Classic Review: Casablanca

I had a chance a few days ago to go see the award winning movie Casablanca in a 2 night only theater run in honor of its 75th anniversary. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never actually seen it before. I can’t think of a better way to see such an important piece of film history than on the big screen. It was perfect.

The movie was part of a monthly series put on by Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events. Instead of previews, a bit of commentary on the movie was given by Ben Mankiewicz, a host for TCM.

Casablanca debuted in 1942 and stars legendary actors Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman along with an all-star cast. The setting is World War II. Bogart plays Rick Blaine who owns a popular nightclub in Casablanca. The city has become a constant bottleneck of refugees desperately trying to flee the war to a still neutral America. Rick is a gracious host, however he’s careful not to get too close to anyone. In fact, he lives by a couple well known rules “Rick never drinks with guests” and “I stick my neck out for nobody.” Everything is going great until one night his ex, Illsa walks in with her husband after inexplicably running away from Rick years ago. This is when things start to pick up.

It really is a fantastic movie about love and sacrificing for the greater good. I was also surprised by how funny the movie is. A lot of the humor comes from Claude Rains who plays Captain Louis Renault, a corrupt official who doesn’t mind talking about being corrupt.

Bogart is at the top of his game in this movie, bringing a confidence and swagger to the role. It’s clear from this role how he came to be synonymous with the film noir genre. Bogart also delivers some of the most well known lines in movie history; so iconic, you’ve probably heard many of them, even if you haven’t seen the film. “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

Dooley Wilson also has a standout role as Sam, the singer and piano player at Rick’s. However, its clear that he is much more than just an employee. Sam has a deep respect for Rick and they seem to even be friends. There is an unspoken loyalty between them. At one point Rick informs Sam a competing club owner wants to hire him for twice the salary Rick pays him. Sam’s witty response is great; “I don’t have enough time to spend the money you pay me, now.” I was surprised to see an African American in such a positive role for the time period. The movie was clearly ahead of its time.

The commentary on the film was great. It was fascinating to learn, among other things, that for such an impressive movie, the screenplay was still being worked on during filming. None of the actors knew exactly how the film was going to end until they shot the scene.

I wouldnt even attempt to give a rating to such an iconic film. However, Casablanca is not only an essential film to check off your cinema bucket list, but one that is enjoyable enough for repeat viewings.