Director: Michael Curtiz
Now before I start I should probably say that I have a bit of an issue with a lot of the ‘classics’ in that I think the majority of them are highly overrated (especially Citizen Kane but that rant will have to wait a while!) As such I have never really understood the appeal of Casablanca or what gives it the longevity that it has, and therefore disagree with Kim Newman’s opening statement that it is ‘the most beloved Academy Award Best Picture winner of all” (178, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) … and don’t get me started on the wisdom of the Academy’s decisions or we could be here forever! So let’s get down to it.
I can’t deny that Humphrey Bogart is an incredible actor and definitely made the film noir genre his own – indeed I have found that he is usually my favourite part of any noir film. While Casablanca is technically not a film noir it does share a number of the elements that define noir – the chiaroscuro lighting, the use of flashbacks, voiceover, the anti-hero.
There are a number of memorable performances; Bogie is enigmatic and classic as Rick Blaine and Peter Lorre’s Ugarte is suitably slimy and sly as befits a hustler. Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa glows, a testament to the magic of the lighting that is so common to Hollywood’s golden era. Bogie’s Rick may be a bit of a cynic but he makes such a sacrifice that he confirms Renault’s view that he is a ‘rank sentimentalist’.
Released one year after the Americans’ entrance to World War II and set around the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor (the catalyst for said entrance) Casablanca is surprisingly neutral with regards to the ongoing war. Newman says “Made before the war was over, it dares to leave its characters literally up in the air or out in the desert, leaving its original audiences and the many who have discovered the film over the years to wonder what happened to these people (whose petty problems don’t amount to “a hill of beans”) during the next few turbulent years.” (178, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die). I can understand why they left the film the way they did but to me it just has an unfinished feel to it.
I have watched Casablanca a number of times now and I still can’t see what makes it so beloved by so many people. There is a tragicness to the relationship between Rick and Ilsa which I suppose is the force being the enduring fascination with the film. Maybe I’m just not enough of a romantic to understand it. To me there are more romantic films out there. Though it cannot be denied that it is one of the most quoted (and misquoted – Play it again, Sam) films of all time.