Movie review: Casablanca (1942)

Released not long after the US entered World War II, Casablanca shows the seedy side of the city of the same name in free French-controlled Morocco. Refugees from Europe gather in Casablanca in hopes of getting a visa to Lisbon and then to the US. The black market is alive and well, cashing in on people’s hopes for freedom.

Enter Rick’s Café Américain, a nightclub for the previously rich and famous. (“The leading banker in Amsterdam is now the pastry chef in our kitchen,” boasts Carl, the head waiter.) People gather to drink, enjoy the music, discuss the rebellion in hushed tones, and gamble in the back room.

Rick’s (Humphrey Bogart) history is vague though he is romanticized as always fighting on the side of the underdog. At the moment though he is running a bar in Casablanca, where he came for the waters. (“Waters? What waters? There are no waters in Casablanca. We are in the middle of a desert?,” queries Captain Renault. “I was misinformed,” quips Rick.)

He becomes a little bit more human once Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) walks in with the leader of the resistance against the Nazis, Victor Laszlo. Previously, Rick and Ilsa were together in Paris, knowing next to nothing about each other’s past, except that Ilsa’s husband was dead. As the Germans marched into Paris, Rick and Ilsa arranged to flee—along with the mass of humanity in Paris.

Ilsa never showed up at the train station but Sam, Rick’s long time piano-playing friend/side-kick, picked up a note from Ilsa’s hotel—a Dear John note. Spurned, Rick was anything but thrilled to see Ilsa again, particularly on the arm of another man.

Victor escaped the Nazis and their concentration camps. He needs to obtain a visa to leave Casablanca and get to the free world, only the Germans are intent on preventing that. No one in the black market or in the officially free French government can help—except Rick who has come into the possession of letters of transit signed by General de Gaulle, letters that cannot be rescinded. If only Victor and Ilsa can be given the letters of transit for safe passage.

Casablanca contains a delightful cast of characters (Sasha the bartender, Carl the waiter, Sam the piano player, Captain Renault “the poor corrupt official”) whose banter is dry and quick. The movie is chock full of famous lines and witty repartee.

“How extravagant you are, throwing away women like that. Some day they may be scarce.”

“Remember, this gun is pointed straight at your heart.” “That is my least vulnerable spot!”

“Carl, see that Major Strasser gets a good table, one close to the ladies.” “I have already given him the best, knowing he is German and would take it anyway.”

“Monsieur Rick, what kind of a man is Captain Renault?” “Oh, he’s just like any other man, only more so.”

Although Casablanca has been colorized, you will want to see the original in black and white—again and again. I promise, it will be “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” The movie is a beloved classic for good reason.

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