Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from Josh of JJames Reviews. He’s already done a review of Apocalypse Now (HERE) and Inglourious Basterds (HERE). Thanks so much for the reviews, Josh! 🙂 Now let’s see what he has to say about Casablanca, IMDB rank 25 out of 250…
Directed By: Michael Curtiz
Written By: Julius and Phillip Epstein, and Howard Koch
Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes
In the midst of World War II, a Jewish leader, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) and his wife, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergmann), come to the city of Casablanca, part of unoccupied France, hoping to escape Nazi influence and reach the United States. Standing in their way are Major Heinrich Strasser (Conrad Veidt), a Nazi military man, and Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains), a corrupt French police officer. Even more troublingly for Laszlo and Ilsa is that they need Rick Blaine’s (Humphrey Bogart) help, but Rick is seemingly self-serving and withdrawn. That he has history with Ilsa complicates matters, as well.
Casablanca is one of the best movies ever made, which means listing its merits proves more difficult than detailing its flaws:
- Rick’s final actions are cleverly foreshadowed and brilliantly executed, but Renault’s last decision makes less narrative sense. We can understand why he might help Rick, but why would he choose to leave Casablanca?
- In the finale, Renault’s subordinates are so stupid as to be almost unbelievable. Even though their boss orders them to round up the usual suspects wouldn’t one of them ask, “Were you a witness? What happened?”
- Um. Maybe. Peter Lorre doesn’t have enough screen time? Sure. Why not?
And that’s it. Even those flaws, of course, are terribly nit-picky, as the first two span the picture’s final thirty seconds and have zero impact on the preceding magic, while the third is not, in reality, a mistake.
Casablanca’s screenplay is its foremost merit. With much memorable dialogue that has become part of Western culture, it is one of the most quoted movies in history.
- “Of all the gin joints in all the world she walks into mine.”
- “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
- “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.”
- “(Yesterday) is so long ago, I don’t remember.”
- “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
- And so many more.
Yet, the script’s greatest strength is not quotability. It’s character development. Rick, Ilsa, Renault and Laszlo are complex individuals, about whom we care, no matter their flaws. Sam (Dooley Wilson), an African American pianist, is layered by loyalty to Rick and emotional acuity, while Major Strasser, the antagonist, is not a comic book villain. Because he’s a Nazi, we do not like the Major, but director Michael Curtiz and his writers are smart enough not to make him stereotypically evil, instead opting to develop him as determined and efficient. Because all of the characters are so genuine, the filmmakers earn our emotional investment, and thereby ensure that Casablanca’s limited action is not a flaw.
It helps that the movie is not predictable, despite being character centric. Rick’s final gambit surprises us, as does some of Ilsa’s behavior. Even more impressively, however, is how well Bogart, Bergmann and Curtiz sell Ilsa and Rick’s romance, in two short scenes, no less. The first: Ilsa asking Sam to play “As Time Goes By,” a request Sam reluctantly accepts, knowing that Rick will respond badly. The second: a ten-minute in medias res flashback. We don’t see the beginning of Ilsa and Rick’s relationship, but we don’t need to, as the flashback shows us their depth of feeling. Therein is why Rotten Tomatoes fittingly calls Casablanca “Hollywood’s quintessential statement on love and romance.”
Curtiz’s technical decisions are just as good as his writers’ screenplay. This black and white film is lit so well that it is never less than visually stunning. Moreover, the director’s establishing shots set tone in every scene, especially when Laszlo and Strasser have a sing-off in Rick’s bar, when Ilsa surprises Rick in his own home, and when Rick is left heartbroken at a train station. Additionally, Curtiz cuts the movie as to surprise us and increase our anxiety, especially in the film’s climax.
Finally, all of the performances are excellent. Without Humprhey Bogart and Ingrid Bergmann’s soulful performances, Casablanca would not be half as good as it is. Peter Lorre steals his two scenes, as does Dooley Wilson, who makes us wish Sam had a bigger role. Paul Heinreid, Claude Rains and Conrad Veidt are equally note perfect.
Conclusion: Almost flawless, Casablanca deserves its title as All-Time Classic. It is one of the best movies ever made.
My Rating: 9.75/10