“I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” – Rick
First, let me start by saying – I love this movie. But, I know I’m not alone – especially when it comes to tributes and reviews. I would be in awe of anyone who could come up with something original to say about this film. I think at this point, it might be impossible. It would be hard to find a critic that hasn’t already told the rest of us how important or wonderful this film is…or I’m sure there’s a few out there who’ve focused on negative criticism for the sake of argument. Nevertheless, my round-a-bout point is: I love this movie and even though I’m not the first or last in a long line of reviewers – I want to add yet another post to the pile. This movie is great – there’s a reason why we fanatics can’t seem to shut-up about it…so, here goes…
Much has been said about the luck of Casablanca – how it wasn’t meant to be so important and how fate just seemed to work its magic when it came to the final picture – casting, screenplay, the music…all of it. But, isn’t any movie like that? I mean, I’ve never heard of a film where all decisions were final and no changes were made along the way. I think luck was on the side of Casablanca but credit must be given to the talent and thought behind it too.
Casablanca is a film full of stark opposites playing off one another. There’s good and evil and hope and despair – acts of sacrifice and acts of greed. Everyone in the film (well, except the Nazis) is stuck in a sort of purgatory – trying to get out of Casablanca or trying to make the best of it.
Casablanca is the second to last stop on the way out of Europe during World War II. Refugees pour in from all over Europe in hopes of getting the visas they need to get on the plane to Lisbon, Portugal where they can make their escape to the promise of freedom in America. We learn how hard that is to do – it takes money and most of the refugees have spent all they had just to get to Casablanca. So…as the narrator tells us…”they wait…and wait…and wait.”
In the meantime, “everybody comes to Rick’s.” Rick’s is more than a melting pot – it’s boiling. Tensions for everyone are high – our first trip to the cafe gives us a glimpse of what really goes on in there. Under-the-table dealings and bargains are taking place. One woman tries to sell her diamonds…but “diamonds are everywhere on the black market.” Another man arranges an escape for another…if the man remembers to “bring cash.” A wealthier couple is practicing their English for when they get to America. Hope and desperation are visible in everyone’s eyes.
Next we meet Rick, the “saloon-keeper.” He’s too engrossed in his game of chess, sitting alone to notice much of his surroundings…but it’s clear he’s the type to know exactly what’s going on.
I won’t go into summarizing the entire story, since it’s likely you’ve seen it…and if you haven’t I don’t want to give it all away.
What I will tell you is – we spend time getting to know Rick. He’s cynical and tough and he sticks his neck out for nobody. At least, that’s how he seems.
But Louis, the likable “poor corrupt official” suspects the truth when he tells his good friend, “My dear Ricky, I suspect under that cynical shell, you’re at heart a sentimentalist.”
You see, Rick’s not a bad guy – he does care. You’ll understand why he seems so jaded once you hear what happened with Ilsa.
In all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…in walks Ilsa, straight from Rick’s past. We learn what happened between the two and can’t help feeling sorry for them. Clearly they love each other but can’t be together….or can they? In the end comes a choice – a big choice. Ilsa’s tired of thinking – exhausted is more like it. They’re in a tough spot and the world is crumbling around them. Rick has to make the choice for them.
The end, which you probably know – the decision is made. Like the greatest endings of all – it’s also a beginning. But I won’t give it away…just in case you’re lucky enough to see it for the first time.
Though, Casablanca is one of the best of films that gets better with each viewing. When you know the story of Rick and Ilsa, somehow it’s more moving to see their reactions when they see each other again for the first time.
Casablanca evokes emotion, you can’t just watch it neutrally – it forces you to take sides. America, around the time of the making of this film was criticized for its isolationism, much like Rick in the beginning. With all the European refugees (many of the actors were actual European refugees who escaped the terrors of Hitler and the War) – the film makes you see these people trying desperately to get to America and how much it means to them. Perhaps the most powerful scene is when Victor gets the cafe band to drown out the German’s singing their anthem with the French Anthem. Since Germany had recently invaded and occupied Paris, this is especially poignant.
This movie could have been heavy with all of it’s messages and dour situations but the script is full of some of the best lines in movie history. It’s crisp and incredibly witty. Humor punctuates the terrible circumstances.
For instance, we meet a young girl who is conflicted because she’s been offered exit visas in exchange for sex…but she’s married and is afraid and not sure if she should tell her husband or pass up the chance. But Rick saves her by letting her husband win at Roulette, chalking it up to him being “just a lucky guy.” This tense moment is eased when Rick’s bartender comically kisses Rick on the cheeks for his good deed and Rick acts annoyed…saying, “Get away from me you crazy Russian.”
Almost anytime the drama becomes tense or a tragic subject is breached, someone says something witty – and the tension is eased. It makes the movie moving and enjoyable.
And if all that isn’t enough – it’s also a beautiful film to watch. I’m glad it’s not in color – I think being in black and white is incredibly appropriate working with all the contrast in this film. It’s beautifully done – each scene could be a photograph. The smoke from the cigarettes and lights from the airport streaming into the cafe through it’s nooks and crannies casting all kinds of odd shadows, makes for some beautiful shots.
If you’ve never seen this movie, I hope you give it a chance sometime. It’s beautiful and full of action, suspense, drama and romance and a whole slew of great characters….what more could you need in a movie?