Starring-Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman
Scott’s Review #838
Reviewed December 7, 2018
Casablanca (1942) is a classic style Hollywood film made during a decade when big studio productions were all the rage. The film may very well be in the top ten creations of its day and a film that nearly everyone has either seen or is aware of. A grand romantic World War II drama released at the perfect time, the film contains legendary stars Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman and is flawless in nearly every way as a lavish production ought to be.
Bogart stars as Rick Blaine, an expatriate who owns a lavish nightclub in Casablanca, Morocco. The time is December 1941, before the United States emerged into the vicious World War II. His clientele ranges from French and German officials to refugees attempting to flee the country, fearful of being stuck in a foreign land. Mixed in with the melee of varied characters is Ilsa (Bergman) a former flame of Rick’s, who appears with new husband Victor, a Czech leader. Ilsa begs Rick for help escaping the country and their ended romance begins to blossom once again.
Through scenes we see Rick and Ilsa together, living a perfect life in pre-war Paris. They happily co-exist, sharing a happy life unaware of the conflict and secrets that will emerge in Casablanca merely two years later. As Victor is initially presumed dead, this is cause for Ilsa’s initial freedom and romance with Rick.
Back in Casablanca, Rick is in possession of important letters that will allow the holder to escape the city and be bound for safety in another country. While Ilsa is desperate for these letters, she is also madly in love with Rick, and vice versa, adding a strong romantic element to the film. Supporting characters are mixed into the plot as desperation and impending doom interplay.
Casablanca is a film with a myriad of things going on simultaneously which is a major part of its draw. From the obvious romance of Rick and Ilsa- the focal point of the story-part of the draw are the sub-plots weaved within. The nasty Nazi Major Heinrich Strasser encompasses the future Third Reich and the devastation this group would ultimately cause. A multitude of supporting characters and extras perfectly flesh out both the cast and the look and feel of the film.
The most interesting character is Rick. Once an idealistic and moral man he has changed becoming cynical and broken. In this way the film nearly becomes a character study. The audience sees the change in Rick and slowly realizes he has given, the war the culprit. The final sequence reveals the fate of Rick and Ilsa, their doomed romance assuredly coming as no surprise, true to the message of the film. An “unhappily ever after” result was quite rare in a big studio production in this day and this is a testament to the good written story.
The featured piano number and Casablanca’s “theme song” is the lovely yet melancholy “As Time Goes By”. Beautifully played by house pianist and close friend of Rick’s, Sam (Dooley Wilson), the number is instrumental to the plot and specifically to Rick and Ilsa’s romance. The song is a painful memory of the once idyllic life the pair shared.
Made in 1941 and released in 1942 the timing of the film is the key to its unrelenting success. American audiences undoubtedly found the film identifiable and the uncertainties of the impending war put their current freedoms at risk. In this way Casablanca was marketed wonderfully and the compelling nature of the film resonated. Especially in the case of Rick audiences undoubtedly shared his conflict and “for the greater good” perspective.
Casablanca (1942) is a film that educates, entertains, and romances without exhibiting a shred of pretension. From the crisp black and white filming and the unique use of light and shadows to reflect character’s thoughts, the film is lovely to look at and possesses a lofty budget. Immersed in the richness is a sadness and a timely message about a changed man, a failed romance, and the ravages of war that still resonate decades later.