Casablanca

You might think a science fiction special effects extravaganza would be the best representation for the definition of a Blu-ray Disc. Yet the 70th anniversary edition of Casablanca that I received complementary from Warner Bros. Entertainment is a stunning example of the quality of the medium. The picture has been painstakingly remastered one frame at a time. Matinee icons Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman have a clarity as if the movie had just been released. Who knew that glorious black and white could be more vivid than a color movie? It doesn’t hurt that the story is considered by many to be the greatest ever filmed.

THE classic romantic drama set in early December 1941 during World War II . Our story concerns “Rick’s Café Américain”, an upscale nightclub and casino. The hangout is the setting for the wheeling and dealing of various public officials and refugees desperately trying to get out of Northern Africa to the more friendly atmosphere of America. The establishment is run by Rick Blaine. Humphrey Bogart is a jaded American expatriate who is beholden to nothing and no one. That all changes when into his joint walks Ilsa Lund and her husband Victor Laszlo, a renowned Resistance leader and idealist. A fugitive who has escaped a Nazi concentration camp, he is seeking “letters of transit” which would allow he and his wife to leave for America where they can continue his patriotic work.

The characters elevate Casablanca to the very epitome of supreme sentiment. Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid form a love triangle that consistently engages the emotions from beginning to end. One can almost see themselves in the narrative structure. It’s a film about falling in love, making difficult choices, and doing what’s right. Despite Bogart’s stated indifference, his actions betray some profound feelings. Ingrid Bergman is the woman torn between two lovers, but with a detached personality that’s a bit challenging to read at times. Claude Rains as Captain Louis Renault is a rather self serving fellow. As Vichy France’s prefect of police in Casablanca, he’s unscrupulous and corrupt, cooperating with the Germans who happen to be in charge. “I blow with the wind, and the prevailing wind happens to be from Vichy.” Yet his friendship with Rick appears sincere. Renault shows signs of being a decent man at heart. Conrad Veidt portrays Major Heinrich Strasser with distinctive restraint as the chief Nazi villain and Victor Lazlo’s foil.

It’s clear why this has become the standard by which all romances are judged. Casablanca is a script of Swiss watch precision. It breezes by in a brief 102 minutes. Not a single moment is wasted, not a solitary misplaced word. It’s surprising that this drama set during World War II contains no battles, no extended fist fights, and no reliance on any physical action whatsoever. The one altercation that erupts in the bar is quickly ended by Rick. What we do have is one famous scene after another. Just try and not feel a tinge of French patriotism when the cafe patrons sing La Marseillaise drowning out the Nazi’s rendition of Die Wacht am Rhein.

What still fascinates is the depth of emotion that emanates merely from the written word. The script, which won the Academy Award, is amongst the greatest of all time. The writing is a treasure trove of classic lines that are some the most recognizable ever written. That climax at the airport is the perfect culmination of any plot ever committed to celluloid. It feels so right. Perhaps the freshness of the scene is somewhat lessened by the familiarity of the dialogue. But that’s merely a tribute to how enduring those phrases remain. Casablanca is an original that single handedly justifies the importance of the film medium.

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24 Responses to “Casablanca”

  1. Beautiful review, Mark! 🙂

  2. Great! I especially love your last paragraph; absolutely definitive of the film itself. As you know, I love this one, even though it can be a bit (or a lot) cheesy.

    • On that point we’ll have to disagree my friend. I never once found the movie ‘cheesy’. Flashdance, maybe. Casablanca, never.

    • Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t see the word ‘cheesy’ in that article. They did call it ‘corny’, but that has an entirely different connotation.

      • My mistake. I confuse the two words. I didn’t know it had a different connotation. I usually employ the words “cheesy”, “corny”, and “trashy” interchangeably. Although that last one certainly does have a different connotation.

    • I think of corny as sentimental or old-fashioned, which is a fair description, but cheesy is something of poor quality, clichéd maybe even campy. I’m not a linguist so take what I say with a grain of salt. I really appreciate all your comments by the way. Always have a good discussion with you. 🙂

      • Thanks for clearing up again. 🙂 It’s hard to take into mind that you’re NOT a linguist, given that you write so well, with an extremely careful word choice. 😀 Love your reviews.

  3. kathy Ailand Says:

    So you would play it again? (Couldn’t resist)

  4. Even though I saw this for the first time, I felt like I knew the movie well, by hearing all those famous lines through the years. What can I say, this movie is absolutely awesome! So glad I finally saw this.

  5. atothewr Says:

    Better by a long shot than Citizen Kane which is a movie that always comes up when talking about this one. I think this one deserves the nod because it is timeless. I honestly don’t care if I see Citizen Kane ever again, but this one I could watch on a loop.

    I have about four Bogey movies in my collection including this one. Maybe its time to dust them off again and watch them.

    Nice review.

  6. Your opening paragraph brings up a great point. I think the industry as a whole has failed to make the benefits of Blu-Ray known for movies that aren’t special-effects-fests. I think older films shine the most on the format since they are going to look better than they ever have. Much of my collection is pre-1950.

    Now, onto Casablanca…Couldn’t agree more with your review. Even though I just saw it about a month ago, I could watch it again already. Splendid film.

  7. I am shocked that you liked Casablanca 😉

  8. Your praise of the definition of th Bleu-ray Disc of this film caught my attention. Any old film buff would certainly want such a classic film in the best medium available today.

  9. I think you put the assets of this film into words about as well as it could be done. What it boils down to is, great script and great cast. But, holy smoke, how about the director?

    Somebody mentioned Citizen Kane. Interesting comparison. Mostly on the basis of having engineered that ONE truly imaginative (if morally reprehensible) film, Orson Welles automatically gets lumped in with the all-time geniuses. In spite of the fact that his directorial efforts after Kane drifted downward through maybe half a dozen watchable films to self-consciously arty stuff like “Mr. Arkadin” and “Touch of Evil”. And that’s about all that’s worth mentioning.

    How many movies did Michael Curtiz make? Who can count that high? but among them there must have been at least twenty or thirty good ones — Casablanca, for one, but seven of Errol Flynn’s most entertaining, memorable efforts by Jimmy Cagney, Bette Davis, William Powell, Doris Day, Kirk Douglas, and the best performance anybody ever got out of Joan Crawford. Heck, Michael Curtiz even managed to make Elvis seem like an actor for an hour and a half. But for some reason — do you agree? — when you bring up the subject of first rank action-romance directors of that era, it’s John Ford and Howard Hawks that get to take the bows. And as far as “geniuses” are concerned — well, let’s see, there’re people like Griffiths, Chaplin, Eisenstein, Fellini … and, of course, Orson Welles.

    Here’s a vote for Michael Curtiz: a guy that knew how to tell a story — without even letting you know a director had to be involved.

  10. garylee828 Says:

    I have the DVD, but still haven’t seen this movie. I need to watch soon.

  11. imustseemovie.com Says:

    amazing movie never gets old

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