‘Casablanca’: Hollywood’s Accidental Documentary

On a technical level, “Casablanca” shows today’s filmmakers how to use black-and-white effectively. In 1943, that was all they had. Each studio was literally “cranking out” a film every week, so they had black-and-white down to a science. It is tricky to get exposure time, lighting and speed just right for black-and-white film.

“Casablanca” shows how World War II shaped civilian life. It is premised on refugees fleeing from Germany to the French city of Casablanca in World War II. Most of the scenes take place at the bar of an American, Rick (Humphrey Bogart). Young women are tempted into prostitution, crime and gambling are rampant and people are selling family heirlooms for the price of a few nights’ refuge.

Morality had a firmer hold on society in 1943. In the documentary on the “Casablanca” DVD released in 1999, writer Howard Koch explains the studio’s censor forbade him to imply that Rick and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) had been to bed with each other. He goes on to say this made their love scenes all the more poignant, because viewers were imagining far better bed scenes than he could write even today.

This movie shows how fashion and decor changed dramatically in the decades following World War II. None of the characters wears today’s typical outfit of jeans and a T-shirt. All the women wear evening gowns or dresses and all the men wear suits or uniforms. No commercial slogans show up anywhere.

Back to the technical aspects of film making, “Casablanca” demonstrates how to focus a film on characters and plot, rather than on special effects. Ugarte the thief (Peter Lorre) shows how rampant crime is. Sam the piano player (Dooley Wilson) draws attention to the pain that Ilsa’s presence brings Rick. Almost every shot in the movie shows human interaction, unlike the explosions and car chases common in today’s movies.

All this dialogue produces some of the most memorable lines in movie history: “There are some neighborhoods in New York I don’t recommend you invade,” “Here’s looking at you, kid,” “We’ll always have Paris,” “Round up the usual suspects” and “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Human interaction is perhaps the magic ingredient that keeps “Casablanca” popular among viewers as time goes by. In 1943, people couldn’t socialize online. This movie shows them hanging out in bars, singing around pianos together. Yes, the war is on and times are hard and frightening, but no one is lonely in “Casablanca.”

More of Cherise’s Movie Reviews:

‘Excalibur’ (1981): ‘Le Morte Darthur’ In Movie Form, but Funny!

‘Hanna’ Review: Friday in a Strange Land

‘Eat Pray Love’: Pro Divorce Hindu Movie that Makes Fun of Substitute Teachers and the Unemployed