Here’s looking at you, 3.5 readers.
I watched Casablanca a year ago with the intention of reviewing it for this glorious blog. I’d seen it before but my mind needed a refresher. Alas, as Rick and Ilsa’s song reminds us, “time goes by” and writing a review of this masterpiece slipped my mind.
Luckily, seeing Allied gave me a refresher.
So without further ado, BQB here with a review of Casablanca.
Do I need to give a spoiler warning? You’ve had over seventy years to watch this flick.
And if you haven’t watched it yet, you should, because it holds up.
(In all seriousness, this is a review for people who have seen and loved the film. If you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading, go watch it, then come back here. Otherwise, you’ll be disappointed).
The set-up? At one time, Morocco had been (owned, occupied, colonized, swiped, insert the word here) by France. When Nazi forces swept into France in World War II, Frenchmen had to choose between surrender and fighting through underground guerrilla warfare (the French resistance).
Those who chose the former became known as the Vichy government. Nazis officials flooded into France and backseat drove the French officials who opted not to fight.
To make matters more complicated, the situation extended into Morocco, where Nazis backseat drove the Vichy French officials there, sort of a double-occupation where French occupiers were being bossed around by their own German occupiers.
What a revolting development.
As explained in the film early on, Morocco was a den of thieves, villains, cut throats and spies. Moreover, Europeans made a pilgrimage to the African city in the hopes of escaping the war by securing passage to Portugal (and then to other less dangerous places in the world like America).
Against this backdrop of sin and inequity, the hard drinking, clinically cynical American expatriate Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) runs a nightclub filled with all manner of depravity. Rick’s got a seedy past that isn’t fully explained but you’re left with the impression that he isn’t exactly welcome in the States anymore.
When Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) left him waiting at a train station in France years earlier, Rick’s heart turned to stone and he swore from then on he’d live a life where he’d only look out for number one – i.e. himself.
But that resolution is tested when Ilsa enter’s Rick’s club. “Of all the gin joints in all the world, why did she have to walk into mine?”
Without giving away too much of the story, Ilsa is now with Victor Laszlo (Paul Henried), a famed leader of the anti-Nazi movement. Whereas Rick has long given up on idealism for quick bucks, Laszlo leaves and breathes French patriotism and is willing to die for it.
Blah, blah, blah, stuff happens and ultimately Rick must choose between seizing a love he thought was lost to him forever or sacrificing himself for the greater good of defeating the Nazis.
SPOILER ALERT – he chooses defeating the Nazis. Surely, you knew this by now unless you have been living under a rock for years.
Even though you already know it, it is very emotional to watch.
In the end, the greater good wins out over love and it is up to the audience to decide whether or not that was the right outcome.
If you are an idealist, then you cheer Rick on as he allows Victor to take his seat on a Portugal bound plane.
If you are a cynic, then you think Rick is a schmuck for not grabbing his woman and not letting go, as a woman you love who loves you back is a rarity in this life.
But ultimately, if you are an idealist, you realize the people who need to be together, end up together.
Laszlo and Ilsa, we can only assume, go on to continue their anti-Nazi fight once Victor is away from the clutches of the villainous Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt).
As for Rick, his “beautiful friendship” with Captain Louis Renault (Claude Raines) begins.
Raines steals the show as Renault as he puts on full display the difficult situation many Frenchmen found themselves in during this time. Louis is no fan of the Nazis, but he is a fan of breathing and having a job so like a henpecked husband he caters to his German masters, but does so in a comic manner.
Rick and Louis are foils that feed off one another. Rick’s cynicism is dark and brooding whereas Louis’ cynicism is, at times, downright funny. Louis realizes he is stuck in a ridiculous situation but with a deadpan tone that belies an undercurrent of sarcasm, he does what is required of him.
Example – when the Nazis order Louis to shut down Rick’s joint, Louis does so and declares, “I am shocked to find gambling in this establishment!”
Then with perfect comedic timing, a dealer hands Louis a stack of cash and says, “Your winnings, sir” to which Louis replies, “Thank you.”
That scene has served as a criticism of politicians and public officials who act “shocked” by lousy situations when in reality, they have long known of them.
Thus, the greater good wins. Rick and Ilsa would have been happier together, but the world needed Victor and Ilsa to continue their resistance efforts, just as the world needed Rick and Louis, a couple of jaded, cynical connivers to get together and use their underhanded skills to undermine the Nazis at every turn.
STATUS: Shelf-worthy. Get out of your comfort zone and watch a black and white movie. You’ll be glad you did.