Having to change cable providers means I have to clear out my part of the DVR. With so many movies and so little time I’ve been writing my Finally Watched reviews in a Word document, and I’ll be release them over the next few weeks. So I have my Friday article for a while.
This was one I was hoping to review when it came out but circumstances kept delaying it and I ended up putting it on the back burner. So tonight I finally bring you the long-teased review of Casablanca. While not in my ordinary list of interests, the film has been homaged, parodied, and referenced so many times, often with inaccurate quotes and just barely in context usage that I really should know what the actual movie is like. Some time ago Turner Classic Movies aired it so I’ve been waiting to review it. And now here we go.
RELEASE DATE: 1942
RELEASED BY: Warner Brothers
RUNTIME: 1 hour 42 minutes
DIRECTOR: Michael Curtiz
GROSS REVENUE: $1,024,560 (US only listed on IMDB), with an estimated budget of $950,000
The Plot: World War II is not a good time to fall in love. Rick Blaine (Bogart) found that out the hard way when the Nazis invaded Paris. Now the former mercenary runs a bar in Casablanca, a place people escaping Nazi-occupied regions go to facilitate their escape. Some end up trapped there by circumstance but some escape to America. Rick isn’t fighting anymore, but when his lost love, Ilsa Lund (Bergman), and her husband Victor Lazlo (Heinried), an escapee from a concentration camp, arrive in his bar he’ll find himself drawn back into the fighting, dealing with corrupt officials (Claude Rains) and a German Major (Conrad Veidt) seeking the escaped Victor who may make his life even more difficult, and he may end up back in love or dead.
Why did I want to see it?: It’s a timeless classic, repeated, referenced, homaged, parodied, and clipped so often that it has still remained part of culture and pop culture for years, even among non-cinephiles. It’s somehow become a must-watch movie even if you aren’t a movie buff. While the movie isn’t in my normal wheelhouse I had to see it at least once on this ground alone.
What did I think?: First I want to discuss something I saw a video essay on recently. The video was about how spoiled twists and oft-quoted movie lines may take the excitement of the first experience out of someone who hadn’t seen it yet. I think that was the case with me and Casablanca. The famous speech at the airport and the often botched or misused quotes (“Play it again, Sam” is not a line in the movie for example) have taken something out of the experience. I don’t think the aforementioned airport scene has a much weight with me as it would had I gone into it cold as intended. In this case the movie may be a victim of its own success. There is one musical scene I rarely see so at least I can keep that from being spoiled. It’s a good moment and shows that the Nazi’s aren’t always welcomed in a region that was considered “unoccupied France” according to the movie, which is why Victor couldn’t just be nabbed by Major Strasser.
Luckily there are enough good things about it that the experience isn’t completely ruined. Something you don’t see mentioned are scenes involving a young couple and an older couple who never meet and their stories don’t intertwine. However, both are trying to get out of Casablanca for America, and their scenes are interesting to watch. There are also other characters besides Rick, Ilsa, and Sam. The corrupt official, Louis Renault, is an important character, as is Major Strasser. In fact they have a stronger role in the movie than I’ve seen in most homages. Interestingly the business rival, Signor Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet), is more prominent in homages than he is in the movie. I guess Greenstreet’s portrayal is just too fun for other actors to imitate. 🙂
This movie was literally made with Bogart in mind and really I can’t see anyone pulling off Rick any better. Bergman has less to do than the homages suggest since the sole focus of them is usually situated around Rick and Ilsa. And how many of you knew what Bergman’s character was named? That rarely comes up. Victor almost never comes up except as a Macguffin at best but he actually shows up in the movie and plays an important part in the story, more so than the business rival. Yet, the business rival gets more homage time than the romantic rival. This brings us back to the first paragraph of this section. Had I gone into this movie blind (which would be odd given my usual tastes in story) I might have gotten more out of this but as it is I don’t feel the connection I think I’m supposed to. Notice how often I go back to the homage comparisons in this review.
I will try not to here though and attempt to judge the movie on it’s own. It is really good. The actors are perfectly cast, a good blend of American and French performers as well as getting other nationalities right, like British, German, Hungarian…there’s little trouble with odd accents because the actors came from those countries. According to Wikipedia some of the actors were even refugees or got out of concentration camps, adding an important bonus. Bergman may be the only one faking an accent but she holds it well enough most of the time.
Was it worth the wait?: I think I waited a bit too long. All but one of the big moments lost their impact because I’ve seen them in one form or another so often over my 45 years of existing (minus the baby years when I didn’t care). Characters are more important in the homage than they are in the actual film, except for Victor who manages the reverse. I’m still glad I saw it and it is worth seeing to get all the references in their proper spots (as well as hearing the messed up lines in their proper context) but maybe all the movie quoting does ruin it for future watchers.