Casablanca is one of those films that I assume everybody except me has seen, because everybody seems to be able to quote it at will and everybody, even seventy-five years later, knows exactly who Humphrey Bogart is. That’s probably not entirely true, but Casablanca is high on the list of iconic films that I thought I should watch before I die, simply because it’s so famous.
Surprisingly, this is a case where knowing just enough about a movie to anticipate the ending doesn’t ruin it, but actually kind of enhances the rest of it. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only thing I knew about this movie was the end of it (spoiler, if that wasn’t obvious): Bogie sends his lady friend off on an airplane in a form of self-sacrifice. The thrill of it was going back to see how they got to that point, like learning a joke after you’ve heard the punchline.
One of the things I marvel at in these films from the forties, particularly the ones about the war is that they came out during the war, before they knew how it was going to end, and yet they already knew how monumental it was. When I look at the world around us now, I wonder if we are living in similarly momentous times, and how we’ll come out of it. So far I am not totally optimistic.
For those who aren’t already familiar with the film, here’s a brief summary: Rick Blaine (Bogart) owns a bar in Casablanca, Morocco, which is a nebulous zone of “unoccupied France,” which seems to mean that officials from France and Germany wander through the city at will, along with refugees from various parts of Europe. Everybody’s on their way somewhere safer, so long as they can get the appropriate paperwork. Rick just happens to get his hands on the equivalent of a get out of jail free card that will get two people out of the country scot-free. And then an old flame walks into his bar.
The character Victor Laszlo has escaped from a concentration camp and thus is highly sought after by the Nazi forces. His only expressed affiliation is as a member of the underground French Resistance. Though there were certainly other groups singled out by the Germans for concentration camps, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this guy was Jewish, which kinda makes me root for him more than Bogie. Beat those Nazis!
I’m glad I saved this for later in the year. It’s one of my favorite movies from the earliest decades of Oscar history, and makes the whole project seem more worthwhile. I mean, let’s be real, I could have skipped the crappy films and just watched this one, but then I wouldn’t have had the context to judge it among its contemporaries.
Theme: War & Doomed Romance
First Time Watching? Yes
Final Verdict: A hill of beans