Although relatively popular and well received when released in the summer of 1942 due in part to events in North Africa at the time, Casablanca has since risen to be one of the most critically acclaimed and well though of films in history. It currently ranks number 23 on the IMDb’s Top 250, number 3 on the AFI’s 100 Movies and is one of Hollywood’s most loved romantic melodramas. The film is also one of the most quoted films of all time too with quotes such as “We’ll always have Paris”, “Here’s looking at you, kid” and the often misquoted “Play it Sam. Play As Time Goes By” being well known to people who have never even seen the film. Until today I was one of those people and like hundreds of other classic films it was on my list of must sees for a long time. Now it’s off that list and I’m glad of it. Although I wouldn’t personally put it towards the top of my favourite films of all time it is certainly a wonderfully taught and romantic drama which successfully mixes the geo-political problems of the age with a fine romantic story which remains eternal to this day.
The plot is set in the Moroccan city of Casablanca on the route of a great refugee trail from Nazi occupied Europe towards America. Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is a cynical and politically non aligned bar owner based in Casablanca whose neutrality is put to the test when an old flame unexpectedly appears back in his life.
At times Casablanca lost me due to the sheer number of characters and nationalities who often had indistinguishable accents and this was despite my fascination with the period. It isn’t a major problem though as these are mainly side characters whose presence is just to fill out the world in which the film is set and to truly show the numbers of people travelling to and hopefully through the city. The central characters and especially Bogart’s Rick are very well drawn and a lot of fun to be with. I loved Rick’s dialogue and turn of phrase. His speech is pretty much exactly the same as the stereotypical 1940s speech that is parodied on the likes of Family Guy. He talks in quick, sharp sentences and takes no nonsense. Love interest Ingrid Bergman is stunning and has some great lines but this is Bogart’s film.
One thing I really liked was the way the film and in particular Bergman was shot. She was always in a slight soft focus which helped to give her eyes the 1940s moist sparkle and on the whole the film was shot in an almost German Expressionist way with hints of Noire, itself formed from Expressionism. There is great use of shadow all the way through. I especially liked the shadow of a parrot in Signor Ferrari’s club. There is some great attention to detail in the cinematography. The film is also famous for its music and features Dooley Wilson’s lounge piano at various intervals. To have a black actor/character in a prominent role who was treated with equality and respect also says a lot about the film, although as an essentially anti-Nazi piece it would have been a bit hypocritical if Sam's character was treated in the same way to other black people of the period. A scene in which rival French and German men sing patriotic songs was particularly exhilarating and marked a turning point in the plot.
The finale was my favourite part of the entire film and sees the action build to a crescendo when the final decision is made by Rick as to whether he is going to let love or politics win the day. I was able to recite most of the dialogue in the final ten minutes, despite never having seen the film before and although I knew what the ending was I still found it exciting, entertaining and heart warming. The ending also features one of the coolest shootings I’ve ever seen on film. It made both my girlfriend and I laugh but was great. In the end Casablanca is the sort of film that should be seen, if only to place some of the famous dialogue. I don’t think it is as good as it’s remembered to be but it’s certainly a fine piece of film making.