An all time favourite of mine, Casablanca never fails to put a smile on my miserable face, and a tear in my eye. The stars aligned for this film; briliant performances, clever direction, the best screenplay ever written and a sweeping soundtrack all combine to make a picture still loved to this day.
It’s a classic, but it stands out from most ‘classics’ in that it’s not over-rated. It’s Hollywood entertainment in its purest form, but it comes paired with some more complex undercurrents. Nothing is as it seems.
The romance seems so naive and typical of a movie love affair, yet we soon find out there’s more to it than that. Rick sympathises with the husband, Victor. His history implies that he probably was once a similar character to him. Ilsa thought he was dead when she met Rick, she even told him her former lover had died. There’s no deception at play here, just circumstance. Everyone wants someone to blame, but there’s nobody. This adds to the tension and desperation of the situation and only makes the ending more heartbreaking.
Desperation is another theme that is dealt with in a unique way. There are people waiting to leave Casablanca, but there are also a subset of people resigned to staying. Rick seems to be one of them. The police chief another (one of my favourite characters). Signor Ferrari yet another.
These are people who put on a front of being content, whether it be through wealth or being well connected, yet the yearning to leave and the regret shines through. As we see at the end, Rick and the police chief act on their impulse. This kind of depth in a secondary plot is only reserved for TV shows with six seasons nowadays, yet here it works in 100 minutes.
Bogart and Bergman chime onscreen to the point where they barely have to say anything to tell their story. What they do say however is some of the most memorable and effective dialogue to come out of Hollywood.
The germans wore grey, you wore blue.
Not a word is wasted, throwaway lines tell stories of their own. It’s slick, it’s funny and it’s romantic. The line above is a perfect example of this. Seven words tell a tale of young love and the onset of war. Fabulous work.
You may not enjoy Casablanca as much as I do. It’s not ‘aged well’ but that’s not a bad thing. It’s a snapshot of a forgotten time and place, with themes that we can all still relate to. It’s also a perfect example of how cinema can work on multiple levels without losing its broad appeal.