Cool Things: Casablanca

It’s time for another classic film. I first saw Casablanca some time when I was in middle school, perhaps even earlier. I knew it was a cultural landmark, considered by some critics the greatest movie ever made, period. I know that I watched it and, even at a young age, enjoyed it a lot. Later, when I was in college taking my Introduction to Literature course it would be used as an example of film as literature. I had watched Casablanca many times in the years between my first viewing and college, but I still found the film to be enjoyable. But I was surprised, when the film reached it’s climax and the twists were coming fast and furious, almost the entire class gasped when the plot took a particularly dramatic turn. I thought everyone should have seen this film already. I mean, it’s a classic, right?

Well, just like plenty of people have never listened to classical music it seems plenty of people don’t watch classic movies either. But even if you never watch any other black and white film let me encourage you to watch Casablanca.

Plot summary time – Casablanca is a film set in World War II. It begins with the murder of two German curriers carrying important documents, which will help a famous member of the anti-Nazi underground, Victor Lazlo (Paul Henried), escape to the United States. The Nazis, working together with Unoccupied France, are aiming to keep him from “spreading lies” outside of Europe.

Events come to a head at Rick’s, owned by Richard Blaine (Humphrey Bogart). As a U.S. ex-pat, Rick feels he has no stake in the political conflict playing out at the tables of his cafe. But it turns out he has a personal one when Lazlo is accompanied by Rick’s old flame Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman). He’ll have to sort out his loyalties and feelings before all is said and done.

On the face of it, Casablanca could turn out to be a horrible movie. It’s got a lot of trite plot elements – love triangle, club owner, Nazis. But the writing is brilliant and develops the main story, and a wealth of side stories, in a staggeringly short period of time, maintaining dramatic tension with aplomb. Of course, the tension may hang together simply because the writers didn’t have an ending until right before it was filmed.

Casablanca is a classic in the way it shows the conflict in its characters. Rick’s not the only one who doesn’t know how to deal with the situation. Practically everyone but the hardline resistance members and Nazis seem to be of two minds about what they want – respect or profit, romance or cause, a dozen or more conflicts plague the characters and they never come out with pat answers. We see them struggle and bobble them right up until the end.

More than that, Casablanca entertains. Where so many movies could wander into melodrama or preachiness, Casablanca concentrates on making sure we enjoy every step from beginning to end. From Claude Rains’ fantastic performance as Louie, the Prefect of Police, to the musical battle between Lazlo and the Nazi Major, we smile, we laugh, we are engaged.

Casablanca is a great movie for the writer, as well. The characters are well built, introduced and developed. The dialog is good and the dramatic tension is great, deliberate or not. The next time you need a film for the weekend you could do much worse than this classic.


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