At lunch when I told a friend of mine that I was going to go see Casablanca on the big screen, I could barely contain my excitement. When I told him it was my favorite movie, he, in all sincerity, asked why. He liked the movie, sure, but it was a long ways from his favorite movie so he wondered why it was mine.
Genuinely confused as to how anyone could not love Casablanca as much as I do, the only answer I could come up with was, “because it’s awesome”. And it is. But now having watched it again, and this time on the big screen (though that’s something I’ve done before, too), I can maybe articulate my feelings a little more.
Casablanca is awesome because it’s got action and romance, it’s funny, and sad. It is incredibly quotable. It’s beautiful to look at and wonderfully made. It’s about a cynic who finds something to live for. It’s about love and sacrificing that love for something noble. It stars two of the greatest film stars of all time – Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman – along with the best cast of character actors a movie could hope for, including Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Claude Rains, Dooley Wilson, and Paul Henreid (okay, Henreid is more than a character actor. He was a star in his own right and gets top billing here, but it’s Bogie and Bergman who transfix me).
If you have somehow never seen Casablanca, then go watch it. Fathom Events is showing it on the big screen for one more day on Wednedsay so see it then. Then buy the Blu-ray and watch it at least once a year like I do. But if you need a little breakdown on the story, allow me to do that now.
Bogart plays Rick, a cynical, boozing, nightclub owner who “sticks his neck out for nobody.” He lives in Casablanca, a little city in North Africa which is the last stop before a ticket to America and freedom for those fleeing the Nazis. It’s a town full of the desperate and those who prey on their desperation. Rick moves smoothly among the gamblers, the corrupt politicians, the wheelers and dealers. He refuses to takes sides about anything and lives to help himself. At least until Ilsa (Bergman) shows up.
They fell in love in Paris just before the Germans invaded. But she left him at the train station, breaking his heart and kicking his insides out. He’s never been the same since. She’s married to Victor Laszlo (Henreid), a legendary hero of the French Resistance. Her return brings up all the old emotions and destroys his veneer of neutrality.
Now they need letters of transit to go to America, letters that it just so happens Rick has. Can he get over his bitterness to help the greater good? Will Ilsa and Rick rekindle their old love? If you know anything about movies, you already know the answer to these questions. But no matter how many times I watch Casablanca, I’m always moved by them.
Seeing it again on the big screen was a real treat. My screening was packed, mostly with gray hairs, but there were a few youngsters there too. You could feel the excitement about it beforehand. As the movie played, people laughed before the punchlines in anticipation of lines they’ve heard a thousand times beforehand. We all sang along with “La Marseillaise” and cried, too. At the end, we all clapped. Who were we clapping for? I don’t know. Anybody who had anything to do with the film made 75 years ago have long since passed. But we clapped anyway, such is the power of Casablanca.
In his introduction to the film, TCM host Ben Mankiewcz noted that Casablanca is the greatest movie ever made. Then he slyly added that this wasn’t his opinion, but scientific fact. I have to agree.