By Dan Skip Allen
When film fans and people in general talk about the greatest films of all time, inevitably Casablanca comes up in the conversation, and rightly so. It won the Best Picture Academy Award back in 1943 for films released in 1942. Yes, Casablanca is turning eighty years old and it remains one of the greatest, if not the greatest film of all time. In my humble opinion, it is the greatest film of all time. Let me tell you why.
In the time of WWII, there were territories where resistance fighters, criminals, and couples fled so that they get away from some of the Nazi-occupied countries. One of those is French Morocco in Africa. They could take a train and then a boat so they then could get a plane to anywhere they would like to go to escape the Nazi regime that was taking over Europe. Now if you were a scorned lover, you might want to just get out of Paris, France to start anew. That's what Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) does. He creates a whole new identity, buys a bar, and calls it Rick's Cafe Americain. He caters to any that want to drink their sorrows away or do a little gambling and just relax with some good music from Sam (Dooley Wilson), the piano player/singer. Even the Nazis come in for a few rounds. The place is filled with all kinds of characters, good and bad.
Humphrey Bogart is phenomenal as Rick Blaine. This man is in the middle between his friend Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains), the chief of police, and his past love Ilsa Lind (Ingrid Bergman). But she is now in love with another man, Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid) who is part of the French resistance. This film is full of phenomenal performances. Peter Lorre (Ugarte), Sydney Greenstreet (Signor Ferrari), and Conrad Veidt (Major Heinrich Strasser) are all fantastic in supporting roles in the film as well.
The film has some amazing cinematography by Arthur Edeson. The black and white gave the film a noir feeling that has made it one of the distinguishing factors of the charm of the film. The music by Max Stirner is also very iconic. The set production was very innovative for the time as well. One scene towards the end uses little people in place of adults to show distance and a cardboard cutout of a plane is in place of an actual plane is used in the scene. These are some of the tricks used in the film, which won three Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director for Michael Curtiz, and Best Writing by a team of people including Phillip G. and Julius J. Epstein, and Howard Koch.
Casablanca is known for many things, among them its amazing quotes considered some of the best in movie history. Quotes such as "We'll always have Paris," when Rick is discussing his past with Ilsa, "Play it, Sam. Play 'As Time Goes By'," when Rick was reminiscing about his time in Paris, France. Captain Louis Renault says "Round up the unusual suspects," when he is confronted with no other choice by Major Strasser. Once again, Captain Louis Renault says near the end of the film to Rick Blaine "Something tells me this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship". The two most famous quotes are addressed to Ilsa from Rick and those are "Heres looking at you, Kid," and my personal favorite, "In all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, you had to walk into mine." This film is so memorable for all these great lines of dialogue. They have transcended into popular culture.
Casablanca has a charm to it while also having a patriotism that is rarely found in other films. The scene where French resistance and Nazi soldiers sing their countries' anthems is one of the most powerful moments in this film, or any other for that matter. The themes of loyalty to one's country are only of the great themes of this film. Love and love lost is another great theme. As stated before in all the amazing quotes, love plays a huge part in the film. Love from Ilsa to Rick and vice versa. That love prevents Rick from sticking his neck out for anybody as he says, but his heart eventually bends to his head and he helps Ilsa and Victor Lazlo escape Casablanca. That is the true theme. It is so powerful I could watch this film over and over and never get sick of it.
One of the determining factors of what a great film is or how people react to a film is how it has transcended decades and how people perceive it. People such as George Lucas have used the Cafe Americain as a substitute for his Mos Eisley Cantina, which is the actual set from Casablanca, in Star Wars: A New Hope. It is said by Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) that it is a hive of scum and villainy, which is very reminiscent of the Cafe Americain. Noted film critic Roger Ebert loved Casablanca so much he wrote a book about it called A Kiss is Still A Kiss published in 1984. Casablanca is a film that has inspired so many over the decades.
Casablanca is such a great film. I can't say enough about how much I love it. I see something new in it every time I watch it. There are little details like those of the young couple seeking refuge. Rick helps them by telling them which number to put the ball on while playing roulette. And Ugarte giving Rick the letters of transit, which sets off the entire film. This story transcends that of normal filmmaking. It is a film with many memorable quotes, great acting performances from its entire cast, great directing from Michael Curtiz, and a story that has great themes of loyalty, friendship, and love. There is no other film that creates such an inspiring story, especially one that came out in 1942 in the heart of WWII. The country needed this film then and it needs this film now. It is as relevant then as it is now. It is an absolute masterpiece of filmmaking on every level conceivable. 80 years later, it stands the test of time.
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