Classic Film Review: Casablanca

By Rebecca Dow

“Casablanca” is a film from the 1940s that represents an era of cinematic flair which set the tone for many a genre—including golden classics such as romance and drama. Set in Casablanca, Morocco (unoccupied France) at the start of World War II, we are given a brief overview of the immigration situation regarding those wishing to sail from Europe to America. Essentially, as the Germans began occupying various regions, people were desperate to leave. The main route of passage was through Lisbon. However, due to the traffic and difficulty obtaining a license to leave, many made the journey to Casablanca, a hub of cultures and longing souls.

We are promptly brought to our main character, a hardened saloon owner named Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart). He’s a charismatic man with a shifty past, good with the ladies and a citizen for the underdog. He never dabbles with politics and sticks his neck out for no one. The main conflict of the story is that two German couriers were killed and their letters of transit stolen (the equivalent of two exit visas), which the murderer presumably intends to sell. Such items are in high demand in Casablanca, and the Germans want to get to the bottom of things. A man by the name of Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid) arrives in town and stirs up tensions, as he has been an avid fighter against the Gestapo, escaping their clutches on multiple occasions.

The secondary plot revolves around a woman, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), whom Lazlo brings with him to Morocco—an old flame of Rick’s, who shares with him a rich history. Seeing her in his bar one night tilts his world on end, and as Rick and Ilsa recall their former passions, tensions rise with the German occupation, influx of disparity among immigrants, and the scandal surrounding the murder of the aforementioned German couriers.

The cinematographer for “Casablanca” was Arthur Edeson, the man famously known for his work on “Frankenstein” (1931), and “The Maltese Falcon” (1941). During the production of Casablanca, film noir lighting and expressionist techniques were used; this added to the emotional emphasis of the actors’ performances. Since black and white movies have no hue, value is key; the contrast and quality of a shot can make or break a scene. I certainly feel that while flaws do exist, Edeson created beautiful compositions within the film.

As for the score, it was written by Max Steiner, also known for writing the score for “Gone With The Wind.” My favorite musical number from the movie would have to be “As Time Goes By,” (Go figure!) mainly because of its importance to the plot and the history and sentimentality shared between Rick and Ilsa throughout the movie. The pianist at Rick’s saloon is known only as Sam (Dooley Wilson), a longtime friend of Rick’s. Along with Bogart, he is one of the few American actors in the film, and the only notable speaking character of dark complexion that we see. His voice is the honey that sung Rick and Ilsa’s timeless song back when they were in love, and when they met again.

There are so many movies from before our time that evoke dreamy emotions of wonder, love, lust, thrill and anticipation. Much can be learned about the culture of cinema and artistic style throughout history by watching these grayscale classics. I had never seen “Casablanca” until recently. Since doing so, I can clearly see why some people went “gaga” for suave men in suits and ties and mysterious woman with big innocent eyes in the 40s and 50s. There was a level of class that existed from the start of the 1900s, to the 1950s that was unique and was important in shaping film as we know it today. I would recommend “Casablanca” to anyone desiring to delve into the past and be treated with a shot of good old fashioned Hollywood gold.

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