Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 2/19/09
Among considered to be one of the greatest films ever made, Casablanca is always mentioned in the list of great films. The story of an American expatriate who is torn in helping the woman he loves while wanting to free her Resistance leader husband escape Casablanca during World War II. Directed by Michael Curtiz based on the play by Murray Bennett and Joan Alison. Screenplay by Howard Koch, an un-credited Casey Robinson, Julius J. Epstein and Phillip G. Epstein. The film is a romantic drama that has captivated audiences since its release in 1942. Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, and Claude Rains. Casablanca is an entrancing, entertaining, and romantic masterpiece from Michael Curtiz.
It's the 1940s as Casablanca remains one of the few unoccupied French areas in Morocco. The most popular club is Rick's Café Americain, a club with entertainment and a secret gambling area owned by a cynical American expatriate named Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart). In a club full of a mixed clientele of refugees, Vichy French officers, Nazi officials, and other posh regulars. The club features an African-American piano player named Sam (Dooley Wilson), Hungarian waiter Carl (S.Z. Sakall), Russian bartender Sascha (Leonid Kinskey), and croupier Emil (Marcel Dalio). One of the club's regulars is Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains), who is accompanying Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) over an incident involving two dead German couriers, is conducting an investigator. Rick is later confronted by Ugarte (Peter Lorre) asking him to keep some letters of transits that he took from the two German couriers. After Ugarte's arrest, two people arrive into the club which is Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) and Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman).
Ilsa recognizes Sam as she asks him to play an old song that annoys Rick until he sees Ilsa. The two hadn't seen each other since Paris got occupied by the Germans as it brings Rick some sad memories of their life back in Paris before the occupation and Ilsa's departure. With Laszlo, a Czech Resistance leader sought by the Germans, trying to get out of Casablanca to go to America. Rick isn't sure if he wanted to help Laszlo as Laszlo and Ilsa go to a rival club owner in Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet) for help but couldn't. With Strasser trying to capture Laszlo by any means with help from Renault, tension between the French and Germans rise during a singing of national anthems at Rick's club. Renault forces the club to be closed as Laszlo turns to Rick for help but Rick remains unsure still dealing with the bitterness of the dissolution over his relationship with Ilsa. Ilsa finally comes to Rick for help as he makes his decision over his own future and everything for Ilsa and Laszlo with some unexpected help.
The film is a bending of genre of sorts with all sorts of genres crammed into one. There's adventure, romance, drama, suspense, and some humor all rolled into one. Yet, it's a remarkable film that swoons in its bending of genres as its done with such style and rhythmic dialogue from screenwriters Howard Koch and the Epstein brothers. The screenplay is filled with wonderful set-ups, twists, turns, and back stories about the Rick-Ilsa relationship in Paris to how they broke apart and why leaving Rick very bitter. Yet, the film is about what Rick would do for the woman he loves and what would happen afterwards. The film also delves into his own background working for resistence causes for other wars in previous years as he now claims he fights only for himself. His motivation to fight for himself and then be helpful for a cause is Ilsa as she reveals why she left and her own conflicts for her feelings for both Rick and Laszlo.
The script is truly brilliant in its plotting, set-ups, motivations, and development as it's all well told in the direction of Michael Curtiz. Curtiz's direction is very stylish in playing to the script's structure where the first act is largely told in Rick's club leaving the other two acts to wander in various locations and setting along with Rick's club. It's also because that since the story was based on a play, Curtiz sets it up as if it's a play in all of its intimacy and staging. With shots to emphasize the drama and tension with close-ups providing a soft look, Curtiz's direction is truly amazing in its look, tension, and compositions. Overall, Curtiz creates a film that is truly spectacular in its drama and staging.
Cinematographer Arthur Edeson does superb work with the film's black-and-white photography with dark shades of black and grey to convey the bitter mood of Rick along with more lighter colors to reflect his happiness. Even in some scenes at the club where everything is fun as Edeson's photography is exquisite. Particularly in its shading and set-ups to create moods for some of the film's dramatic moments along with its final scene with soft touches for the film's romantic portions. Editor Owen Marks does a fantastic job with the film's editing in the use of dissolves and wipe-transitions to give the film a nice rhythm as well as emphasizing its structure. Marks' editing is wonderful in playing up the drama and intensity of the romance between Rick and Ilsa.
