Casablanca (1942)

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Casablanca– what I consider the greatest film of all time.  This is my absolute favorite movie and I never get tired of watching it. I thought that it was fitting to write about this film first since it is such a favorite of mine.  It stars some of my favorite actors, including Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Paul Henreid, and Ingrid Bergman.  These top-notch performers bring their characters to life in a believable way, and you really do root for the characters in the end.

World War II was a frequent setting for films during that time, but Casablanca brought those realities to life just as the war was going on.  The rationing of materials was evident in this film, just as it was with the advent of Film Noir.  It is even mentioned in the film with “gasoline rationing”.  Casablanca was filmed at the back lot of Warner Bros. studio, and I was fortunate enough to see the last remaining set from the movie at the studio when I was there in April.  It was from when Rick and Ilsa were at the café during his flashback, hearing about the Germans’ invasion.  It was a very special moment for me when I knew that my favorite actor, Humphrey Bogart, stood in that very same spot.

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Casablanca spans several different genres: action, drama, romance, war, and suspense.  Right off the bat, it’s as if you’re watching news footage from the war with the map in the background, a great way to catch the audience’s attention.  One scene that strikes me in the beginning is when the man without his paperwork is shot.  The shadows on the ground of the lattice-work overhang represent bars of entrapment since some people are trapped in Casablanca forever.  The people are desperate and some will resort to anything to get passage out of Casablanca.  Claude Rains plays a great role.  Even though he is the captain of the police, he has a lighthearted attitude and will usually help people in a jam.  Rick’s Café Américain encompasses a place of escape for people during those desperate times.  They could go for a drink, entertainment, or gambling.  Sam’s piano playing brings in a sense of good-hearted hospitality at the café.  The introduction of Rick is quite significant, since the first thing the audience sees from him is doing business, and then he continues his chess game.  He is a serious person who conducts business first and he is not afraid to look out for only himself.  Peter Lorre plays a devious character, one that he was so well at portraying.

The setup of Rick and Ilsa’s meeting brings in dramatic aspects.  As soon as Ilsa sees Sam and the way she gazes back in his direction, you can tell there will be nerves when they meet.  It is sentimental when Sam begins playing the piano, but as he begins “As Time Goes By”, you can see the pain and emotion in her face.  Ingrid Bergman played that part brilliantly.  Her eyes are glassy when she sees Rick and there is still much pain and bitterness between them.  As Rick is drinking away his sorrows, he tries not to relive the pain but it is inevitable.  The flashbacks obviously bring in the romantic side to the story, with Rick and Ilsa enjoying each other’s company in Paris.  The train scene is a classic that stands out as well.  With Rick reading Ilsa’s note and the rain pouring down and the dramatic music score, Rick’s hopes of a future with Ilsa are all washing away in front of him.

Rick begins to show his soft spot when he helps the young couple at his café obtain exit visas.  Paul Henreid plays a strong character who truly stands up for what he believes in.  A survivor of a concentration camp, Victor Laszlo inspires others to fight for what is right, especially during the singing between the Germans and the people of Casablanca.  The suspense grows when Ilsa goes to see Rick about the letters of transit.  The gun changes the dynamics and it is an unexpected action from Ilsa.  However, she could not go through killing someone she still loved, and Rick and Ilsa make amends.

I think it’s fascinating that no one on set really knew the outcome of the film until the last minute.  It is a classic ending with classic lines that people instantly recognize as being from Casablanca.  The realization that Rick and Ilsa must be honest with each other has a somewhat hopeful tone in the end.  Rick had such a tough exterior and Ilsa was the only one who could soften him at the end and get him to stick his neck out for someone.  Everyone was going to contribute to the Resistance in some way, and evil will not stand in the way of doing what is right.  Throughout the film, “As Time Goes By” became an anthem for Rick and Ilsa.  So much time had passed between them, but they had to remain true to themselves in the end.

This film is iconic in so many ways- the actors and the characters they portray, the dialogue, the film score by the great Max Steiner, and of course, “As Time Goes By”.  By the end of the film, you feel that everything will turn out alright even in times of suffering and war.   This movie has it all and it is such a great piece of film history.

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