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Casablanca
1942 - PG - 109 Mins.
Director: Michael Curtiz
Written By: Joan Allison, Murray Bennett, Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, Howard Koch
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Claude Rains
Review by: John Ulmer
   
Regarding "Casablanca," Roger Ebert wrote in his Great Movies essay, "If we can identify strongly with characters in some movies, then it is no mystery that 'Casablanca' is one of the most popular films of all time." Add "and one of the most memorable" to that statement. Almost any list you happen to come across of great movies will contain "Casablanca," as it has almost nestled itself firmly into our world's foundation. It is what one would call a memorable film. It may not be memorable for the audiences of today who find it boring, long, weary and tiresome, but it will always be remembered. That isn't something you can say for most movies. In one hundred years, do you think "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy will really - really - be remembered?

"Casablanca" (1942/43) was filmed during - and not after - World War II, and it shows. There is a feeling of unknowingness to this film - no one knew at the time who the victor of the war would be. In fact, in the film, Humphrey Bogart is asked by a German, "Who do you think will win the war?" Bogart replies, "I honestly have no idea." Maybe that is more than just dialogue to fill space. Maybe it carries a meaning.

"Casablanca" is a love story, just as so many other films released to this day, but upon a viewing two nights ago, I asked myself what sets it apart from the rest. Just what has made it what it is today? Is it the direction by Michael Cortiz, the chemistry between the actors, or the actors themselves? Is it the sly side of dark comedy, or just the nostalgia of the film that drives so many viewers? Or perhaps it is the cliffhanger finale (those filming the movie didn't even know what would happen at the end of the film due to constantly changing scripts and the 1940s Production Code permitting a married woman from leaving her husband for another man). Even if it isn't, the ending is superb, depressing and uplifting, one of the strangest, saddest, and happiest endings I have ever seen, in which Bogart mutters the famous last lines, "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Bogart plays Rick Blaine, a chain smoker and heavy drinker living in Casablanca, French Morocco, during WWII. During WWII, European immigrants fled from their homeland down to Africa, in hopes of sailing off the coast to Portugal, and then to America, land of freedom. Because of this, Casablanca is inhabited by petty thieves, vicious murderers, and ruthless citizens. Every day a plane leaves from the local airport, carrying the precious few with Visa Passes to freedom. Those applying for a Visa Pass on the black market might come in contact with the crook Ugarte (Peter Lorre).

One night the thief Ugarte visits Rick's bar in Casablanca and asks him to hide two Visa Passes he has acquired by unrespectable means. Rick reluctantly agrees, only to watch Ugarte be taken away by French officials the same night, in his very bar. "Rick, you have to help me!" he screams as he is dragged away. Rick takes a puff on his cigarette and remains solid. A bystander says, "Gee, Rick, I hope when they come to take me away you help me out a little bit more than that!" Rick remains a statue and says, "I stick my neck out for nobody."

We can sense Rick was a good guy at one time, but as Marilyn Monroe once said, he probably "got the fuzzy end of the lollipop." He is tired of fighting for the good cause. So he maintains his bar and tries not to care about anyone. His piano player Sam (Dooley Wilson) knows the real Sam, and tries to evoke it, but Sam just sits in silence and drinks and smokes and lets himself stay drenched in misty smoke.

That all remains until Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) walks through his doors. Sam recognizes her first, and she recognizes Sam, and then she asks where Rick is. He says he hasn't seen him around in a while, and she says, "You used to be a much better liar, Sam." Then she asks him to play her favorite song. Everyone and anyone who is the slightest movie buff knows this famous scene and song. Sam guiltily plays "As Time Goes By." Rick rushes over and yells, "I thought I never told you to play that song!" Then he sees her. It turns out that Ilsa left Sam and Rick waiting at a train station in the rain some time ago in Paris, France, during the German occupation. Rick never saw her since. That night she walks into his bar, he sits at a table in his joint, and in a mopy tone says, "Of all the gin joints in all the world, she walks into mine." This is a very effective line.

Do delve into the plot any further is pointless. Not only will it spoil interesting tidbits, but it is just plain pointless to explain anymore. But I will say that every frame is handled with care and the extreme close-ups in this film are amazingly effective. Sergio Leone was known for his extreme close-ups, but those in "Casablanca" seem to capture an innocence of the characters that I have rarely seen equaled in other films.

Bogart is at the top of his game in this film, only equaled in "The Maltese Falcon." Ingrid Bergman is superb, as well, but the supporting cast is equally impressive. Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Claude Rains, Paul Henreid and Dooley Wilson all steal the show - well, maybe not Henreid, but that's because he's not really supposed to. This is the perfect example of a well-rounded cast. Too often nowadays attention is paid to the lead actors and not the supporters - this has both great leads and great supporters.

People often ask me what my favorite film is. And to be frankly honest, it certainly isn't "Casablanca." To me, lists of favorites in ranking order are pointless and silly - who am I to declare my favorite film, when I have not even seen some of the greatest unknown films out there? If someone asks me to tell them my favorite film I have seen, I usually say I don't have one. I still think lists of favorite-ever films are silly. I have various favorites in various genres, but not an "all-time-favorite."

Despite this, "Casablanca" is one of those films that has permeated our culture. It will never go away. I'm not sure if it's one of my top ten favorites, but if there is a difference between a favorite film and a most memorable film, "Casablanca" sure does disguise it.
 
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

 
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