Art director Carl Jules Wyle and set decorator George James Hopkins does an excellent job in recreating the look of the Casablanca shops and bars in its exteriors along with a wonderful look in Rick's club. Notably the atmosphere as it's a hotbed of different cultures and people where things could go right or wrong as the art direction is truly worth noting. The costume designs Orry-Kelly on the gowns that the women wear, notably the white gown that Ilsa wears on her arrival to Rick's club is gorgeous. With Anthony Gasbarri on the tuxedos that Humphrey Bogart wears, the close have a classy, sophisticated look that is truly divine. The sound work of Francis J. Scheid and recordist Edward Ullman are excellent for the atmosphere of the club in all of its grandeur and chaos. It's also great for its suspense, notably the last scene of the film that's a wide mix of emotions and tension.
The music score by Max Steiner is phenomenal in all of its arrangements and styles. From its suspenseful, intense pieces to more light-hearted scores for some of the film's non-dramatic, non-suspenseful scenes. Steiner brings versatility to the music while creating sweeping, somber arrangements for the film's romantic portions. Steiner also brings unique touches to the French national anthem with its triumphant arrangements and pieces. The soundtrack includes standards that plays up to the club scenes with one notable song is As Time Goes By that serves as romantic piece for Ilsa and Rick to hear.
The casting is phenomenal with its array of small performances and standout characters that are memorable throughout the film. Notable small roles from Ludwig Stossel and Ilka Grunig as the Leuchtag, a German couple who are friends of Carl, Gregory Gaye as a German banker refused to enter the casino, Helmut Dantine as a young Bulgarian casino player, Curt Bois as a pickpocket, Madeleine LeBeau as Rick's discarded girlfriend Yvonne, and John Qualen as Laszlo's Norwegian contact. Other memorable small roles include Marcel Dalio as the croupier Emil, S.Z. Sakall as waiter Carl, Leonid Kinskey as bartender Sascha, Joy Page as a young Bulgarian refugee who breaks Rick's cynical persona, and Dooley Wilson as Rick's longtime friend and piano player Sam.
Conrad Veidt is excellent as Major Strasser, a Nazi official who is trying to nab Laszlo for his government while hoping to get more support from Captain Renault. Peter Lorre is great as Ugarte, a slimy thief who tries to get Rick to hide some transit papers as he makes a memorable appearance. Sydney Greenstreet is very good as Ferrari, a club owner who is a friendly rival of Rick's who tries to help out Laszlo and Ilsa while making some deals with Rick. The film's best supporting performance is easily Claude Rains as Captain Renault. A shady police captain who is corruptive but only willing to play on a side that he feels will win as Renault brings a complexity and charm to his character who is an anti-hero that doesn't play by the rules. Renault's performance is truly the standout character of the film.
Paul Henreid is superb as Laszlo, a Czech resistence leader trying to go to America as he reveals what he knows about Rick and Ilsa. Henreid doesn't play the kind of guy who wants to go into conflict with Humphrey Bogart but rather as someone who needs Bogart's help. He's also the guy you kind of don't want to root for but want to help his cause which represents a great duality to his role. Ingrid Bergman is amazing as Ilsa Lund, Rick's former lover who is in conflict over her loyalty for Laszlo as well as her love for Rick. Bergman's radiant beauty and fierce performance is truly spellbinding to watch in all of her torment and desperation as Bergman truly captivates in her performance. Finally, there's Humphrey Bogart in a phenomenal performance as Rick Blaine, the cynical club owner not wanting to be involved in anything. Blaine is a great anti-hero who is in it for himself and not wanting to help anyone until he faces Ilsa. Bogart shows great depth into his own emotional torment without dabbling into any kind of theatrics as it's a great performance from the legendary actor.
Released in New York City in November of 1942 around the time the city of Casablanca had been captured by the Allies. The film went into wide release in January 1943 to great acclaim as a year later, it won three Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Though its box office reception was modest, the film since its release has remained influential and powerful. The film has been considered a classic in American cinema as it places itself in the top 5 greatest films of all-time by the American Film Association along with several other lists where it would top some. The film has been released in several formats in VHS and DVD where it recently got a recent Blu-ray DVD release in late 2008 to great acclaim for its high-definition transfer.
More than 65 years since its release, Casablanca is a timeless classic that still holds up with today's films. Thanks to Michael Curtiz's stylish direction, a fantastic script filled with memorable one liners, great technical work, and a superb cast led by Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, and Claude Rains. It's a film that is romantic, suspenseful, and thoroughly entertaining. Audiences who haven't seen this film should see this as it lives up to its hype and acclaim while audiences who have seen this film should get a chance to see it again. It's a film that truly lives up to its brilliance. In the end, Casablanca is a brilliant film that ages gracefully since its 1942 release.
(C) thevoid99 2010
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