An Appreciation – Casablanca
Watching the film again, what strikes me is how well the film is written. The screenplay, written by Oscar winners Howard Koch, Julius Epstein, and Philip Epstein, is noted as being one of the best screenplays ever made, and as of this moment I cannot think of a better-written movie. Nearly every line of dialogue is quotable, from “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid,” to “Play it, Sam.” The dialogue is also very sharp and witty. In a scene where a couple makes plans to meet desperately with the French Captain Renault (Claude Rains), they say, “We’ll be there at six,” to which he responds, “I’ll be there at ten.” The characters of the film are realized to a point that each of them have become unforgettable: the coolness of Rick, the loveliness of Ilsa, the proper authority of Victor Laszlo, the warm musicality of Sam (Dooley Wilson), the worminess of Major Strausser, and the humorous neutrality of Captain Renault. Each of these characters are fleshed out on their own, and when given a chance, they all are able to shine in the spotlight.
These characters would not be as memorable as they are without the actors that encompassed them. Each of the actor’s performances are pitch-perfect. Take for example the contrast between Bogart and Henreid, the opposite loves of Ingrid Bergman’s character. Henreid takes the thankless acting responsibility here; he plays his character completely straight, to the point, as a man of authority and influence. This is different compared to the acting of Bogart, who plays Rick more laid back, with more ease, and with more charm. Watch in the scene where Rick and Victor first meet: Henreid is stiff and straight up, where Bogart is more relaxed, with his arm over the back of his chair. These two men play their parts with the same amount of clarity throughout the rest of the film. As a result, we the audience become more attracted to Rick, in the same way as Ilsa, but admire and respect Victor’s conviction as well.
Ingrid Bergman. Wow. If there is a face that should be frozen in time, it is Bergman’s in this movie. Not only is she very beautiful here, but her acting could not have been better. Watch in nearly every scene that she is in: the scene where Sam plays As Time Goes By, to the scene where the band plays La Marseillaise, to when the Germans march in to France, to any moment where she looks longingly in to Bogart’s face. Her eyes are always moving, she is always in constant thought. She is torn between the passionate love she has for Rick, and the passion she has for Victor and his cause to the war effort. It has been said that the most fascinating thing to film is that of the human face, and no example could be better than Bergman’s in this role.
Taking a step back, I find that everything that made the film so great is highlighted in the final scene of the film. We all know how it ends, with Ilsa walking with Victor through the fog and in to the plane, leaving Rick behind. It’s clear that Ilsa still loves Rick, but if the film were to end differently, it would have taken away from what made it so special. Throughout the story we hear of Rick’s beliefs of looking out for himself, and not caring for anyone else. Only at the end do we find that he changed his mind, and sacrificed what could have been between him and Ilsa for a cause greater than either of them. Ilsa, in turn, sacrifices her own desires for Victor and the resistance. That is the key to the film, the choices of both Rick and Ilsa, for each of them to be a part of something bigger, more important than their own selfish needs, possibly changing the very dynamics of the war with their decisions. The best film romances are those that have come and gone, and to see the story of these two characters play out, only strengthens our admiration for them, and what they had together.
Casablanca is a movie that accomplishes all the possibilities that great films offer. Its sweeping love story, its wonderful intrigue, and the actions of its heroic figures all combine to a create a film that feels as fresh and as new as it did when it was first released a generation ago. It has not aged a single day; any person of any age can experience this and take something from it. Having seen it again and again throughout the years, I’ve never grown tired of it; once I start watching I cannot stop until it is over. I only hope that this film will continue to be admired and loved by audiences long in to the future, it is truly one of the treasures of the cinema.