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Taken For Granted – Casablanca

February 14, 2017 | Posted by Aaron Hubbard

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Welcome to Taken For Granted; a column where I analyze films that are almost universally considered classics. Why? Because great movies don’t just happen by accident. They connect with initial audiences and they endure for a reason. This column is designed to keep meaningful conversation about these films alive.


Casablanca

Wide Release Date: January 23, 1943
Directed By: Michael Curtiz
Written By: Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein, Howard Koch
Produced By: Hal B. Wallis
Cinematography By: Arthur Edison
Edited By: Owen Marks
Music By: Max Steiner
Production Company: Warner Bros.
Distributed By: Warner Bros.
Starring:
Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine
Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund
Claude Rains as Captain Louis Renault
Paul Henreid as Victor Laszlo
Sidney Greenstreet as Signor Ferrari

What Do We All Know?

There’s a good chance that if you look at any list of the greatest American films ever made, Casablanca will rank very near the top. It’s one of the legendary Humphrey Bogart’s most famous roles, it’s both a sweeping romance and a political allegory, and it has one of the all-time best screenplays. This film has more memorable quotes than almost any other movie. For many people, even if they haven’t even seen the film, Casablanca is the quintessential “classic movie”.

This column isn’t going to dispute that point. Casablanca is an A+, a 10 out of 10, a masterpiece and a treasure. If I were to make a shortlist of ten movies to see before you die, this would make the list without a second thought. But, it’s also sadly from an era of film that many people are quick to dismiss as “boring”; there’s no explosions, no fancy camera tricks. Just great actors with a great script.

What Went Right?

What didn’t go right with this movie? The film was adapted from the play Everybody Goes to Rick’s, an excellent but unproduced play written by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. Humphrey Bogart is one of the greatest movie stars of all time, and a perfect fit for the character of Rick Blaine. Though already a household name after The Maltese Falcon, Bogart arguably had his defining role here. While I’ve mentioned the script’s quality more than once, many lines are significantly better because Bogart is saying them. He sells the character so well.

But while Bogart will always be special, this is far from a one man show. Claude Rains is a perfect foil for Blaine, charismatic and outgoing but also hiding his own sentimental streak. Dooley Wilson’s role as the piano player Sam is a fantastic supporting run, and his song “As Time Goes By” is both haunting and iconic. And Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa is just everything a Hollywood Starlet should be. She commands the screen, saying so much with her eyes and body language even when she isn’t speaking. Her chemistry with Bogart is fantastic; we can sense their history even before the flashback to Paris.

The film’s screenplay is almost airtight, with very little wasted time. Every scene, every line of dialogue, is either setting up the world, the characters or the stakes. The story is complex without being confusing or meandering; there’s just a lot of moving pieces that eventually pay off with one of the great finales of all time. The love story intersects with the political refugee story, and Rick goes from being a man who “doesn’t stick his neck out for anyone” to a man who sacrifices perhaps the love of his life (and nearly his freedom) for the greater good.

But this isn’t merely a functional script. No, Casablanca has an amazing amount of memorable quotes. From “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine” and “Play As Time Goes By,” to “Here’s looking at you, kid,” and “Louis, I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship”, the film’s dialogue is legendary. I couldn’t list every great line if I wanted to. Casablanca is witty and often hilarious, but also has tendency to be very cutting, especially in the exchanges between Rick and Ilsa.

What Went Wrong?

This section exists so that I can keep myself honest, no matter which movie I am reviewing. But, if I’m being honest, there’s just nothing bad about this movie worth noting. While I’m sure it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, if you’re even remotely interested in this movie, I can’t see you being disappointed. Even more than other classic films like Citizen Kane (which I also love), Casablanca has just aged really, really well. Unless you just hate romances, or Humphrey Bogart, or any film with any political take whatsoever, I suspect you’ll at least like the movie.

The only truly negative thing I can say with the production is that the playwrights got shafted from the moviemakers. This isn’t an uncommon thing for this time, and they eventually got recognition and financial compensation, but it would be nice if more people recognized them for their contributions.

What Went Really Right?

Casablanca is a fiercely political film, almost propaganda. Rick Blaine’s policy of neutrality in Nazi-occupied Morocco mirrors the United States’ foreign policy before entering World War II. The play was written in 1940, but the film was released about a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is both a condemnation of America standing on the sidelines, and a pat on the back for eventually joining the fight. The film’s message was certainly relevant in 1942, and likely contributed to its Best Picture win. In this way, it’s truly indicative of the times it was in.

Perhaps the reason it rings so true though is because of the truly international cast. Many of the cast included refugees from Germany, France and Austria, including several Jews who had spent time in concentration camps before fleeing. This is a case of art imitating reality, and the reality imitating the art. It makes the scene in which the French national anthem drowns out the German national anthem even stronger.

While it is possible to enjoy Casablanca without consideration for its political ideals, I firmly believe they are what makes the film both special and timeless. The film is a classic that should always be treasured. If you haven’t seen it, remedy that situation. If you have, it’s worth watching again.

Like This Column?
Check out previous editions!
Jurassic Park
Back to the Future
Chinatown
Taxi Driver
The Matrix
Batman (1989)

Or check out my column with Michael Ornelas; “From Under A Rock”. Last week, Michael made my head spin with Mulholland Drive. This week, I introduced him to the original The Karate Kid.

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I log reviews for every film I see, when I see them. You can see my main page here. Recent reviews include Braveheart, Green Room, Song of the Sea and Friday the 13th.

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