By: Xavier Angel
I was lucky enough to view Michael Curtiz's Casablanca (1942) on the big screen recently for its 75th anniversary. Casablanca is the ultimate and most beloved film to come out of the Golden Age of Hollywood. A film that's perfect from its masterful storytelling, to its fantastic and memorable performances, to the lighting and sets of the film, and to the transcendent theme song. Cinema doesn't get better. 75 years have gone by and the film still feels refreshing and exhilarating as it did with its initial release.
Casablanca is tale of loss love, dealing with the past, and the importance of sacrifice. It takes place during WWll and is set in the city of Casablanca. You're introduced to the cool cynical but deep down sentimentalist Humphrey Bogart who is always wearing a white suit, with a lit cigarette dangling out of his mouth, and a drink in his hand. He owns the hottest bar in the town where immigrants of all countries go drink and gamble and listen to the delightful piano player Sam (Dooley Wilson). The conflict ascends when Bogarts past lover (Ingrid Bergman) from the time he was in Paris and her husband (Paul Henreid) walk into his bar clueless that he owns it or is even in Casablanca. Paul Henreid plays a Czech Resistance leader, who needs to escape from the Vichy-controlled city of Casablanca to continue his fight against the Nazis and help save the world. Bogart is the only person that can help him. At first you don't understand the friction between Bogarts and Bergmans - their chemistry is unbelievably good, even though Bergman has said famously, "I kissed him, but never knew him" -characters but as the film progresses you start to find out about their secrets and you take a trip down their devastating past, before the Nazi invaded Paris.
Everything that's perfect about Casablanca is because of its powerful screenplay that's beautifully written by Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch. It's a script that's filled with quotable dialogue like "Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine" or "Round up the usual suspects" and many more. It's also does a wonderful job at blending in multiple genres at a time. The film is a romance but at times is comedic to give leverage to the film. It can be a thriller as well, adding a suspenseful feeling to the film. The cinematography adds to this feeling/mood to the film. The way the script juggles with the past and the present with the use of flashbacks is done with delicacy and adds an emotional layer to the story. The script does an excellent job at telling a entertaining story with memorable characters but it also does a great job at exploring major themes and gives a sense of what it was like to be alive during the time of WWll, what it feels like to fall in love with someone during war times, the difficulty of overcoming the past, the love for your country and you fellow neighbors, and the why it's important to sacrifice and realizing there's a greater cause in the world. The man behind the camera (director), Michael Curtiz, is a hungarian Jewish immigrant who came to America in 1926. He brings the script alive to tell the story visually with confidence and a optimistic attitude.
What makes the film more iconic and referenced all the time is the theme song, As Times Goes By, which is song by the piano player Sam (Dooley Wilson), "Play it once, Sam. For old times' sake...Play it, Sam. Play "As Time Goes By." The song doesn't just sound lovely, but it also plays a role in the themes and messages of the story, with it being the bridge between the past and present for Rick (Bogart) and Ilsa (Bergman). Another highlight of the film is the sets and lighting (cinematography) of the film, which adds to atmosphere of the setting. It allows the viewer to feel like they're in the hot, claustrophobic, mysterious, and chaotic Casablanca. Every scene is lit perfectly and every frame is perfectly composed, adding to the beauty of the film.
The film doesn't end in the way you think it would or how a Hollywood film at the time would, rather it ends on a realistic, optimistic, and a anti-romantic note and solidifies the theme of sacrifice and why it's important. All of this makes people want to come back to watch the film again and again, it never gets old. Casablanca ended up taking home three Oscars at the 16th Academy Awards. It won Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Picture. 75 years later, the film is still regarded as one of the best and most important movies of all time by critics, film historians, people from the film industry, and by the many fans of the movies.