“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”
Casablanca, directed by Michael Curtiz (White Christmas, The Adventures of Robin Hood) and starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid, is widely considered to be one of the best films ever made. I put this movie off for years before finally giving it a shot. I can’t believe I waited this long. This movie has stood the test of time better than most classic movies and is still interesting and accessible today while many classic movies are harder to watch. This movie has earned its spot at the top of the list and will likely be there for decades to come.
Casablanca is set early in World War II, at a time when Europeans were fleeing to come to the then-neutral United States. The city of Casablanca became a holding cell for hopeful expatriates. Rick Blaine, a saloon-owner in Casablanca, does his best to remain neutral with everyone, including the occupying German military. Word comes in that Victor Laszlo, a hero of the resistance in Europe, is coming to Casablanca with his lover in hopes of escaping to America, and Rick agrees with the German military commanders to stay out of it. But when the woman Victor is traveling with ends up being Ilsa Lund, one of Rick’s former lovers, things become much more complicated.
Here’s looking at you, kid.
I’d heard that Casablanca has an unpredictable plot, and it’s true. Even while filming the movie, the actors didn’t know how things were going to end up—they were only given the last pages of the script shortly before filming. The characters and the relationships between them are complex and nuanced, and the acting and directing capture this perfectly. The characters clearly do not exist to serve a preconceived plot—the plot is the characters. That’s not to say that the plot is boring. Just like the characters, the plot is multifaceted, rich with details, and very much alive.
Casablanca serves as a caricature for old-school cool—so much so that the actors were angry over what they felt were exaggerated aspects of their time and culture. But decades later, that caricature reflects the era better than a snapshot. It’s the ultimate classic movie: it oozes with vintage charm, it’s packed with memorable quotes, and it will make you feel a few thousand miles from home. Early on in the movie, one of the characters says to another, “I suspect that under that cynical shell you are at heart a sentimentalist.” This movie truly brings out the sentimentalist in all of us.
Casablanca is a masterpiece of film that I would recommend to anyone. It has something for everyone: mystery, romance, comedy, virtue, and historical perspective. I don’t often say this of the movies on my list, but everyone needs to see this movie, and I think everyone will enjoy it.
Winner: Best Picture, Best Director (Michael Curtiz), Best Writing, Screenplay (Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, Howard Koch)
Nominations: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Humphrey Bogart), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Claude Rains), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (Arthur Edeson), Best Film Editing (Owen Marks), Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Max Steiner)
Director: Martin Curtiz