“Casablanca” was released in 1942 and was directed by Michael Curtiz, starring Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine & Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund, two former lovers who meet again in the backdrop of Casablanca. In the film, Rick, who was once a political revolutionist, manages a popular saloon in which people drink, gamble, or simply meet up. One day, Ilsa enters Rick’s saloon with her husband Victor Lazlo (played by Paul Henreid), an infamous rebel with Nazis on his tail. Ilsa pleads with Rick to help Victor and herself escape Casablanca before it is too late.
In the film, the French occupied city of Casablanca in Morocco was a place where many refugees and former military men of World War II resided while waiting for their chance to go to America. Refugees in Casablanca gambled and were super desperate to get out of the city for a new life or to return to an old one. However, as the Nazis went on to occupy France, they gained power over Casablanca as well. The setting of the film is one of the best parts of the whole movie; watching people’s attempts to leave the city with little success was really intriguing and it strengthened the story of the film. If the movie focused a little more on the setting of the story instead of the by-the-books romance, I think it would have been better.
On a technical level, this movie is almost perfect, even for today’s standards. The way Curtiz and Arthur Edeson, his cinematographer, move the camera is truly breathtaking. The use of camera movement enhances the film’s pacing during what could be boring dialogue scenes because it adds intensity and drama to those scenes and it even makes the performances more powerful. Each shot seems like it was thought out and practiced weeks before shooting. Michael Curtiz received a well-deserved Oscar for his direction, but Edeson wrongfully didn’t earn an Oscar for his cinematography.
I also really enjoyed Humphrey Bogart’s performance as Rick Blaine. He sold the cynicism and coldness of the character very well, and I think he was the best actor in the film. Bogart portrayed such a broken man that the audience can’t help but feel for. However, saying Bogart was great in a movie is like saying John Williams crafted a great score; it’s to be expected, since he was one of the best actors of all time. On a side note, if you haven’t seen “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” or “The African Queen,” you’re missing out. In my opinion, those are his two best performances and “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” is the best film he has ever been in (it’s also Clint Eastwood’s favorite movie).None of the other actors were particularly memorable, but they did a good enough job with what they were given.
My main gripe with the film is the script, which was partially written during the filming of the movie, and I could tell. Besides the famous ending with the quote, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” most of the movie felt very formulaic. The first act establishes Rick’s character, the second act introduces Ilsa’s character and her former romance with Rick, and the third act is when tensions (kind of) rise. The reason why I mentioned earlier that the movie would benefit from focusing more on the setting of Casablanca is because the movie would be so much more interesting than it was. I didn’t care about the boring romance or Victor Lazlo, but I did care quite a bit about Casablanca and Rick’s character. Besides Rick Blaine, none of the other characters nor his romance with Ilsa were fleshed out. The two of them just say “I love you” or some variation of that line to one another from time to time. It’s disappointing to me that the script was so noticeably inferior to the other aspects of the movie.
The masterful direction, elaborate cinematography, Bogart’s performance, and the unique setting are the reasons, or at least in my eyes, why “Casablanca” is considered a classic. Although the script is largely cliché and a lot of the performances are mediocre, this is still a very good film that should be seen by everyone who is interested in directing movies.