Classic Review – Casablanca

This month we’ve decided to take a look back at one of the most iconic films of the 1940s, Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca.

Review by Cherie Wheeler

“Play it once Sam, for old time’s sake,” became an immortal phrase after it was spoken by Ingrid Bergman in the 1942 film Casablanca. The film as a whole has also endured time, and is as well known today as it was when it was first released more than 7 decades ago. This black and white World War II drama is considered one of the greatest films of all time alongside other classic titles such as Citizen Kane and Gone With The Wind. Its ground breaking screenplay, as well as its phenomenal direction from Michael Curtiz earned the film 3 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and also cemented its position as a significant milestone in the history of film.

Humphrey Bogart stars as Rick Blaine, the cynical owner of Rick’s Café Américain; a popular destination for those forced to remain in Morocco as a result of the war. Tensions rise when renowned fugitive and Czech Resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) comes to town seeking passage to America, which is further complicated when he arrives with Rick’s ex lover, Isla Lund (Ingrid Bergman), in tow. German Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) becomes determined to prevent Laszlo from leaving the country, and although Rick insists he is neutral in all matters of war, he inevitably becomes caught between the opposing sides. Claude Rains also features in the film as Captain Louis Renault; a local, corrupt law official who frequents Rick’s establishment.

There is a universality to Casablanca that transcends time; most notably in the well developed, multi layered relationships between the characters, and also due to the fact that it was not only set during WWII, but was also written and shot during this time. Whilst this would have been interesting to watch at the time of its release, it continues to be fascinating to later audiences.

The outstanding script by Howard E Koch, Julius J Epstein and Phillip G Epstein is an adaptation of the stage play Everybody Comes To Rick’s by Murray Burnett and Joan Allison. As the play was never produced, it is difficult to ascertain who is responsible for which stroke of genius, however, the screenwriters tend to get all the credit. The playwrights did contest their ownership of the work in the 1980s without success; however, Warner Brothers did allow them to stage the script for a limited season in the 1990s. Regardless of who is recognised as the creative owner of the script in the eyes of the law, all of these writers must be applauded for this screenplay. The dialogue is filled with many wonderfully witty lines, and is cleverly composed to contain multiple meanings. It manages to convey exactly what the characters are thinking and feeling, without stating it outright; the latter of which is a huge pet peeve of mine.

This masterful writing would have been wasted without the correct casting, but fortunately all of the performances are exceptional. Bogart is definitely the stand out, and even though he had been starring in a lot of films prior to 1942, he had not yet reached the pinnacle of his career, which arguably was kicked off by his role in Casablanca. Afterwards came a string of collaborations with his wife Lauren Bacall, such as To Have And Have Not, as well as his other hits including The African Queen. His appearance in Casablanca would have to be my favourite performance of his; he lives and breathes the character with such credibility, and he expresses the personality of the character with ease. Even when he is being pessimistic and a little antisocial, he is still likeable, and you are always on his side. Ingrid Bergman delivers a strong performance; however, she is slightly outshone by Bogart. Having said that I don’t think any other actresses of her vintage could have done justice to the role as she does. Claude Rains is just hilarious without even trying, like Bogart; it all comes so easily to him. All of the supporting cast members are equally convincing, and no matter how minor their role, none of them seem out of place.

Of course, who could forget the music in Casablanca, particularly Herman Hupfeld’s As Time Goes By, which has so much significance within the narrative. I adore this song, and its nostalgic, yet melancholic tones that perfectly sum up how the main characters remember their previous time together. Max Steiner, who also composed the music for Gone With The Wind a few years earlier, also does an excellent job with the orchestral score.

Overall, the direction by Michael Curtiz is probably the most superb element of all, as he is responsible for bringing all of the individual elements together to create the amazing package that is Casablanca. Prolific filmmaker from the 1920s-60s, William Wyler, was apparently the first choice for the directing position, and an obvious choice given the sorts of projects he usually led, including Wuthering Heights (1939) and Jezebel (1938), and then later Ben-Hur (1959) and Roman Holiday (1953), but Curtiz is without a doubt the right man for this film. He is literally the magical glue that holds Casablanca together and ensures that this film ranks 100% on the entertainment scale.

If you haven’t already guessed , I am a huge fan of Casablanca and it is one of my favourite films of all time. It has everything you could ever want from a film; tragedy, comedy, and twists and turns in the narrative that will suck you into the world of the film, and have you barracking for Rick and Isla to win out against the odds. A must watch for all; viewing Casablanca should be on everyone’s bucket list.

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