Consistently ranked as one of the best films ever made, “Casablanca” combines many film genres into what is quite possibly “the perfect film.” It has action, drama, romance, and comedy. It also features murder, espionage, and a love triangle between 3 likable characters set against the backdrop of WWII. “Casablanca” also has the most quotes on AFI’s “100 Years…100 Movie Quotes,” including, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” and “We’ll always have Paris.”
In December, 1941, unoccupied French Morocco has become a way point for Europeans attempting to escape the German war machine that is tearing across the continent. Smarmy murder suspect, Guillermo Ugarte (Peter Lorre), gives stolen visas to the cynical, heavy-handed nightclub owner, Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), who has a, “my way or the highway,” attitude.
Rick allows the corrupt Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) to come and go as he pleases, bribing him by letting him win at roulette, and in turn, Captain Renault allows Rick to operate with less police harassment. A popular German-resistance leader, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) arrives with a Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), an ex-lover who scorned Rick in Paris a year earlier.
Later, Ilsa visits to tell him why she left him, but Rick’s heartbreak doesn’t give her the chance. Ilsa tells Rick that she was married to Laszlo when they were together in Paris, but she thought he had been killed, so she opened herself to falling in love again. Just before Ilsa was to meet Rick at the train station to leave Paris, she received word that Laszlo was still alive, so she remained in Paris to care for him.
Laszlo learns that Rick has the travel visas and offers him money, which Rick refuses. Ilsa pleads with Rick for the visas, but Rick refuses and Ilsa pulls a gun on him. Rick calls her bluff and Ilsa then crumbles into Rick’s arms and they embrace, sharing a passionate kiss. Ilsa confesses her love for Rick and asks only that he use one of the visas for Laszlo, so that he can escape and that she and Rick can remain together in Casablanca.
Laszlo later advises Rick that he knows that Rick is also in love with Ilsa. Laszlo asks Rick to use the visas to take Ilsa away from Casablanca because he loves her as well. Rick privately meets with Captain Renault and tells him that he plans to take Ilsa away, but that he will hand over the visas to Laszlo at a specific time so Captain Renault can make an arrest. They plan to meet at Rick’s place later that evening before the last plane departs the country. In the climactic final scenes, Rick sets in motion a change in plans that is both surprising and fulfilling. Who escapes with the travel visas? Does love conquer all?
Luckily, I had not known how “Casablanca” ended before I saw it. An underachiever at the Academy Awards, “Casablanca” won 3 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director (Michael Curtiz), and Best Screenplay (Julius J. Epstein, Philip J. Epstein, and Howard Koch). Curtiz was also nominated for Best Director a year earlier for “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” The film’s score was composed by musical genius, Max Steiner, who also composed the score for “Gone with the Wind,” and was nominated for an Oscar each year from 1939 – 1951.
While “Casablanca” was the result of many talented writers and artists, it’s lasting success is owed to Humphrey Bogart. From cynic to romantic and back, Bogart’s portrayal of Rick Blaine’s steel exterior masking a broken heart is the performance of a lifetime and one that cemented him as arguably the greatest actor of the silver screen. “Casablanca” is a must-see film for any film lover.
American Film Institute
IMDb – Casablanca