16. Casablanca (1944)

Title: Casablanca

Release Date: 23 January, 1943

Oscar Ceremony: 2 March, 1944

Director: Michael Curtiz

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid

I can’t tell you how many Casablanca references I’ve heard in the past week. I figured it was about time I finally watched it, and so did Julian. Once again, I found myself a movie watching buddy.

Julian and I often have similar opinions on films we watch together and Casablanca was no exception. However, there are a few issues that I was significantly more concerned about, such as the size of Humphrey Bogart’s head. I know that it’s somewhat beside the point but I couldn’t help but get distracted by it the entire time. I also felt like I was having deja vu, and after a bit of browsing I realized that in 2012, before I really understood who Humphrey Bogart was, we went to Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in London and I remember seeing his statue there and thinking “What’s wrong with his head? They really messed it up!” Turns out I was wrong: they got it exactly right.

Oddly enough when I look at pictures of him on the internet it seems fine and no one else seems to have this complaint. People do comment on the fact that he was surprisingly short (I guess his big head didn’t really help there). In fact, for most of Casablanca, he had to wear platform shoes or stand on various objects while filming scenes with Ingrid Bergman because she was significantly taller than he was. If you pay close attention, you’ll notice that their height difference is often inconsistent because of this. Isn’t the picture below much more entertaining when you imagine him standing on a little stool?

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I warned you not to expect anything too intelligent to come out of my remarks, but I need to find SOME way to keep myself amused during this long ride. After all, I’m pretty sure not many people read this, so in the end it’s purely for my own enjoyment. On a more serious note, Casablanca was a distinguished film, but I’m still not convinced that it’s as perfect as many people make it out to be. I really think it’s one of those movies that I’ll have to watch a second time in order to make up my mind.

The movie starts with an explanation of how the setting of the movie, the city of Casablanca, served as a strategic port during WW2 and how many refugees found themselves there with the hope of eventually fleeing to America (still neutral at the time). The focus then shifts to “Rick’s Cafe Americain,” which can best be described as the ultimate hangout spot for drinkers, gamblers and anyone who is someone. There are also some Vichy French and German officials lurking around, attempting to catch those bending the law. The cafe’s owner Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is an intriguing man; he claims to be neutral, but eventually it becomes clear that he isn’t. It’s all about political arrangements and deals until one day, a woman named Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) walks in with her husband Victor Laszlo. Intense close-up shots accompanied by dramatic music immediately let us know that there’s clearly something going on between Rick and Ilsa. Rick is NOT happy. We later find out that his agony is justified, because the two had a romantic affair in Paris and were supposed to leave together, but Ilsa bailed on him at the last minute. Now that she’s back in his life, Rick will have to face some serious dilemmas as he might be able to help Ilsa and Victor, whose political activities are a threat to Nazi Germany, escape.

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So what makes this love story so appealing to audiences? The major element that distinguishes it from other love stories is what is at stake. It’s not just a drama occurring in someone’s home with romantic love being the only thing to lose. In this case, the law is at stake. Safety is at stake. MAJOR decisions are at stake and personal feelings need to be considered very carefully. On top of all that, there’s also a love triangle involved, so it’s not just two people working out their issues personally. Another interesting characteristic of Casablanca is its rather unconventional ending. Without giving anything away, I can tell you that whether it ends the way you thought it would or not, there’s more to it. It’s complex and multi-layered. Finally, the cherry on top of the cake is the exotic setting. Can you imagine if Casablanca was called something like Oakland? Not nearly as lavish and intriguing. Even today, the closest most people have ever been to Casablanca is probably the Morocco pavilion at Disney World’s Epcot park.

If none of this convinces you, you might at least want to consider watching Casablanca to be in the know when it comes to famous quotes. I’m sure you’ve all heard at least one of the following in modern day discourse:

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”

“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

“Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By.'”

“Round up the Usual Suspects.”

“We’ll always have Paris.”

That’s right, these are all from Casablanca. It’s nice to finally understand their context.

So there you have it. Politics. Love. War. Law. Friendship. Alliance. Sacrifice. Dilemma. Quotes. Casablanca.

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