Play It Again: Casablanca

play it again

“Play It Again” is a series devoted to the review of the greatest American films before 1980.

Casablanca, 1942 – Directed by Michael Curtiz


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Casablanca is a true American film classic with a romantic story line, fantastic cinematography and epic performances. Casablanca has a well-deserved place in our culture, having provided so many iconic lines: “Here’s looking at you kid,” “We’ll always have Paris,” and “Play it again, Sam,” just to name a few.

The screenplay is one of the best ever written, winning an Oscar for the film. The screenwriting team worked throughout the production, not knowing the path the story would take or the ending until the actual end of production. The action is very fast paced and the dialogue is excellent. The writers were able to instill an underlying sense of wit, playing well with Bogart’s dry delivery.

The city of Casablanca in World War II was a holdover stop for people escaping war-engulfed Europe to the United States. The film opens in Casablanca, at Rick’s Café, a smoke-filled bar full of desperate refugees and crooks trying to make a buck off of them. Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is a man with a hidden past, until his ex-lover, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) comes into the Bar. The film gives the back story of their romance through a great flashback montage. The problem is that Ilsa is now with her husband, a Czech Resistance leader running from the Nazis. Ilsa must ask Rick to help her and her husband escape, while Rick must determine his priorities in life. The story is both emotional and heroic. The concept is a story of love and sacrifice, with all three main characters willing to put their own lives at risk to save another.

Casablanca also won the Oscar for best Director the year of its release. Michael Curtiz was the mastermind behind the unique look and feel of the film. Curtiz used light like Rembrandt, to evoke the emotions of the scenes. The train station scene in rainy Paris was picture-perfect, where Rick is given a note from Ilsa, telling him that it is over. The camera frames the note as the ink slowly washes off the paper, and Rick drops the note onto the tracks. The way Curtiz was able to capture the passion and intimate interactions between the actors is legendary and a major contributing factor to the success of the film. Bogart and Bergman had such great chemistry on the screen that you could feel the passion; their performances are haunting.

This film has a timeless appeal and is really worth watching. In 1943, Casablanca won the Oscar for Best Picture, so the Academy definitely got this one right. It is truly a remarkable film. So enjoy and play it again.