Classic Cinema Wednesday #11: Casablanca
Classic Cinema Wednesday is a spotlight review series focusing on a classic film from the “Golden Age” of Hollywood (roughly 1927-1960) that I have never seen prior to watching for this series. The goal of the project is to catch up on old films that I haven’t seen and have overlooked due to their age.
Classic Cinema Wednesday #11 – Casablanca (1942)
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid
Director: Michael Curtiz
Writer(s): Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, Howard Koch
Studio: Warner Brothers
Released: November 26, 1942
Running Time: 102 minutes
It has been months since I last posted an edition of the once weekly Classic Cinema Wednesday review series, and now really does seem like the perfect time to bring the series back (albeit not weekly) with the 11th installment. Why is it the perfect time? Well it’s quite simple; I have finally watched that other film that many people consider to be the finest movie ever made… Casablanca.
It’s pretty fitting too since the last time I did one of these it was a review of Humphrey Bogart’s “The Big Sleep.” I ended that review stating that I was ready for Casablanca and teasing that a review of it was coming next. Unfortunately, soon after I posted that review Casablanca was removed from the Amazon Prime Instant list, and I wasn’t about to rent it. Now that it is back for free streaming for Prime members, I have FINALLY been able to watch it.
And no, it didn’t live up to all the hype that I’ve heard for years.
That’s not to say that I found it to be a bad film; I actually think it is moderately good despite itself. The performances of the main characters, especially Bogart and Bergman, are great and strong enough to carry the movie. Their strong performances doesn’t change the fact that I found the movie to be incredibly boring though. It’s a testament to the ability of Humphrey Bogart that I could still find the movie to be mostly enjoyable, as a lesser actor (read the majority of actors) would have easily led this movie to being a complete waste of time.
I can see reasons why so many people hold the movie in such high regard. Again the performances are top notch, the direction is great, the cinematography is great, and the dialogue is believable. I’m not kidding when I say I like everything but the plot. It’s just boring.
Humphrey Bogart stars as Rick Blaine, an American expatriate who runs Rick’s Café Américain in Casablanca. It’s December 1941, so the film takes place during World War 2. Germany controls Europe and travel is restricted. That is unless you have “letters of transit” that allow you to move freely throughout German controlled Europe.
It just so happens that a crook named Ugarte (Peter Lorre) has two such letters, having obtained them by killing some German couriers. He wants to sell them because there are plenty of refugees in Casablanca that would love to have them. But until he can do that, he gives the letters to Rick to keep safe. Ugarte is arrested and dies in police custody, so the letters now belong to Rick.
Guess who happens to drop by the Café Américain? Rick’s love, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), and her husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), a fugitive Czech resistance leader. And do you know what the two of them need? Letters of transit of course, so that they can get to America where Laszlo can continue his work.
Rick met Ilsa in Paris and fell in love with her. At the time, she thought that her husband had been killed. She and Rick had plans to leave the German occupied Paris, but before they could do so she left without saying anything because she found out that her husband was still alive and in hiding. She went to be with him.
Now she’s back in Rick’s life and she wants the letters. Rick isn’t going to give them to her and her husband though, so she threatens him and then reveals that she still loves him. Ultimately, Rick agrees to help them, and Ilsa believes that she will stay behind with Rick while her husband leaves.
Laszlo eventually gets arrested, and Rick has to get him out of that situation by tricking Vichy Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) and then forcing him (at gunpoint) to assist in the escape. Rick has Ilsa join her husband on a plane bound to Lisbon, telling her that she would regret it if she didn’t go with her husband.
The movie ends with Rick killing German Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) and walking off into the fog with Renault, where the two are going to go join up with the Free French in Brazzaville.
Even if you were like me and had never seen Casablanca before, you knew exactly how the “romantic drama” would end. The scene with Rick making Ilsa go with her husband and saying “Inside of us, we both know you belong with Victor. You’re part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life…” has been played to death as it is one of the most famous scenes in a movie, and is followed up by the “classic” line of “here’s looking at you kid.”
The plot was just boring and somewhat tedious to me. Nothing about it had me “sitting on the edge of my seat” like it supposedly has for many people. I don’t know if the fact that I already knew how the film ended had anything to do with it or not, but it was just a boring and seemingly long watch (and in actuality it isn’t long at all).
Humphrey Bogart was indeed a wonderful actor and gave a very strong performance here. Again, acting wise I think the film deserves a ton of praise as everyone did a really good job and I particularly liked both Rick and Ilsa. That the plot was boring doesn’t necessarily mean a whole lot to me, because I can watch a boring movie if the actors in it are doing a great job. So this is definitely a case where the actors, and even the director, saved a film.
When it comes to the classics, there are generally two that are pretty much always at the top of the “best films” list. Casablanca and Citizen Kane. Citizen Kane was actually spotlighted in the very first edition of Classic Cinema Wednesday. I liked it, but certainly didn’t think it was the best movie ever made. I would however rate it way above Casablanca.
In the end, I didn’t dislike Casablanca. I certainly didn’t love it or even think it great, but it was moderately good in that it was mostly enjoyable (again despite the plot). It also isn’t something that I care to ever see again.