Play it Again, Sam.
Okay – I know that quote never happened, but what did happen is Hollywood’s template that it still uses today: love story, playful characters, happy ending, good always prevails.
American Film Institutes Ranking: #2/100
Awards: Nominated for eight winning three: Picture, Director and Writing/Screenplay.
From the first moments in Rick’s cafe, I realized that I was going to really enjoy this one. What Hollywood does so well is pulling the wool over our eyes. The movie’s plot and characters feigned, pushing against the boundaries of reality, but time and time again we find the magic produced so enticing we suspend our thinking minds and tap into our imaginations.
This doozy of a WWII flick combines anything you can consider to be Hollywood and does it at a high level. The dialogue, the characters, the setting, and the plot all swept me up, transporting me to a time that no longer exists (and truthfully never did) for one of the best films of all time.
[Spoilers] Rick’s American cafe is the epicenter of all matters, big and small, in Casablanca, Morocco. Here you will find a confluence from all sides of the WWII conflict, a meeting place for Nazi leaders, resistance members, refugees looking to escape, and anyone trying to take advantage of the situation. Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), is the American owner of this night club and inserts himself in the middle of these conflicts using his influence and connections to be a power broker.
One particular patron gives him the letters of transit that allows someone to travel to neutral sites so they may be able to escape — a document that would garner much attention from all the refugees trapped under the Marshal law of Morocco. To make matters more complicated, Rick’s previous love interest, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) arrives with her new lover Victor who is a famous resistance figure against the Nazis. The local head of police, Louis Renault (Claude Raines), would like nothing more than to pin something on Victor and turn him into the Nazi officials to earn a feather in his cap.
And thus begins the intrigue of the movie: who’s side is Rick on? Will he use the letters of transit to get Victor and Ilsa out of Morocco to help the fight against the Nazi regime, or will he instead work with Renault looking out for his own self-interest?
The best part of the film is the characters expressed through witty dialogue. While the substance of the film is a rather dark subject matter (a few folks do get murdered!) the veneer is all about tongue-in-cheek. There are more than a few times that I laughed out loud at Rick’s or Renault’s one-liners. The best on screen time is between these two characters: both unapologetically themselves, never expressing remorse for their negatives.
What this creates is an atmosphere of light hearted fun that keeps us from experiencing the harsh realities too much. In true Hollywood fashion, they somehow made it feel like being a WWII refugee with no outlets and threat of extermination from an immoral police force not such a bad thing. Just gather around Sam on the piano and join for a sing along and forget your troubles for a while!
While this sentiment might seem ridiculous, it is exactly what Hollywood has been doing for almost 100 years. We use these films as a way to escape and to avoid the own troubles of our lives for a while. There is a delicate balance to strike: be too serious, and the film becomes to heavy, become too jolly and things become ungrounded.
Casablanca does it to true form, pulling the wool over are eyes so we can go on a magic carpet ride of a story. Pile on a love story, a twist ending, and the best villain of all time (the Nazis) and you will be thoroughly entertained by this classic film.