“Here’s looking at you, kid.”
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains and Dooley Wilson
Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Writing of an Adapted Screenplay and Best Director (1944)
Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca follows the bar owner of Rick’s Cafe Americain in French occupied Casablanca. Rick Baine (Humphrey Bogart) is an American expatriate, who is hiding from the Germans and the Americans as he ran guns to Ethopia during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War. After getting his heartbroken in Paris, Rick has decided to remain neutral in all matters and just look after himself. However, this falls apart when the woman he fell in love with in Paris, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), walks into his bar with her husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid).
Casablanca is based on Murray Burnett and Joan Alison’s play Everybody Comes to Rick’s, which was never produced. It was produced during World War II, after America had decided to join the Allies.
Casablanca was made during a time when money was scarce and special effects technology was rather rudimentary in comparison to what is avaliable now. The film therefore relied on the skills of the actors and the writers. The reason the film is still watched today, almost 80 years later, is that the dialogue is rememberable, and the acting heartbreaking convincing. Lines such as;
Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.
we have heard a million times before in popular culture but the acting reminds us why these lines became memorable. Humphrey Bogart breaks our heart and reminds the audience of the many times they have had their heartbroken and have had to face the other person in public.
We’ll always have Paris.
signifies Rick’s change as he recovers from his heartbreak, lets Ilsa go, and continues again to fight for the underdog. The only portrayal I question is that of Victor Laszlo. Laszlo is a well renowned concentration camp escapee, and fighter for the Czech resistance. His presence and influence inspires many refugees and criminals to partake in a sign of anti-Nazi allegiance, singing of La Marseillaise, the national anthem of France. He is the inspiring character that takes Ilsa away from Rick. However, Henreid’s portrayal leaves something to be desired. From the dialogue we understand he is supposed be a hardened prisoner of war but who still maintains his humility as he offers up his freedom for Ilsa and is even willing to do so once he realises that she dated Rick while he was a prisoner;
I knew there was something between you and Ilsa….You won’t give me the letters of transit: all right, but I want my wife to be safe. I ask you as a favour, to use the letters to take her away from Casablanca.
However, the audience does not warm to the character, and therefore we do not believe Rick when he says:
She did her best to convince me she was still in love with me but that was over long ago.
It unfortunately weakens the ending, and leaves the modern audience wanting Ilsa to choose Rick, as we see Laszlo as hard despite his dialogue.
Casablanca, however, romanticises his sacrifice to resonate with its audience, and works as propaganda for America’s efforts in the war. However he is not the only one, Ilsa offers to run away from her husband to guarantee Lazlo’s freedom and Rick also gives up his freedom for Lazlo and Ilsa. In a time when the American population were going through a time of great sacrifice, men were giving their lives for their country and those left behind were struggling to make ends meet, Casablanca romanticises this sacrifice – in their sacrifice they are noble. Rick’s change in character towards nobility starts with Ilsa’s entrance as he starts to make changes – he drinks with guests, he ensures a young couple win at roulette so that the woman does not have to pay for their freedom in sexual favours, and ultimately ensures he will be killed or sent to a concentration camp to secure Ilsa and Lazlo’s safety.
Casablanca is a piece of propaganda but as it is a subtle undertone of the film, the film is continued to be enjoyed today. The German Nazis are portrayed as rude and dangerous, and the refugees are humanised. This is seen when a pair of German Jewish refugees are trying to learn English to better fit in with Americans;
Sweetness heart, what watch?
This scene creates sympathy for the refugees. The audience is also turned against the German Nazis, through Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt);
You give him credit for too much cleverness. My impression was that he’s just another blundering American.
The propaganda is subtle, and as the German Nazis did commit horrific war crimes and the Americans did win the war, the propaganda messages blend into the background, leaving the narrative to remain at the forefront of the film.
Casablanca is a must-watch for any film-buff worth their salt, its tragic storyline, memorable characters and powerful dialogue are ingrained in our popular culture now, and likely for years to come.