Casablanca is a classic and one of the most revered films of all time. Starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in a love triangle in the city of Casablanca which is a refuge for many fleeing foreigners looking for a new life during the war. Political romance with a backdrop of war conflict between democracy and totalitarianism. A landmark in film history.
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Michael Curtiz (1942)
Casablanca is many things, but mostly it was a perfect storm of production values at the time it was made. In 1941 the world was just getting to the worst of its second self involved war and Hollywood was at the height of production studio centered glory, open and ripe for the attention of the power-jealous paranoids of the 50s. The people making Casablanca had everything needed to make the most popular movie in history (sorry Titanic, lets see you attract people over and over at festivals –what? You can't? Oh, that's right, you blew your load.).
They had exotic settings, a ready made situation to forever tug at people's heartstrings, timeless leading actors (there is no era in fashion history that Bogart and Bergman would look bad in) ridiculously awesome supporting cast of character actors—the breadth of which I doubt will ever be seen again (a rant for another day!).
Best movie ever made, no, not critically or technically. Critics tend to allow Casablanca into the annals of Best Films Ever because it is so enduringly and solidly good. Nothing big. Nothing fancy. No great arguments about hubris, mortality, social issues – what have you – like Citizen Kane or All About Eve. Just Nazis and unfulfilled sex. I ask you, what is wrong with this?
The direction does nothing but build tension and alert viewers to whose a baddy and whose a goodie. What you don't see, in fact, is the direction. Casablanca is seamlessly plot-tastic.
And what a plot. Few works of fiction sell unrequited love so convincingly or realistically. Not only do they acknowledge that a person can love two different people equally and still retain honor and nobility and all that, but we actually buy the motivations behind all three people in the triangle. AND! It is resolved in a perfectly tragic pit of hope for the future without relying on the “babies = hope” crutch.
More intricately, political intrigue and double crossing are never going to get old. The only thing that would ever truly date this movie is the political intrigue. Because Nazis are actual, historical bad guys, and tied to a very specific place and time, it's possible that cultures outside of SUA, and/or a couple generations down the line will not care so quickly or easily for “the troubles of three little people” on the run from the Third Reich. Luckily! There is a slick little intro with a model globe and voice-over which introduces the time and place very nicely. If you were an alien and knew nothing of earth history, but were profoundly human—sentimentally—you'd get it.
Where the direction picks up after all this awesome, is in the details. Every time I watch Casablanca I find a new detail that reinforces a character or setting. Usually they're shadows. The shadow of Rick opening his safe, the dancing girl shadow in The Blue Parrot, the shadow of scurrying French underground braves... They add depth to otherwise static blocking and cardboard sets.
The continual usage of shadow is probably my favorite, non-plot related thing. When combined with the fact that everyone smokes constantly in this movie, the world of northern Africa is orientalized in the sexiest of all possible ways—subtly.
Two things I've noticed that can actually be considered mistakes: Hand-wound mending. One of the shadows shows Rick opening a safe...he does not close it in the same scene... hm...
First viewing, I fell asleep. Bored. Hated it. I don't know when I watched it the first time and liked it. I honestly don't remember, but by my first year of college I couldn't stop watching it. Bought a poster in an antique store, hung it in my dorm room as a declaration of my superior taste to all the Animal House posters. Consequently I become immediate friends with the girl across the hall who's choice was Cool Hand Luke. We were so damn cool. They were destroyed by asbestos and we had to buy a new ones, not vintage. Sad.