Casablanca (1942) IMDB Rating: 8.6

Storyline:

In World War II Casablanca, Rick Blaine, exiled American and former freedom fighter, runs the most popular nightspot in town. The cynical lone wolf Blaine comes into the possession of two valuable letters of transit. When Nazi Major Strasser arrives in Casablanca, the sycophantic police Captain Renault does what he can to please him, including detaining a Czechoslovak underground leader Victor Laszlo. Much to Rick’s surprise, Lazslo arrives with Ilsa, Rick’s one time love. Rick is very bitter towards Ilsa, who ran out on him in Paris, but when he learns she had good reason to, they plan to run off together again using the letters of transit. Well, that was their original plan…. Film Summary: In the unoccupied titular (four words into 2014, and that word’s already happened) Moroccan city, Rick wears a bow tie and runs a cafe during World War II, the one with the Nazis. He’s got some rubble-rousing in his past and like a lot of the occupants of Casablanca, he’s stuck, but he’s lucky because he’s got a piano-playing sidekick named Sam, a token black character. Sam’s allowed to play any song he wants except for one–“Them’s Be Steppin’,” the 1940’s equivalent of “Who Let the Dogs Out”. Suddenly, a story happens: A seedy guy gives him a pair of letters of transit to hide for him following the murder of some German guys (probably Nazis who probably deserved it) on a train. Things get very complicated for Rick when his old flame–a hot little Scandinavian number called Ilsa–shows up in his cafe with her husband, Victor Laszlo, a Resistance hotshot. People drink a lot. Here’s a question: Why don’t parents name their boys Humphrey anymore? I just checked some statistics, and only 8 babies were named Humphrey in 2013, and it’s not been in the top-1,000 names for any year in the last 100 years. You’d think the popularity of Bogart would at least help it bust into the top-1,000, wouldn’t you? It’s got a cool meaning–“Peaceful warrior” or “Peaceful giant”–and is a nice tough-sounding name. That or the name of that kid who people beat up and who more than once each school year breaks and ink pen in his mouth and has to ask to go to the bathroom to get himself cleaned up. But let me tell you something. That kid’s got an inner beauty and will probably shoot up in height and gain some muscle mass in college just like his pa, and then who’s going to have the last laugh? I don’t always love Humphrey Bogart, but I usually do. And he’s the absolutely perfect actor for this role. Bogart always seems a little sickly to me, a broken-down little version of a man, and he plays cynical as well as any actor in cinematic history. Yet, he still manages to exude this raw manly power as well. Rick’s a character who needs to be a little withered, one that life has sort of beaten some of the crap out of, and I can’t think of another actor who would have nailed that character like Bogart does. And then, enter Bergman with just the right touch of fragility herself but also this effervescent energy that somehow pours into Bogart and makes his jacket shine just a little bit whiter. She’s got demon irises, and if you’re not careful, you could get lost in those eyes, tangled in the retina and optic nerves, and drown in the sclera, all the while just hoping that she saw you for a little bit before you expired. And you can argue with this if you want, but I’ve always thought great Hollywood beauty is even more beautiful in black and white–Bergman here, Mary Pickford, Berenice Bejo, Maria de Medeiros, Jack Nance. Bogart and Bergman bounce off each other so beautifully here that if I were Lauren Bacall [Note: I am not.], I would have been a little peeved. Maybe. I’m too lazy to research exactly when Bogart and Bacall got together. Well, ok, I’m not. They married in 1945, but he was married to somebody named Mayo in ’42, and I bet she was peeved. As peeved as somebody named Mayo can be anyway. If not, I bet she was peeved when Humphrey started diddling a barely-legal–by today’s standards anyway–Lauren Bacall. Mayo, by the way, has never been a popular name either. It means “yew tree plain” which isn’t nearly as cool as “peaceful giant.” It’s probably why the marriage didn’t work actually. I mean, you can have one spouse with an odd name, but can a marriage with two oddly-named people survive? Like, they walk into a big Hollywood party, and people say, “Look, there’s Humphrey and Mayo. Let’s stay away from them tonight because he’s chewing on an ink pen again. And she’s just fattening.” But enough with the Hollywood gossip. That’s not the kind of blog this is although I bet my wife would enjoy this information if she did a little more than just skim. There are other actors in this movie, too. Actors, I said, because other than Bergman, there are not many females clubbing in Casablanca. Perhaps that’s why Bergman radiates as much as she does? Claude Rains as a great complex character, Renault; Conrad Veidt; Syndey Greenstreet; the great Peter Lorre. It’s a perfect storm of awesome performers, and they get such terrific writing to chew on in this. Honestly, I could probably do without half of the twenty times Bogie says, “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid,” but so many lines in this thing have just permeated pop culture. Starts of beautiful friendships, women walking into specific gin joints when they could have easily walked into countless others, the problems of people not amounting to a hill of beans in our crazy world, piano men playing certain songs for old time’s sake, the heart being a person’s least vulnerable spot, folks kissing other folks as if it were for the last time. They’re lines that have become part of the American language, and the whole script is just filled little bits of magic that screenwriters just can’t make happen naturally. There’s also a great humor that pops out of the tension and melancholy. This movie came out over 70 years ago now, but the writing and rapport between the performers makes it still seem so fresh. This is one of Hollywood’s most complex love stories, one that takes a small moment in the lives of three people and requires you–except for the flashback which I wish wasn’t necessary–to fill in a lot of gaps yourself, including the great gaping gap at the end of the film. And that ending! Talk about Rick and Ilsa’s relationship all you want, but my favorite relationship in this movie is between Rick and Renault. Curtiz’s direction is simple; he lets the acting and writing tell the story for the most part although I do like how the camera moves through Rick’s cafe and there is one shot of Bogart’s shadow opening a safe that I really like. A lot of classic movies don’t live up to their reputations. This is one that does, the kind of classic that improves with each viewing and one that is as flawless as any film you’re likely to ever see.

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