Casablanca, a film that is up there with Citizen Kane, part of a collection of movies someone always hears about but probably never really watched. That isn’t a bad thing other forms of media have those same mythical works, Tale of Two Cities, most Shakespeare.
My first memory of Casablanca came from The Simpson season 9 finale “Natural Born Kissers”. Bart and Lisa look for treasure and come across the “happy ending” of the movie but in the end bury it with the "killing spree ending" of It's a Wonderful Life.
I hadn’t seen Casablanca until my junior year of high school. My AP Euro History teacher always had a foreign/ film fest after the test since there was nothing left to teach.Which made it an easy choice to take IB history with him the next year. His choice in film really helped broaden my horizon seeing: The Three Colors Trilogy, Babette's Feast, and Paris, Je t'aime to name a few. Up to that point movies that came out before Star Wars: A New Hope were basically dead to me. Too old to be interesting.
That was all about 4 years ago. So when I saw that my local Fox theater was having “Boggart Fridays” from July 13-August 17 and Casablanca was going to be shown I jumped at the chance to see this classic in a theater setting. Six dollar student pricing didn’t hurt either. In the end. I sat in a large theater surrounded by people far better dressed, watching a Blu Ray copy of Casablanca projected onto a screen. It seemed fitting to be watching this in a literal theater since it was based on the (at the time) unpublished Everybody Comes to Rick’s.
This movie is firmly in the good column. The sharp dialog and Humphrey Bogart carry this movie. Dragging bland characters and overdone music behind it.
Casablanca, like Mos Eisley, is a transient place promising freedom but never fulfilling it. Run by corrupt officials and corrupt businessmen all trying to make a buck and not piss off the occupying Nazis.
It’s here we find Rick, the proprietor of Rick's Café Américain the one good but slightly underhanded salon in the city. To a large degree Rick could be described as a Jay Gatsby like recluse known only by reputation to many only known to few. He has quite the past running guns to Ethiopia and fighting on the loyalist side in the Spanish Civil War. Those fighting days are gone. He has resigned himself to Casablanca, cynically working with the good and bad to make a buck “I stick my neck out for *nobody*!”. And why should he? He has a pretty good life compared to the dregs of Casablanca. It all starts going topsy turvy with the death of a pair of German soldiers carrying mythical letters of transit, a bullet proof get out of Casablanca and Nazi controlled France card.
Rick as a character is largely a mystery even the people who know Rick, they don’t really “know” him. Did he really kill a man in America? He needs to be an enigma though, or else we wouldn’t have the drama surrounding his crisis of conscious. If we knew from the start Rick really was a nice sentimental guy all along the movie would have no crisis, in this contrived plot. Boggart is great at looking disheveled, worn down after having his heart ripped out of him. The hard boiled cynic became Boggarts trademark “character” for the remainder of his career.
It’s odd to constantly here this movie called a romance. It isn’t all that romantic except in how it treats memories. Rick, Ilsa, Captain Renault, and Victor all manipulate each other trying to get those Letters of Transit. Love is just another tool used by them all to get what they want. Ilsa prays on Ricks memories of their time in Paris in order to get at least one of the letters. Rick uses Ilsas love for him to get her to leave Casablanca with Victor. There is no love in this movie only the word.
Ultimately this movie is about Rick getting over feeling sorry for himself and living his life again. Sure the side characters have their own things to do but like the letters of transit they are nothing more than objects to propel Rick along. They happen to just talk. They are important objects since they inform the audience about Rick but they never move beyond their given role into characters. In the end Victor is still a freedom fighter, Ilsa his wife, and the Nazi still evil. This doesn't mean the other characters aren’t entertaining, Captain Renault(Claude Rains) brightens up this movie as the completely self aware corrupt captain. Less entertaining is Ilsa Lund(Ingrid Bergman) who despite being on the run with husband Victor Laszlo becomes completely subservient to Rick and Victor. She sure doesn't seem able to think for herself much less keep away from the Germans. Bergman is there just to look hot and remind everyone about Paris over, and over. Same goes for Victor Laszlo(Paul Henreid), not a scene with him goes by without himself or someone else bringing up the fact he is some sort of underground freedom fighter.
Even if not all the characters are fully developed the level of self awareness of what they are in the dialog makes up for it. Captain Renault knows he isn’t really a good captain he uses the status of his position to take bribes and freely admits it. Ilsa knows she is the beautiful women and plays to it. This knowledge gives the dialog a short sarcastic quality with quipy one liners, as well as slow and over dramatic if the scene calls for it.
The song “As Time Goes By” and the music of Casablanca became another of the things associated with the film. I don’t hate “As Time Goes By” in fact most of the sung diegetic music works really well. The non-diegetic music though is overwrought and obvious in its attempts to get an emotional response out of the audience. Where is the subtly? By not letting the acting do its job theater goers are beat over the head with sounds designed to make them feel bad.
Humphrey Boggart gave a great star making performance as Rick. This movie has been embedded into the cultural knowledge of this country. Ingrid Bergman continued to look beautiful in her movies. Casablanca came out in a rather timely point in World War II serving as a subtle but not too subtle propaganda film. How dare those Nazis break up Rick and Ilsa! It has aged noticeably and some go to tricks of the time don’t play nearly as well. It is still easily watchable and enjoyable.