DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: CASABLANCA

Wednesday 14 February 2007


Casablanca (1942) dir. Michael Curtiz
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman


Happy Valentines Day! It only seems fitting to review the “Top Romantic Film” as surveyed by the American Film Institute in 2003. The film also happens to be my favourite film as well – "Casablanca". Identifying it as a romance is misleading. This is not a Cary Grant/Katherine Hepburn film, its Bogart and Bergman in a classic hard-boiled war-time thriller.

In 1941 Casablanca (Morocco) was major point of traffic between Europe and America. Though occupied by the Nazis, all sorts résistance supporters, refugees, and criminals flocked to the city to find escape. The most popular place in the city is Rick’s, named after Humphrey Bogart’s character. Rick is unscrupulous and the typical anti-hero. He’s Indiana Jones, James Dean, or Clint Eastwood – enigmatic, elusive, and always in control. As his famous line goes, “I stick my neck out for nobody.” Things change when Victor Laszlo, a wanted man from the Czech resistance movement enters looking for ‘letters of transit, which will allow him and his wife, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) to escape to America. Unfortunately for Rick, Ilsa is his former flame, whom she deserted for Victor.

The ‘letters of transit’ is the classic cinematic ‘Maguffin,’ in that it sets up a great love triangle and a cause for action. Sparks fly again between Rick and Ilsa, but she is torn between passionate love (Rick) and patriotic love (Victor). All sorts of interesting secondary characters arise which add to the fun – Peter Lorre, as the slimy Ugarte, Sidney Greenstreet as Signori Ferrari and Claude Rains as Rick’s worthy adversary, Capt Louis Renault.

It’s one of Hollywood’s earliest noir films – shadowy characters, smoky bars, crackling dialogue and taut melodrama. The atmosphere of the city and the restaurant is a major character. Michael Curtiz, a master of camera movement and staging, creates excitement and tension by cutting between the different subplots and scheming throughout the restaurant. Curtiz uses fast cuts to reaction shots of heads turning and eyes moving to create the hustle and bustle of the city. The crisp black & white cinematography stands up to any of today’s films. As a result, “Casablanca” has the feel of a modern film. No scene or shot is wasted. The mystery of the film of course is who Ilsa will choose, Rick or Victor. You probably know the ending, or at least the classic final shot.

Let me ramble and sing the praises of Michael Curtiz… he’s one of the unsung directors of the studio era. Though rarely is his name brought up in discussion of the great directors. We always hear about Ford, Hawks, Wyler, Huston. But Curtiz may have influenced more directors of today any other (Hitchcock not included). His style was all his own – pace, movement and light to enhance the drama and suspense. Watch “Raiders of the Lost Ark” after “Casablanca” and then call me; watch “Star Wars” after “the Sea Hawk” and then call me.

But enough of that, this is about Valentine’s Day. So after you come home from seeing “Music & Lyrics”, cuddle with a little “Casablanca” before going to bed. Enjoy.


Unknown said...

I have to admit, whenever I recall this movie, I always have that feeling of wishing I loved it more. It's always been kind of disappointing to me. And I love the genre so that's not it....

Anonymous said...

I think Casablanca is BETTER the second viewing (and 3rd, 4th, 5th,etc) because of the scene in which Rick sees Ilsa in his cafe.

I say this because we have already scene the film and know of their time in Paris before the nazi invasion. So when the camera cuts between Bogart and Bergman-- it's so incredibly moving and it gives me chills after at least ten viewings.