The 1942 romantic drama Casablanca was actually based on an unproduced stage play by Joan Alison and Murray Burnett entitled “Everybody Comes to Rick’s”. This anti-Nazi movie is set during the events of World War II and it stars Humphrey Bogart (Rick Blaine), Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa Lund), and Paul Henreid (Victor Laszlo). Its world premiere was held in New York City on November 26, 1942 and it was released in the United States on January 23, 1943. Although the film does feature established actors and was written by talented writers, it was initially viewed as nothing more than one of the hundred of Hollywood films produced year after year. However, it did win three Academy Awards and its popularity slowly grew throughout the years. Casablanca has been consistently been included among the best films of all time and its snappy dialogue has been etched in the memories of fans and critics alike.
The film was shot almost completely within the confines of its studio lot and dedicated sound stage. At that time, no one was certain how the ending would go, which certainly contributed to the realism of the acting as well as the suspenseful delivery of its scenes.
As a gripping thriller, Casablanca’s plot revolves around the “letters of transit”, handed to fugitives who wish to escape to America, for a price. Now, as a wartime romance, the film focuses on Rick Blaine, the owner of a cafe wherein exchanges of the letters occur. He must choose between his virtues by giving in to pressure from the authorities and fighting a good fight against the Nazis or to help a fugitive named Victor Lazlo and his wife Ilsa – the latter being the woman he truly loves. He never expected see her again as she was the one who hung him to dry, train tickets in hand, with no explanation. Then she just suddenly walks into Café Américain one day, or as Rick says “of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”
Ilsa’s sudden reappearance forces memories of their time together to resurface and she is just as torn as Rick is. She still wishes to help her husband to flee and go into hiding in America but she’s not sure if she wants to stay by his side or to stay behind to be with Rick.
The Man for the Job
Though Rick Blaine is Humphrey Bogart’s first romantic role, his portrayal is magnetic and wonderfully mysterious. Ingrid Bergman was amazing as Ilsa. Her honesty translates beautifully on the screen, with the unveiled ending lending a hand in making every scene with her even more convincing. Promised a top billing along with Bogart and Bergman, Paul Henreid was good but a sense of disconnect could be felt throughout as he did have trouble getting along with his co-stars. On the other hand, watching Claude Rains’ portrayal of the “poor corrupt official” Captain Louis Renault, was thoroughly entertaining. He remarkably snatches a few of the scenes and makes it his own.
Bogart and Bergman never had another opportunity to work together, but their chemistry here is indeed one of the best cinema has to offer, classic or otherwise. Nobody can deny that each character’s motive remains to be mysterious, their delivery utterly perfect. The movie endures the test of time and it will continue to be one of the few films that deserve to be watched a second, even a third or a fourth time.
Behind the Camera
The actors may have ensured the film’s success but the director is no less a genius. Michael Curtiz was able to deliver such a complicated plot in the most irresistibly engaging way possible. As a result, he won an Oscar for Best Director. The film also won Best Picture and Writing (Screenplay) and was immortalized as a true classic.
Though World War II is long past, Casablanca remains a timeless tale of love. It is not only directed flawlessly, it is also deliciously delivered, with countless memorable lines and scenes. In fact, the film’s witty dialogue is easily one of the best of all time and it continues to touch and transport its viewers to a romantic period in history, decades later.