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A movie directed by Michael Curtiz

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Hollywood's Best?

  • May 10, 2008
Pros: Dialogue, performances

Cons: Doesn't live up to its own hype

The Bottom Line: Overhyped

I remove nothing from Casablanca. It's a good movie, even a great one. But when you already watch a movie for the first time bursting with over-the-top expectations, a movie has to be better than just great. And when I first saw Casablanca back in my aspiring filmmaker phase, my conclusion was that it was merely great. It was well-written, well-directed, well-acted, and very enjoyable, but it was also one of those instances where I watched until the final frame rolled on by before having the utter gall to turn to someone else and ask "Is this it? This is the greatest movie of all time?" I watched it a second time recently and even though it got better, I will still make the bold proclamation that it isn't the greatest movie ever made, as many have claimed, or even the greatest Hollywood movie ever made, as Leonard Maltin has claimed. Those lofty perches are still reserved for Raiders of the Lost Ark, Goodfellas, and Lord of the Rings.

Casablanca could easily have been a play. I know nothing of the screenplay's past, but I haven't heard anything about it ever being onstage before it was a movie. It has the feel of a play: It takes place mostly in a hot spot in a Moroccan night spot called Rick's Americain Cafe and is built more around its dialogue than anything. Casablanca is very talky, so if you have problems staying awake during non-action scenes, get yourself a triple espresso before throwing it into the dvd player. It also revolves around a select few characters: Rick, owner of the cafe which bears his name; Ilsa, who broke Rick's heart, and Ilsa's new husband Victor, a leader of the Czech resistance. There are other characters, but they are mostly disposable.

I admit I had a hard time understanding what was going on at certain points. The constant chatter is only partially to blame for this. Also to blame are the unusually thin walls of my apartment, which make me keep my television volume down as not to disturb the neighbors. Many of the characters in Casablanca have accents and I have a little bit of trouble understanding accents if they're spoken in low tones. But the basic gist of the movie is this: Rick is your typical businessman. As he repeatedly says, he sticks his neck out for no one, and he allows gambling and visa exchanges to take place inside his cafe. One day, the highest bidder for Rick's soul is a Nazi who is after the leader of the Czech resistance. He wants Rick to keep Laszlo in Casablanca until he can arrest Laszlo. Rick agrees, no problem, and then he sees Laszlo's wife for the first time: A gorgeous woman named Ilsa who jilted Rick at a train station during their escape from Paris. Seeing her again, Rick is suddenly confronted with the decision of helping Ilsa and Laszlo get to America or screwing Laszlo over and getting himself and Ilsa to America.

Though some of the characters are cliched, It's hard to complain because of how effectively Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman put the breath of life into their characters. These two are playing characters who might as well have been specifically written for them in Rick and Ilsa. Rick, as noted by other reviewers, has a little bit of Ernest Hemingway in him. He is a man's man to the core of his being on the outside, but the second he sees Ilsa again, you can almost pinpoint the exact second when his facade collapses. Bergman is just as pained as Ilsa, and the shock of these two characters seeing each other again after all the years since Ilsa left Rick at the train station in Paris is one of the best-acted scenes of all time. The two actors look like they were literally smacked right across the face. Another particularly effective scene is the one in which Rick drinks away his heartbreak well after his cafe is closed for the night.

Casablanca is perhaps the most often-quoted movie ever made. It's no stretch to say that if you've never quoted Casablanca before - whether you knew you were doing it or not - you don't speak English. And the most often-quoted lines are often not the best ones in the movie. You can't afford to turn your ears off for even a second because you may miss a short snippet of screenwriting gold. Even with the exception of Ilsa's legendary line "Play it again, Sam" - an exception because that line is never actually spoken, the actual line is "Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By." - screenwriters Julius Epstein, Philip Epstein, and Howard Koch (and I have only just now noticed Casablanca was, in fact, a play) must have been using the screenwriting equivalent of steroids while writing Casablanca.

I don't mind the cliches of Casablanca because they actually work. But what I do mind is the hype around Casablanca last for the last 66 years. Casablanca doesn't live up to that, and I suspect most films wouldn't. If you're watching Casablanca with raised expectations like I was, it'll be good but a bit of a letdown. If you're a hermit, Casablanca may well rank as one of Hollywood's best ever. It lasts under two hours and still manages to accomplish more in that time frame than most movies these days can do in three.


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Nicholas Croston ()
Ranked #26
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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About this movie


World War II Morocco springs to life in Michael Curtiz's (THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY) classic love story. Colorful characters abound in Casablanca, a waiting room for Europeans trying to escape Hitler's war-torn Europe. Humphrey Bogart plays Richard "Rick" Blaine, a cynical but good-hearted American whose cafi is the gathering place for everyone from the French Police to the black market to the Nazis. When his long-lost love, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), surfaces in Casablanca with her Resistance leader husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), Rick is pulled into both a love triangle and a web of political intrigue. Ilsa and Victor need to escape from Casablanca, and Rick may be the only one who can help them. The question is, will he? <br> <br> Top-notch performances include Claude Rains as the chief of the French police and the major authority figure in Unoccupied France, Peter Lorre as the doomed Senor Ugarte, Sydney Greenstreet as Senor Ferrari, and Dooley Wilson as Rick's loyal fri...
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Cast: Conrad Veidt
Director: Michael Curtiz
Release Date: 1942
MPAA Rating: PG
DVD Release Date: MGM Home Entertainment (November 17, 1998)
Runtime: 1hr 43min
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