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Movie Review: Casablanca (1942)

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No single motion picture has been held in higher esteem than Casablanca. In spite of Citizen Kane holding the title of “Greatest American Movie of All Time,” Casablanca is more widely regarded — and for good reason. The film appeals to all sorts of audiences with its solid narrative and penetrates the senses with its emotional ending. Conclusively, Casablanca is a timeless classic that defines the word “standard.”

Amid the onset of World War II, Europeans attempt to flee the Nazi regime and arrive at Casablanca, a town in unoccupied Africa that served as a passageway to the New World through Lisbon. Once in Casablanca, each person must wait for his/her letter of transit to officially escape the German influence and live free in America.

Rick’s Café Americain is Casablanca’s hottest nightspot for drinks and entertainment. Run by cynical American expatriate Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), the saloon features a welcoming atmosphere, a gambling parlor, and an impressive piano player named Sam (Dooley Wilson).

After Rick inherits two letters of transit from one of his regulars, he is ordered by the Chief of Police, Captain Renault (Claude Rains) and Major Strasser of the Gestapo (Conrad Veidt) to prevent a Czech underground leader named Victor Lazslo (Paul Henried) from leaving Casablanca. Yet, when Lazslo enters Rick’s, seeking exit visas, Lazslo is accompanied by Rick’s former flame from Paris, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman).

While attempting to obey the orders he received, Rick tries to renew his love affair with Ilsa. Rick eventually reverts back to his old ways as a freedom fighter instead of a cynic.

One of the picture’s dominant themes is Rick’s transformation. While his reason for not returning to America is irrelevant, his return to patriotism is paramount. Initially a misanthropist who sticks his neck out for no one, Rick succumbs to his heart of sentimentalism. With the return of Ilsa, Rick moves from being solely concerned with himself to being worried about the welfare of others. During the closing specifically, this colossal conversion comes to fruition.

Without Bogart and Bergman, Casablanca certainly would not be the same. Bogart is brilliant as the multi-dimensional broken heart with a tough outer shell, and Ilsa makes every man melt with her longing stares and passionate kisses. Rumor has it that before this iconic duo earned their respective roles, Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan were set to be cast as Rick and Ilsa. Can you imagine?

In terms of leadership, Michael Curtiz directs Casablanca by simply telling the story. Lacking a specific style, Curtiz isn’t concerned with stressing the placement of the actors or camera techniques. With that said, one can’t help but wonder what Casablanca would be if Welles, Huston, or Hitchcock had been at the helm. Then again, in these cases, maybe an overt style would have overpowered the finesse of the clear-cut elements of love, honor, war, sacrifice, and politics. Nonetheless, it is Curtiz who adds to the number of hands who are responsible for the beauty that is Casablanca.

Casablanca is one of those films that is as well known for its quotes as for its magnificence. You’ll be sure to recognize and remember quotes like, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” “We’ll always have Paris,” “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine,” “Kiss me as if it were the last time,” and “Play it again, Sam,” which is surprisingly never spoken as it's recalled here.

To anyone with a heart, be sure to reserve an extra special place for Casablanca. It provides you with believable characters, memorable quotes, an absorbing love story, and leaves you breathless. What’s more, it is guaranteed to trigger an innate responsiveness to cinema like none other.

For a film critic, a better date with a feature cannot be had. Casablanca is sure to fulfill every cinematic desire. Appropriately hailed as one of the most appreciated and sentimental films ever made, Casablanca is an adoring toast to anyone who has ever lost their greatest love. So, uncork a bottle of rich red wine, curl up on a cozy couch, and allow Casablanca’s age-old fine taste to tickle your lips time and time again. 

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