BACK-STORY: “Casablanca” is a war movie released in 1942 to coincide with Operation Torch and the liberation of Casablanca. It is based on an unproduced play entitled “Everybody Comes to Rick’s”. Shockingly, several writers adapted it which flies in the face of multi writers signaling problems. It was directed by Michael Curtiz. It was Bogart’s first romantic role. In spite of the chemistry between him and Ingrid Bergman, they never made another film together. Only three American actors have roles. Many of the extras were Jewish refugees. It was filmed at the studio. The Production Code Administration had all direct references to sex removed from the script. (Note to current television writers, it is possible to be sexy without beating the audience over the head.) It won three Oscars (Picture, Director, Screenplay) and was nominated for Actor (Bogart – robbed by Paul Lukas (who?) in “Watch on the Rhine”!!), Supporting Actor (Rains – robbed by Charles Coburn in “The More the Merrier”!), Cinematography (how did it lose that one?), Editing, and Music. There was only half-hearted talk of a sequel. Times change.
OPENING: A narrator explains the situation in Vichy-controlled Morocco. It is a transit point for refugees hoping to get to Portugal and then to safety in America. Most are stuck and waiting…waiting…waiting… The search is on for the murderer of two Nazi couriers. The criminal has taken two “letters of transit” which will fetch a great price. Capt. Renaud (the local Vichy police chief) is rounding up the usual suspects.
|Henreid, Bergman, Rains, and Bogart|
A flashback reveals the reason for Rick’s bitterness. Rick and Ilsa had had a fling in Paris in 1940. They drove around in front of a movie screen and also boated in front of a screen (so much for 1940s special effects). We get a montage of romantic moments. We are left to wonder whether they had sex. It seems likely. They are scheduled to flee as Paris falls, but Ilsa does not show up at the train station. She leaves a note saying she loves him, but it’s over. She runs out of ink before she can explain why.
We find out that Rick was a gun runner to Ethiopians fighting the Italian invasion and then later he fought in the Spanish Civil War. These are his bona vides as a cynical fascist hater. In the café, “La Marseillaise” wins a duel with “Die Wacht am Rhein” (“Watch on the Rhine”). Movie audiences must have high-fived at this point.
|Bergman preferred her left side|
Laszlo arrives to beg Rick to use the letters to escort Ilsa to safety. It turns out he figured out the love of Rick and Ilsa because of the steam. Laszlo is arrested on a trumped up charge before the conversation is over. Rick makes a deal with Renaud to entrap Laszlo on a more serious charge. Renaud releases Laszlo, and then Rick turns a gun on Renaud.
|scenes from the satanic colorized version|
Acting - 10
Action - 5
Accuracy - N/A
Realism - 8
Plot - 10
Overall - 9
WOULD CHICKS DIG IT? Are you kidding? Bogart and Bergman. As they said about the Kennedy’s, every woman would want to be with Bogart and every woman would want to be Bergman. The chemistry between the two is sizzling. The romance is heart-tugging and realistic. Watch out guys, the movie could prompt disillusionment in your significant other. However, this should be cancelled out by the props you get for watching it with her. Also, you won’t have to talk her into watching a war movie because she won’t recognize it as such.
ACCURACY: Accuracy is not really an issue. It does not claim to be based on a true story. The general outline is accurate. Morocco in 1941 was officially part of Vichy France and thus technically out of Nazi jurisdiction. Casablanca was a transit point for European refugees trying to get to Portugal and then to America. It seems likely that under real circumstances the Gestapo would have had less scruples about eliminating a resistance leader like Laszlo. The “letters of transit” were a fictitious plot device. In my opinion, one of the most accurate statements in the movie is made by Ferrari (Sidney Greenstreet) who is Rick’s shady-operator rival. He opines: “My dear Rick, when will you realize that in this world today, isolationism is no longer a practical policy?” The screenwriters obviously agreed with that sentiment, as did FDR who screened the movie in The White House (la casa blanca).
CRITIQUE: “Casablanca” is one of the top five movies of all time. It is one of the few “classics” that holds up for modern audiences. The dialogue is crackling. Numerous quotes are among the greatest in movie history. The acting is top notch. Bogart is at the top of his game and he is matched by Bergman. Rains is outstanding in the best performance of his career. The only downer is Henreid’s stiff performance, but that was partly due to the saintliness of the character. You throw in Strasser, Lorre, and Greenstreet and you have an amazing cast. The musical score keeps pace with the acting. The song “As Time Goes By” is justifiably one of the most memorable in cinema history. The cinematography is awesome. Bergman’s face is shot in such a way to highlight her conflicting emotions. The darkness and shadows give the film a film noir feel. The theme of sacrifice resonated in WWII America, but can be understood at any time. The cynic who does the right thing may be stereotypical, but Bogart set the template for it. This is an adult movie for adults.
CONCLUSION: “Casablanca” is one of the greatest movies of all time, but is it one of the greatest war movies? It certainly fits the 100 Greatest list better than "Foreign Correspondent" or “Notorious” (which incredibly is placed 8 slots higher than "Casablanca"!), for example. I am more comfortable with it being placed in that vague category of “movies set in war”. If you classify it as a war movie, how do you place it at only #65 when it is clearly superior as a movie to virtually every movie on the list? For that reason, although I love it, it will not be on my eventual 100 Best War Movies list. Watch it for the tenth time anyway.