I will start this review by admitting that I like very few movies from this era of American cinema. I was born in 1969 and when I started to become a fan of the silver screen, movies like Casablanca were very old news indeed. A few later movies of the black-and-white era have struck a chord with me, like 12 Angry Men, but I think this film is one of the first from the 1940’s that kept me entertained the whole way through. To give a little better perspective, I all but loathed one of the most praised movies of all time, which came out the year before: Citizen Kane.
This review is based on a theater viewing I was able to take part in thanks to my fiancée who got us tickets on Valentine’s Day to a retro movie screening. The 4:3 aspect didn’t enhance the visuals much, but it still made the film larger than life. I will here point out the only misstep I noticed, which was about ten seconds of sloppy dialogue early in the movie when a “usual suspect” is being questioned by French police. Apart from that, I enjoyed every single frame of this film.
In most cases, I get turned off to early cinema because everything about the plot, cinematography and characters seems immediately dated. I guess I’m simply a slave to the modern world. Casablanca was able to do what good movies do: Remove me from the world I live in and put me in the world of unoccupied French Morocco during World War II. Bogart’s Mr. Rick is an impeccably portrayed enigma. He is surrounded by a legion of corrupt and charismatic people, all of whom have quick, dry wit and no delusions about their circumstances. There’s a magnificent extended cameo by Peter Lorre which can’t be ignored. Overall, however, I think Claude Rains steals the show as Captain Louis Renault.
By now almost everyone should know the story of the lost love between Rick and Ilsa, the fight to get Ilsa’s ultra-patriot husband Victor Laszlo out of occupied Europe and into America. Almost everyone should of course know the story of the highly coveted pianist, Sam, who steals the show within the show every night at Rick’s Café Americain. This includes those people who, like myself until yesterday, have not yet seen the film. I say that because I do not want to try to pin this review on plot points or scene descriptions or other contrivances that usually make one up. Instead let me just say that this film is tighly woven, quick moving, witty, passionate and exact; there are no loose ends and nothing goes to waste. It also contains all those classic lines you’ve heard from years of people talking about this movie since its release. In short, you don’t really need to know what it’s about, you simply need to know that if you haven’t seen it already, you should. And if you see it once, I’ll bet you’ll want to see it again.