic-I-am poses. “You’re trying to escape from yourself”, he tells him perceptively, “but you’ll never succeed.” This is a great scene, a highlight in a movie that contains nothing but a string of highlights.

Rick: Don't you sometimes wonder if it's worth all this? I mean what you're fighting for.
Victor Laszlo: You might as well question why we breathe. If we stop breathing, we'll die. If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die.
Rick: Well, what of it? It'll be out of its misery.
Victor Laszlo: You know how you sound, Mr. Blaine? Like a man who's trying to convince himself of something he doesn't believe in his heart.

Ingrid Bergman is a little lost among so much male talent, but in her quiet way she does just as fine a job, particularly in the great scene with Rick above his café. The minor roles are splendidly done as well. Conrad Veidt takes the palm in this category with his marvellously sinister Nazi major. Just note the scenes when he tells Louis to close the café or Ilsa that in Casablanca “human life is cheap”. Dooley Wilson is charming as Sam, a piano player and great friend of Rick’s. Nobody plays “As Time Goes By” like him, right? Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre are not quite as memorable as in The Maltese Falcon (1941), but then they have much less screen time here.

If one – in this case I – must carp about something, one might complain that the Paris interlude is conspicuously inferior to the rest of the film. So it is. Some of the dialogue is positively cringe-worthy (“Was that cannon fire, or is it my heart pounding?”) and the story on the whole unduly sentimental. It might have been made shorter or left entirely to the imagination of the audience. But this is a very insignificant quibble. It doesn’t spoil the movie’s perfection.

That aside, there is not a single weak thing about Casablanca. Story, dialogue, cast and characters, let alone the combination of all, don’t get better than that. All this in mere 99 minutes 73 years later. Even Max Steiner’s score is superb, adroitly mixing exotic Arabian motifs with the Marseillaise. I have nothing to complain about the direction of Michael Curtiz, either. He brilliantly conveys the unique atmosphere in Rick’s café, where shady deals in dark corners abound, or the oppressive and murderous climate in Casablanca, where people anxious to leave Europe wait… and wait… and wait… and wait… and wait…

PS The bonus documentary You Must Remember This is a nice summary of how Casablanca came to be. Introduced by Lauren Bacall herself and including interviews with some of the people originally involved in the production, it contains many interesting details, though some of them should be taken with a pinch of salt. One of the more fascinating bits is the claim of screenwriter Julius Epstein that each of the major studios at the time produced a movie a week – 50 movies or so a year – and nobody expected Casablanca to score the success it did, much less to become an enduring classic still fresh nearly 80 years later. The rousing scene with the Marseillaise drowning out the Nazi choir seems to have been present in the original play as well, and playwright Murray Burnett shares that he cried when he wrote it. Warner Bros did their best to exploit the success of the original with sequels and TV series, but though they duplicated the setting they could never recreate the magic. Their most successful tribute was the Looney Tunes production Carrotblanca (1995), starring Bugs Bunny as a carrot-juice drinking Rick Blaine. “Of all the juice joints, in all the towns, in all the countries, she picks this one.” ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Dec 16, 2015 |
The minor characters are marvelous actors and add joy to the experience of watching this film. (I've read that this is true because so many had fled, in real life, the goings on in Europe.) ( )
  Diane-bpcb | Jul 23, 2015 |
This review has been flagged by multiple users as abuse of the terms of service and is no longer displayed (show).
  WilliamHartPhD | Aug 3, 2010 |
Classic. One of the best. Bogart is A#1. ( )
  lnlamb | Jan 19, 2009 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Curtiz, MichaelDirectorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Epstein, Julius J.Screenwritermain authorall editionsconfirmed
Epstein, Philip G.Screenwritermain authorall editionsconfirmed
Koch, HowardScreenwritermain authorall editionsconfirmed
Bergman, IngridActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bogart, HumphreyActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dalio, MarcelActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Edeson, ArthurCinematographysecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Greenstreet, SydneyActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Henreid, PaulActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
LeBeau, MadeleineActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lorre, PeterActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rains, ClaudeActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Steiner, MaxComposersecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Veidt, ConradActorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.
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In World War II Morocco, seething with European refugees desperate for passage to neutral Lisbon, only a world-weary and bitter nightclub owner can help his former lover and her Resistance-hero husband escape from the Nazis.

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