Casablanca (1942), Michael Curtiz


I’ve been lying to myself tonight, I said i would go shower before writing this…I didn’t.

Directed by Michael Curtiz, Casablanca is drama, heavy on the USA and anti-nazi. It was originally based on a screen play that never made it to the stage (Everybody Comes to Rick’s; written by Joan Alison + Murray Burnett)  and wasn’t produced to be this mind-blowing film, though it soon snowballed into this success of what we know it to be today.

The story starts out with the backdrop of “Rick’s Café Américain”, who surprise surprise, is owned by the main character of Rick Blaine. An american expat who is rolling in the riches and enjoying the business of refugees and the like who are trying to get back home to the USA before shit hits the fan and catches up with them. His bar is this mixture of lovely ladies and men who are willing to spend money, desperate characters and lots of shady deals. It caters to both the americans and the local militants who are occupying the area, because everyone believes that Rick has a neutral view about the war.

So for the plot to start thickening, a petty crook and relatively good acquaintance of Rick- Ugarte,  shows up and begs that he should hide a package of transit letters that were apparently obtained by killing two german soldiers. Obviously these letters would mean the world to some lucky couple who needed to get by quickly and could be traded for almost anything. Rick says why not, and he ends up hiding the papers in some sheet music above the piano until later.

Later is when this guy is arrested and eventually dies in jail, thus he is never to return to the scene. He is arrested by order of this honestly corrupt official, Vichy Captain Louis Renault. No one still knows that Rick has these letters.

But things are still thriving, and there is the lost love of Rick who shows up out of the blue with her husband. Her name is  Ilsa Lund, and she immediately spots the piano player who Rick and her use to mutually know, Sam. She tells him to play their song, as this weird 1940’s way of baiting Rick to come towards her, even though he doesn’t know that she is there yet. The song is “As time goes by”:

Obviously it worked. He storms over and only to discover this pretty little lady is sitting at the table with her husband,  Victor Laszlo. He’s this former Czech Resistant leader, and is wanted by the German Militants. They’ve come to Morocco for the letters and escape to da USA. There is a few  villains trying to make sure this couple doesn’t make their and thus, there is honest tension between everyone around them.

While snooping around, Victor discovers that Rick might have a letters and goes to him go try to buy them off him. Rick doesn’t budge and he says he wouldn’t sell them for any price. Victor, slightly confused about it all, asks why and Rick says something along the lines of  “go ask your wife why”. And leaves it at that. They are then blatantly interrupted by a group of German soldiers and a general bursting into the cafe and singing some propaganda song and in retaliation, Victor turns to the band and demands them to play another song. The band turns to their boss, Rick, who nods yes. The entire cafe drowns the song of propaganda and the bad guy general, Strasser, closes down the bar in reaction.

Later that evening, the two old lovebirds meet up in the deserted cafe. There is this tense build up of Rick refusing to release the letters to Illsa and Victor, eventually pushing Illsa to the climax of pointing a gun to Rick, but melts and confesses that she still loves him. This leads them to explaining what happened those so many years back in Paris and why their perfect romance didn’t work out. (long story short, Illsa thought that Victor was dead is a concentration camp and melted into this new intense romance with Rick, only to find out that he alive and hiding, but sick elsewhere. She leaves immediately to go care for him without telling Rick why.)

How could anyone still be mad at this beautiful creature with a story like that? The harsh feelings that Rick was feeling melted into an understanding and he agrees to help, thinking that they’ll be together once this is all over. At the same time, Victor turns up and Ricks pushes Illsa out of the scene. Victor begs that he at least gets Illsa to safety, not knowing that Rick and her had their past. Police randomly show up, and they arrest Victor for some silly charge. Later Rick convinces Renault that he should release Victor and they will trick him into charges much bigger, say “holding transit letters” and to make it sweeter, he told him that he and Illsa would be leaving for America.  Ah! such a brilliant plan! Renault falls for it and the end of the film slowly moves closer.

At last, at the airport Renault comes as planned to arrest Victor. At this point, Rick pulls out the gun, puts it on Renault and tells Victor to get in the plane. But at the last moment, guess who joins him in their colourful departure? Illsa, of course. Rick demands that she gets on the plane with him, to be that wife Victor deserves, because she would only regret not doing so, “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”

To add to the colour of this black and white scene, Stresser- who was tipped off by Renault of what was happening that night, shows up alone. He tries to intervene and is shot by Rick. And that’s that. The couple leaves and the police slowly arrive. Renault, after this long dramatic pause, turns to the arriving police officers and tells them to gather up the usual suspects, covering up for what just happened. Renault turns to Rick, and tells him to join the Free France (basically the french government in exile that was still fighting against the germans who had occupied france at the time). They then walk off, Rick saying that this was the start of a friendship.

I guess I don’t get the hype of the film. I’m more connected to the story and though it was a good one, it wasn’t anything spectacular. It was straight forward, though with an honest language (which is something that keeps surprising me with the films I’ve been watching in this 1940’s series, I can’t get over with how much I can relate to what their saying and the immediate story at hand, nothing was foreign, though I keep expecting it to be).

I’ll give this fim a 4.5. Someone please explain to me why the world thinks this should be considered one of the worlds best films? Hell, there was a even a mention of it in Gilmour Girls so many years ago, on its brilliance.




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