“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in the world, she walks into mine.” – Rick the cranky, cynical bastard
World-weary Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) runs an upscale nightclub called “Rick’s Cafe Americain” in Casablanca, Morocco. With WWII in the background, Rick claims to be neutral, although he still uses his establishment as a safe haven for refugees looking to reach the United States.
Rick’s world his thrown into a tailspin when the very reason for his bitter and jaded mentality enters his bar: Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), Rick’s former lover. Now married to Czech Resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), Ilsa and her husband are looking to escape to America so Victor can continue his work. Given his history with Ilsa, Rick is naturally hesitant to wanna help, but upon finding out more of what happened between him and Ilsa and why, he eventually agrees to it.
Based on the un-produced stage play Everybody Comes to Rick‘s, it’s hard to believe that, at the time this was being filmed, everyone involved expected Casablanca to be just another ho-hum romantic picture. This, in spite of the A-list cast and crew involved. Three Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay) and recognition as not just one of the greatest romantic films of all-time, but one of the greatest films period later, Casablanca is more than just a “ho-hum” picture. It’s a cinematic treasure.
Beautifully shot in black and white, which adds to the film’s mystique, Casablanca seems like a small film compared to an epic cinematic experience like Gone With the Wind, but director Michael Curtiz’s precise craftsmanship, the powerfully messaged story from the Epstein brothers and Howard Koch and the superb performances from an all-around terrific cast elevate this film’s simplicity up to levels that match, if not exceed, the grander classics of that era.
The power behind this film that captivates those that witness it is the strength of the characters. The stage play the script was adapted from didn’t seem to amount to much and went un-produced. However, screenwriting twin brothers Julius and Philip Epstein, along with Howard Koch gave these flawed characters such life and dimension within a world of cynicism that they were able to transcend what could’ve been another routine love story.
Along with other leading men such as Clark Gable, Cary Grant and John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart epitomized “cool” as far as commanding a screen presence during the golden age of Hollywood. Obviously, this isn’t the only great performance we’ve seen from Bogart, but Rick Blaine is instantly the first character that comes to mind when we think of him. As Blaine, he’s cynical and worn out. When one asks what his nationality is, he replies, “I’m a drunkard.” His personal mantra: “I stick my neck out for nobody.” Yet, instead of finding him unlikeable, we empathize with his situation ’cause we find out more and more that there are reasons behind why he is that way.
As the “one that got away”, Ilsa Lund has her reasons as well. Played with such emotion by the lovely Ingrid Bergman (one of my personal favorites, alongside Anne Baxter, from that golden era), Ilsa is the type of woman that you wanna slap a “cold-hearted bitch” label on for doing what she did to Rick in the past. Yet, like Rick, the more we find out of her situation, the more we realize she not only was confronted with circumstances that left her no choice, but also there hasn’t been a day that’s gone by where she hasn’t felt regret over what she did. It’s a magnificent performance from Bergman, one that holds the viewer spellbound, even when she’s not uttering a single word. Together, her and Bogart’s chemistry’s so electric it could set the screen on fire.
Ilsa also is responsible for bringing a change of heart out of Rick. At first, Rick could care less about the war. Maybe that’s partly ’cause of what Ilsa put him through, and he just couldn’t give a damn about anything else. He’s the only cause he cares about after all, despite having helped refugees before. You can’t quite blame him for his indifference toward WWII, though. He utters probably the most poignant, albeit not the most iconic, line in the film: “Right now, I bet they’re sleeping in New York. I bet they’re sleeping all over America.” Through Ilsa, though, we gradually begin to see his cynical shell slowly crack.
Huh… Women: can’t live with ‘em, can’t maintain an isolationist point of view toward Nazi Germany.
SPOILER ALERTS: Had the studio gone with the ending they were debating going with, Casablanca could’ve been a different film, both in resolution and quality. Of course, we want Rick and Ilsa to end up together. Rick and Ilsa wanna end up together. It’s the ending that we all want, but what we get is the ending the film needs. In what has become one of the most iconic moments in film history, Rick tells Ilsa to get on the plane with her husband Victor. “That plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’d regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.” They may desire to be together, but they know her being with Victor has to happen. Not just for their own redeeming sake, but also for the fact that it could lead to lives being saved during the war. It’s a beautiful scene yet bittersweet as well, culminating in Rick comforting Ilsa with the forever memorable line, “Here’s looking at you kid.” When you see where that line between the two of them originated prior to that scene, and what it means to them, it makes their final moment together all the more meaningful.
Despite being made with the mindset that it wouldn’t amount to “a hill of beans”, Casablanca is one of the greatest achievements in cinema. It’s simple yet epic, nostalgic yet relevant, sentimental yet never sappy. The timeless story, Bogart and Bergman’s dynamic chemistry, the rich supporting cast – Casablanca is like a fine wine. It only gets better with age.
Review source: http://silverscreenfanatic.com/2014/02/11/benjamins-stash-6/