Time: 102 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Romance/Drama/World War II
Won Academy Awards for Best Director, Picture and Screenplay. Nominations for Best Actor (Bogart), Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Music and Supporting Actor (Rains).
I just watched CASABLANCA again for what must be the 10th time and I have to say it was well worth it. Knowing the story of the problems that went on behind the scenes (casting changes, constant script revisions) make this movie even more remarkable for the fact that they actually pulled it off. Granted they had an amazing cast, but as we all know from experience that never guarantees success. Sometimes despite everyone's best efforts a movie just doesn't work...and sometimes despite all the obstacles it becomes an instant classic. Having Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman as your leads doesn't hurt either.
Though the plot can be somewhat convoluted to first time viewers, the main storyline is pretty simple. Humphrey Bogart plays Rick, the owner of Rick's All American Cafe, a fancy little establishment in Casablanca, Morrocco the epicenter of the refugee escape route during the early years of WWII. Everybody comes to Rick's including his ex-lover Ilsa, played by Ms. Bergman, and her husband Victor Lazlo (one of the greatest screen names ever) a concentration camp survivor and enemy of the Third Reich. The Germans are hot on their trail and are desperate to recapture Lazlo. He has escaped from their grip too many times (to their embarassment) and they're not about to let him leave Casablanca at least not alive.
Through circumstances not under his control, Rick becomes the unsolicited owner of two Letters of Transport that would allow the barrers unquestionable transport from Casablanca to America. Everyone wants possesion of these documents and some will even kill to get them. Rick refuses to sell them or give them to anybody, not even Ilsa. The Letters are his "free pass" back to the United States. Besides, Ilsa betrayed him in Paris. Why should he help her now? Unfortunately for him, he stills loves her. The film ends as it should, but I don't think anyone would consider it a happy ending...unless you were Victor Lazlo.
This was a film made at the height of WWII and one of its many purposes was to stress self-sacrifice for a good cause, but it's never over-the-top with its' message. Even true love isn't a good enough reason to shirk one's duty to defeat the Germans. Every character in this film is a realist and a patriot, doing what they must for the good of the world with no expectations of reward. Shot beautifully in black and white CASABLANCA is rich with texture and depth. Shadows loom, light reveals and people aren't quite who they appear to be. Smoke never curled so seductively. Lovers never yearned more poignantly. The future never seemed so precarious.
The role of Rick solidified Bogey's place as a dangerous, yet tender leading man. He may not be the most attractive bloke on the block, yet his intelligence and honesty more than make up for it. His characters endure because he makes them human, bringing to life men you would be proud to call friend. Bergman is luminous as the dutiful wife, whose heart belongs to another. In her first major Hollywood role she proves she's more than just a pretty face. Ilsa could have been a throwaway role, but she brings an intensity to the proceedings that won't be denied. Rains, Henreid, Greenstreet and Lorre round out the cast beautifully, each leaving a memorable impression of their character. This may, at its heart, be a love story, but without the turns of these talented men CASABLANCA would be a mediocre film at best.
If you have never seen CASABLANCA, you're truly missing out. This is a tale where men are men, women are gorgeous and strong, and the bad guys aren't always what they seem. Rent it today with someone you love.