It is sometimes amazing how timeless some stories can be. Take the main core elements and you can set that same basic structure in any setting, any time. Hollywood banks off of stories like these, as it allows for re-makes, homages, and straight up rip-offs. Sometimes though, the main core elements are so tied in with their surroundings that you can’t re-make it. One of those rare tales is that of CASABLANCA.
One of the most highly quoted films, I had always assumed that I had seen CASABLANCA already, because of how big of an impact it has had on popular culture. I was in for a treat once I finally watched it. From many caricatures and imitations, I had assumed that Humphrey Bogart was a heartless bastard that just played everything cool. I am very glad that my assumption was wrong.
Bogart’s character, Rick, is a unique one. He’s consistently on the side of the underdog, sadly even when that side turns out not able to defeat their vanquisher. He’s mostly stand-offish, but to those close to him, while he doesn’t open up a lot, they know that they can trust him. After many different ventures throughout Europe leading up to World War II, Rick finds himself in French Morocco in the travel hub of Casablanca. He sets up shop with a saloon that quickly is known for its hospitality, good music, and a wonderful spot to gamble.
We, as the audience, are thrust into the city of Casablanca right after German couriers were killed, with their package of travel visas taken by their murderer. German soldiers are sure that the visas will be attempted to be sold in the city, and put pressure on the French police, led by Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains), to find the killer and stop the visas from getting into the hands of fugitives. What better place to meet someone to sell the stolen letters of transit than Rick’s? That’s exactly the plan of Ugarte (Peter Lorre). Ugarte tracks down Rick himself, telling him of his deeds and stating how he knows that he can trust Rick merely by the fact of how much he knows that Rick doesn’t like him. He also knows that Rick claims to always be neutral, so wouldn’t be willing to sell out to the Germans. He plans on selling the travel papers to a wanted fugitive from the Germans, Czech Resistance freedom fighter Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid).
Laszlo comes to Rick’s in search of Ugarte, who had been previously been arrested, and has a beautiful woman in tow. That woman is Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman). She is immediately recognized by Sam (Dooley Wilson). pianist for Rick’s, and it is obvious that he is nervous that she is there. She begs him to play the song “As Time Goes By” in one of the most misquoted lines of all time. Once Sam begrudgingly starts playing the song, Rick angrily approaches, as he’s forbidden Sam to play it again. The reason behind that is that was his and Ilsa’s song during a lover’s tryst in preoccupied Paris. Turns out the reason Ilsa wasn’t able to run away from Paris with Rick was that she was secretly married to Laszlo. Laszlo had been imprisoned in a German concentration camp and escaped shortly after. Rick not knowing this at the time was just stood up by Ilsa at the train station as Sam and him escaped France ahead of the Nazi troops.
Now Rick is reunited with a woman that he truly loves, who is married to a good man (a current underdog even), and must decide if he’s going to help them get out of Casablanca before they fall into the hands of the German soldiers.
CASABLANCA is beautifully shot, showing the melting pot of the city that acted as a way station for refugees from many countries. There is a very diverse cast of extras throughout the film, with the initial shots of Rick’s reminding me of the Mos Eisley cantina from STAR WARS, but with a little more class. Whenever we enter Rick’s establishment, we are blessed with the music from Sam or the resident band, playing lively songs that were contemporary of the 30’s and 40’s. The film is filled with plenty of intrigue, along with double and triple crosses, that are so popular in the noir genre. And the overall tension from the encroaching German soldiers just heightens all the emotions involved.
With a wonderfully cast ensemble, CASABLANCA comes highly recommended, especially if you are curious in WWII pre-American involvement.
CASABLANCA is available for rental on all major VOD outlets, and can be streamed on Watch TCM service until November 26th with a qualifying subscription.
Photo Credits: en.wikipedia.org