Humphrey Bogart … Rick Blaine
Ingrid Bergman … Ilsa Lund
Paul Henreid … Victor Laszlo
Claude Rains … Captain Louis Renault
Conrad Veidt … Major Heinrich Strasser
Directed by Michael Curtiz
In retrospect I am ashamed as a fan of cinema to have put off watching Casablanca until just recently. It had always been one of those films that I would get around to watching, one day when I had bothered myself into it. I could say that It may be in part to my general distaste of golden age Hollywood films. I would never badmouth the classics should people ask me about them however the sheer abundance of arguably mass produced and poor quality films from the period fills the apple cart. Then again, little has changed.
The crux of this film plays out like so, Casablanca in unoccupied French Morocco serves as a halfway point for many people attempting to leave for the Americas and escape the Nazi’s who by this point own Europe and the majority of Northern Africa. Two high ranking Nazi couriers are hijacked and killed by underground resistance members for the two signed and dotted Visas that would allow anyone out of the country no questions asked.
Enter Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) the local nightclub and gambling establishment owner who hides the tickets when their holder is targeted and captured by the local police. He dodges the investigation of the local corrupt police prefect Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) until who walks into his gin joint but his old flame from Paris Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) and her husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). Now Rick must decide what to do, try and be with the love of his life or do the unthinkable. All while dodging Nazis.
Casablanca has a very tightly blended scope of drama, suspense, action and a touch of film noir’ style mystery about it. It begins action packed with the rounding up of the usual suspects and then quickly moves into Rick’s where the cool and calm Rick quickly makes himself known. Bogart is essentially perfect in this role and you cannot help but like Rick despite his gruff exterior. Similar words can be said about all the other supporting characters as well. Ingrid Bergman is quite simply a beautiful woman and plays Isla vulnerable yet determined and strong. She has an impossible decision to make, her husband or the man she fell in love with in Paris.
Immediately the problem arises for the audience who are naturally going to side with Rick in this matter however Paul Henreid plays Victor Laszlo as a man so inherently deserving of praise and commendation that you cannot immediately favour Rick in the matter. A lesser man would automatically lose out to Bogart but Henreid manages to size up to the giant of the screen and we love him for it. I also have to mention Claude Rains as Captain Renault who effectively plays as Rick’s foil for the film. He gets some fantastically funny lines and every moment on the screen simply adds to it.
Now for the reason why this film is perhaps considered the greatest of all time. The ending is an amazing scene of eternally quotable lines and above all you see Rick do the one thing that would break his heart completely but he does it because its damn well the right thing to do. The strength in the truly correct decision despite the sacrifices needed is a classic narrative device and raises Casablanca above many of its contemporary moves. Had Rick simply taken the way his heart earned for then the movie would simply have been another love story with a happy ending. Not this time however.
I would very much recommend Casablanca to anyone from teens upward. In fact I would specifically recommended Casablanca to anyone who is that the cusp of adulthood as I believe they will enjoy it even if they have never liked old movies before. It is not a long film, only 100 minutes long, and its tight pacing and editing means it never overstays its welcome. It has enough twists and turns and great acting to keep anyone occupied and wondering what was going to happen next.
Casablanca gets five Fedora hats out of five