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Monday, January 16, 2006

Oscar Review: Casablanca (1943)

Next in our series is the film that ranked #2 on AFI's list of the 100 Greatest Movies of All Time and has been a fan favorite as the consummate love story.

Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, is the story of Rick Blaine, a night club owner trying to live his life on his terms as an American in German occupied Morocco in the early years of WWII. His popularity with the locals and his favorable treatment of local officials when it comes to gambling makes Rick an influential man, someone who can get what he wants and make things happen.

Rick is in total control of his destiny, that is, until one day when a woman from his past makes her way to Rick's Cafe Americain. Ilsa arrives with her husband, Victor Laszlo, on their way to freedom with the German SS hot on their tail. Knowing Rick has ties with some members of the underground, Ilsa approaches him to arrange for their departure on the last plane out of town. Throwing Rick into a tailspin of emotions, he struggles between doing what is right and helping the love of his life, or giving in to his feelings and taking Laszlo's spot so he and Ilsa can be together once again.
I saw Casablanca for the first time about three years ago after having seen clips of it and heard it quoted over and over in When Harry Met Sally... and elsewhere. I was immediately taken in by the story and Rick's inner struggles. A common theme in many stories of love and romance, Casablanca artfully projects the dance between desire and doing what is right. Bogart does an outstanding job at telegraphing Rick's pain and desperation as he tries to maintain his suave image. He must carry on business as usual while at the same time negotiating the transport of Laszlo and Ilsa despite himself.

The writing and atmosphere, along with the diverse company of characters, help to make Casablanca one of those films that endures. This film holds its own even in today's movie market. Though moviegoers will go to the theater to catch the latest romantic comedy one would be hard-pressed to find a contemporary story that could come close to the brilliance of Casablanca.

Casablanca took home 3 of it's 8 Oscar nominations and has been hailed ever since has a classic among classics. It is full of some of the most quoted lines in all of movie history, taking 6 of the slots on AFI's top 100 - more than any other film:

  • #67 - "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine."
  • #43 - "We'll always have Paris."
  • #32 - "Round up the usual suspects."
  • #28 - (one of the most misquoted) "Play it, Sam. Play 'As Time Goes By.'"
  • #20 - "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
  • #5 - "Here's looking at you, kid."

It's charm and it's passion make Casablanca one of the most beloved films ever made. It somehow taps into those recurring themes in life and makes them speak to us generations later, making it onto my "Must Watch" list. No matter who you are, a hopeless romantic like me or a diehard action fan I know that once you watch it, Casablanca will move you in a way few other films can.

UPDATE: In an effort to report the honors received by these great films, it might be of interest to know that Bogart's portrayal of Rick Blaine was named the #4 greatest film hero by AFI. "As Time Goes By" was listed as the #2 song, and Casablanca was named the #1 greatest love story.