When Rick, the owner of a club in Casablanca, is given travel papers for safe keeping, he is unwittingly placed at the center of a love triangle, refugee escape plan, and Nazi manhunt.
Play It Again Sam
“Casablanca” is one of those films that seems to be a ubiquitous part of film history, film top ten lists, and even common knowledge as one of the greatest movies ever made. However, it is also, like the misquote in the heading, almost completely forgotten by the average movie watcher. They may know that it is an old movie but I’d be willing to bet that 60% of people don’t even know that it’s a WW2 film.
I love this film. It isn’t my favorite movie nor even in my top 100. It’s beautiful but it isn’t the sort of movie that I typically care for. It’s primarily a love triangle that could essentially be straightened up by a single conversation. It’s super nationalistic and earnest without a lot of the complicated characters that I tend to like.
Yet, somehow it is a movie I don’t just like but love. It is a film that is emblematic of several things that I enjoy looking back on.
The first of these is the Hollywood studio system. Once it crashed in the 70s for the rise of auteurs and less polished clean films films produced in the style of Classic Hollywood went away forever. There were certainly a lot of things about Old Hollywood that needed to go: the way they controlled people, the racism, and the sexism; but there was also a sort of magical quality back when everyone was going to see the same couple of movies over and over again. A communal experience in film that is only likened to today in films such as “Avengers: Endgame.” Here is a film that was worthy of being seen by everyone.
It has the polish of masters of their trades working to achieve perfect shots, perfect performances with a crispness that only fails when it is intentionally dropped to give the old soft fuzzy look to Ingrid Bergman’s close ups.
Pointing to the film and trying to call out any one aspect of the film as special is difficult because every aspect of it is done so perfectly. Can you call out the acting and leave out the cinematography, or the direction, or the editing?
Another thing this film does is remind me of a time when America was busy sacrificing individual comforts, preferences, freedoms, and even lives for the sake of something larger than themselves. These days that seems in short supply. It doesn’t seem outlandish to think that if they remade this film (and don’t you think for a second that they wouldn’t if they thought it would make money) today it would end with Rick (Humphrey Bogart, “The Maltese Falcon“) and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman, “Notorious“) flying off together to a new life and romance.
“Casablanca” is a great example of something I believe is quite tragic about modern movie watchers, though it is probably inevitable. It’s a film that is utterly beautiful and full of meaning and entertaining yet most people won’t watch it because it is old. I am a fan of old things and one of those weirdos that are always talking about the things that we are forgetting from our past.
There are many things about the past that we should grow beyond but “Casablanca” shouldn’t be one of them. It may not have a crazy shootout at the end, snappy curse laced dialogue, or sizzling stars baring it all, but it has stood the test of time for a reason.
Look it up, rent it, watch it, and make sure it continues to stand that test for a while longer before the world moves on.
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