Casablanca (1942): An Amazing Story of Love in a Time of War

Casablanca

       “Casablanca,” is a film I always caught at the wrong time, every time it was on, so much was going on already so the movie was always in the background and usually remained unfinished by the time I would leave. “Casablanca,” is a fascinating film, considering it was completed when World War 2 was still going on. The Nazis still occupied a lot of Europe and it was unknown who would be victorious in the end. The screenplay itself is based off a play called “Everybody Comes to Rick’s,” by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. The fact that they were writing from a time where history remained unwritten gives the present of the story so much life. 

   “Casablanca,” was directed by Michael Curtiz and is the story of Rick (Humphrey Bogart) who owns a saloon in Nazi occupied Casablanca in the French Morocco. He is a pretty selfish guy whose perspective changes when a former lover named Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) re-enters his life with her fascist resisting husband Victor Laszlo…from here the story unfolds as politics between factions arise as the drama unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The Music – God I love the music in this. From “As Time Goes By,” to the orchestra pieces and the jazz…you feel like you are in Casablanca and the music always fits what is going on. I could listen to this soundtrack for days and plan on using it to inspire my own writing. Max Steiner is fantastic.

The Cinematography – The cinematography captures the cramped feel of the bazaar, the open feel of Rick’s saloon and the noir feel of the ending in the escape sequence intermixed with the backstabbing and double dealing.

Rick Blaine – Humphrey Bogart owns this role and creates a compelling character who we never know if he is selfish and all about the money…or still the idealist at heart that brought him to Europe in the first place to fight the fascist governments as a mercenary. We see his complexity through his relationships, from Sam who is his piano player at the saloon to the French Captain Louis Renalt and Isla and her husband Laszlo (as well as smaller smuggler characters too), they  each reveal parts of his selfish and selfless side as the story goes on.

Isla Lund – What would you do if you believed your husband to be dead and fell in love with another? This is Isla’s dilemma as her romance with Rich in Paris occurs when she has believed for some time that Laszlo is dead. Also Laszlo loves the cause more than he loves her and Rick loves her. This is an interesting choice and she only gives up her agency to Rick at the end when he tells her he’ll need her to to help her and Laszlo escape. Ingrid Bergman is amazing in the role and gives us a complex character who makes her own path in a situation where it is difficult to do just that.

Sam – Dooley Wilson is the connection to Rick and Isla and is a character with a lot of awareness. He tries to talk Rick out of dredging up the past and tries to help him and Isla move on even as they use him as a tool to express their feelings of love lost in the song he plays, “As Time Goes By,” he is a great singer and the only downside is I wish he’d played more of a part after the First Act. After his attempts fail, he just kind of exists as the piano player.

Louis Renalt – I love this character. He is the kind of character I love watching in television shows…characters who are a shade of grey but when they sell themselves as truly selfish it is believable because of how charming they are and how they do what is asked of them…though with always an added twist. Claude Rains is my favorite minor character and I’d have watched the movie it was just about him and how the events of the story change him or force him to reveal where his true loyalties are.

The Dialogue – Reveals the distinct personalities of the characters and helps show events rather than tell events. The best example of this is when we see Isla and Rick’s time and Paris and how the romance happens. It is subtle and the lines show how each of them are hiding their past but want to be together with what they can give…as well as Isla’s leaving where you know there is more going on, but until Laszlo’s reveal…we don’t know what that thing is.

The Reveal – Renault sets up a Nazi officer being sent to the airplane where Isla and Laszlo will be escaping but the Nazi Officer is killed by Rick who is fighting for them. His choosing to fight for Isla and a higher cause of the resistance is the big reveal as well as Renault being sympathetic and joining with Rick to go and fight the Nazis.

The Message – Love is greater than romance, there are ideals greater than the individual and the theme of solidarity in resistance. Love is greater than romance in that Rick gets over his wish to be with Isla and lets her leave with her husband telling her “We’ll always have Paris.” He has finally gotten past himself and sees that if they were together it would involve hurting her (letting Laszlo get caught) in the process. The other part is when he kills the Nazi officer and re-devotes himself to fighting the fascists. Renault joins him in this and they decide to join the French Resistance. There are also the themes of solidarity in the singing of “Viva la France,” against the Nazi’s nationalist anthem and Rick helping a Bulgarian couple escape by letting the husband win in his gambling so they’ll have the funds to travel to America. There are others as well, but this theme is pervasive and makes the film even stronger.

Okay: The Nazi Officers – They are just kind of there, but exist mostly as a threat. I never felt like they were fully fleshed out in regards to their motivations. Sure they get lines, but there aren’t any characters like the S.S. Officer in “Inglorious Bastards.” They serve their role, but are pretty replaceable.

Victor Laszlo – I really wanted to like this character. He is a resistance fighter with a compelling backstory (fought for the Czech and other resistances in Europe against the Nazis) is put in a concentration camp and escapes, and he forgives Isla for cheating on him. The actor just doesn’t make his character greater than his role though. He is there to be the face of the resistance and love of a cause (he’d leave if he got the chance and leave Isla if it meant continuing the fight), but he just isn’t as compelling as Isla and Rick. I wish we’d heard more about what he went through, we can really only guess based off what we know.

The Length – This movie at times feels long. This is good for building tension, but sometimes can drag. This isn’t a con though since I love all the time with the characters…it just needs to be addressed since it isn’t a pro. It would have been a pro if it didn’t feel long.

     This is one of my all time favorite films after tonight and one I intend to watch again in the future. There is a reason it won 3 Academy Awards and why it is recognized as one of the classics. It’s themes are timeless, it’s characters are great and the music is some of the best from any movie. It is a near perfect film and reminds us of the things worth living and dying for. I can’t recommend this film enough.

My final Score for the film is 9.8 / 10.

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