an analysis and personal opinion of one of the greatest films of all time: Casablanca.
It is said that some of the greatest love affairs are the ones that never really happen. Casablanca is the story of an incomplete, over-whelming love between a man and woman who’s love could never be fully realized due to fate and circumstance. Casablanca is the story of sacrificing true happiness in exchange for the happiness of the one you love. As the adage goes, ”if you love someone, you have to let them go…”.
The Nazi’s are but moments away from occupying France. They already have most of Europe in the grip and people are starting to panic. Enter the Moroccan city of Casablanca-a temporary safe haven for expatriates awaiting the green light to freedom via Portugal to the land of great opportunity, America. In a city of black-market trading, corrupt police officials and an impending Nazi invasion-there is one shining light that offers both expatriates and locals alike a respite from the harsh realities of living in anticipation, Rick’s Café Americain and its dashingly debonair owner Rick Blaine (Bogart). Although Rick is well liked and respected by all who know him, he is a bit of an enigma. What we do know is that “he is a hard drinking American”(Ebert, par. 4) who owns the most popular night spot in town. Enter the gorgeous Ilsa Lundt and his tough façade immediately begins to shatter like a delicate piece of glass, and suddenly we are given insight as to why Rick is the way he is. A battle of love vs. honor and self gain vs. sacrifice for the greater good keeps the viewer bursting with anticipation as to who Ilsa will chose and how Rick Will fair in the fragile game of life and love.
–adjective Also, classical
of the first or highest quality, class, or rank: a classic piece of work. (www.dictionary.com).
Critics and viewers of all generations agree that Casablanca is not only “Americas best-loved movie” (Berardinelli, par. 1), but also the greatest movie of all time, a true classic.
Michael Curtiz directed many films before and after Casablanca, but none are as well known or as well loved. So what is it about this film that it “has withstood the test of more than half a century” (Berardinelli, par. 10). In my opinion, for all it is worth is that the success of, and viewers love of Casablanca can be attributed to one thing…or rather, one person-Humphrey Bogart. To find the words to describe how Bogart’s character, Rick conjures up emotions from his viewers is like trying to find the needle in a haystack. From the moment the audience meets Rick, all suave and cool in his dinner jacket and cigarette-they adore him. Women swoon over him and men think in awe, ‘Wow…he’s cool’. As the spectator, you cant quite figure Rick out-to say he is a conundrum is a massive understatement. But no one really tries too hard to figure him out-everyone is too busy admiring him. James Berardinelli effectively describes Ricks’ personality as “the tough cynic who hides a broken heart beneath a fractured layer of sarcasm”(Berardinelli, par. 6)
Rick is not what most women would consider gorgeous-yet he is irresistible to them. He has enormous amounts of sex appeal that is in part due to his tough, mysterious nature. Had I been a woman in 1940’s Casablanca, with Rick Blain by my side, asking questions about his past would have been the last thing on my mind. Another part of his enormous appeal is that, although he acts like a grim tough guy with a personal code of ‘I don’t stick my neck out for nobody” (Casablanca), he really does have a “core of sentiment and idealism” (Crowther, par. 5), and is continually contradicting his personal code by performing good deeds that are of no benefit to himself. Such as the night the audience first meets Rick. While he no longer wants anything to do with the lovely drunk lady who is both enamored and enraged with him, he still calls a cab and sees to it that she gets home safely. Or half way through the film, when the beautiful but troubled young Belgian, who is newly married, comes to Rick asking if Capt. Renault will keep his word in issuing visas for her husband and her, should you perform certain…duties. Rick’s protective nature seems to kick in as he explains that, yes, Capt. Renault will keep, but that she is not to sleep with him. At that he gets up and goes over to her husband, tells him to play number twenty-two at the Roulette table-twice, cash in his winnings and go on to a happier life. Now…at the end of the film, Rick’s status as the most romantic hero of all time is cemented when he sacrifices the love of his life and a chance at true happiness for the greater good of everyone else, when he delivers his line “the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world” (Casablanca), and tells Ilsa to get on the plane with Victor. Any sane member of the audience will want to get up and shout ‘FORGET THE REST OF THE WORLD RICK….GET YOUR GIRL AND GO BE HAPPY!’
For the duration of Casablanca, viewers will have mixed emotions regarding Ilsa Lundt (Bergman). While she is always portrayed as sweet, and heroic In her own way-audiences cant help but feel a tinge of dislike for her. Its not that she is a bad person, quite the opposite as is later revealed. But the fact remains that she broke Rick’s heart- and in the eyes of the audience, Rick is the dashing hero who can do no wrong. “Miss Bergman is surpassingly lovely, crisp and natural” (Crowther, par. 5) in her portrayal of Ilsa Lundt, and it is argued that, had any other actress played the role-Ilsa Lundt might not have been perceived as a heroine, instead she would have been resented by viewers with no chance at redeeming herself for shattering Rick’s heart.
Actors and characters aside, there are several other factors that make Casablanca a superior story of love, loss and redemption. The music compiled for Casablanca has a profound impact on the emotional draw of the film. Sam (Wilson), who is Rick’s best friend and piano players/singer at Rick’s Café, in one moment has the patrons of the Café upbeat and singing along to ‘Knock on Wood’, and in the very next moment he is bringing up old feelings of anger, unwanted nostalgia and resentment when he plays ‘As Time Goes by’ which was his and Ilsa’s song while they were lovers in Paris. Rick makes it known that he disapproves of the song and the memory when he storms out and demands “I thought I told you never to play that song again’ (Casablanca). It is quite remarkable to witness how just a few beats of a haunting song can conjure up such intense emotions. However, the films most touching scene is when, after hearing the Germans loudly singing their song-Victor Lazlow (Henreid) the leader of the French Resistance, storms over to the band and demands they play Le Marseilles. It is then that all the French patron, stand up and patriotically sing their anthem-heads held high. The scene is quite breathtaking and it sure to make the viewers choke back a gulp of tears.
“Stylistically, the film is not so much brilliant as absolutely sound, rock-solid in its use of Hollywood studio craftsmanship.”(Ebert, par. 12). By filming n black and white, Michael Curtiz gave the movie an elegant edge-with every effect being experienced more vividly that thought possible. If someone were to try and remake Casablanca today, as has been attempted in the past-they would fail, time and time again in their quest t replicate the original. It wouldn’t matter if the best actors and actresses were used, or the most technologically advanced filming equipment was used-the highest success any replica could hope to achieve is an OK rip-off of a great work of art. Because the thing is-there is, and will only ever be, one Casablanca.
James Berardinelli captures the essence of Casablanca magnificently as he explains that “one of the things that makes Casablanca unique is that it stays true to itself without giving in to commonly held perceptions of crowd-pleasing tactics. And because of this, not despite it, Casablanca has become known as one of the greatest movies ever made” (Berardinelli, par. 9). For all the themes and genres that are covered, Casablanca remains an inspiring love story of the highest degree. The love that Rick and Ilsa share is the kind of love that the audience will leave hoping will one day find, however, instead of having just Paris….they’ll want forever.