In honor of Valentine’s Day, let’s take a look at one of the most renowned romantic story lines of cinematic history: Casablanca. You’ve heard of this movie even if you’ve never seen it—“We’ll always have Paris”; “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”; “I don’t stick my neck out for nobody”… all wonderful quotes from our everyday vernacular that have stemmed from this film.
Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), a straight shooter, is an American expatriate living out his days during WWII in the Moroccan town of Casablanca. He runs the most infamous gin joint on the African coast, Rick’s Café Américain, where a lot of Europeans filter through, trying to escape the war-ravaged continent and get to America. Through his man-about-town trust relations with his customers, he comes to be in possession of two letters of transit—valuable documents that are expensive and hard to come by. Rick is asked to keep them safe for Ugarte (Peter Lorre) who intends to sell them to a Mr. Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). When Nazi Major Strasser (Conrad Veit) enters Blaine’s club, he intends to reveal Laszlo’s illegal documents, but Laszlo shows up with his wife, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), Rick’s lover from a different time, who ran out on him while they were in Paris. Though bitter, when he learns of the circumstances surrounding her departure, all is forgiven, and plans to make their escape using the illicit documents begin.
So why is this movie so famous? Because the suave Mr. Bogart strides around making too-good-to-be-true romantic gestures to Ilsa? Because the dialogue is so dead on? Yes, and yes. It’s a black and white, which, as stated in my previous post, adds a romantic edge to any movie. Layer that under an unmistakable connection between Rick and Ilsa and you’ve got the makings of “a beautiful friendship.” But it’s more than that. This is a classic story of a hardened cynic made soft again, and about the struggle he goes through to keep the love he thought he had lost. Obstacles include a war, a Nazi, a police captain, Blaine’s apparent inability to return to America, and Ilsa’s husband, but that doesn’t stop these determined lovers in their quest to be together. It’s also suspenseful. Sure there’s all that mushy stuff, but it’s kind of an interesting Catch Me If You Can-esque story. You’ve got two well-known people on the run from a bazillion different kinds of authority, in a country filled with desperate civilians who will give up life and limb to get out. You’ve also got a romantic-era streak within a romantic film—Rick’s gin joint could easily be mistaken for a 1920s speak easy for all the money, booze, and back hand deals that go through there, not to mention Sam’s (Dooley Wilson) illustrious skill on the piano that inspired the ever-famous “Play it again, Sam” in regards to As Time Goes By, the theme song to Ilsa and Rick’s love story. This movie has every component, each of which fall seamlessly into place. There’s something for everyone, including a superb soundtrack and cinematography. The film is pieced together in such a way that you always feel there’s something lurking in a shadowy corner, ready to complicate the plot. Plus, it didn’t win 3 Oscars (Best Director, Best Picture, Best Screenplay) for nothing. You’ll be glad that “In all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, [you] walked into [this one].” It truly is a masterpiece and a perfect watch for Valentines Day.