10 Movies To Watch With Your Sweetie: Casablanca
Humphrey Bogart: Rick Blaine
Ingrid Bergman: Isla Lund
Paul Henreid: Victor Laszlo
Claude Rains: Captain Louis Renault
Sidney Greenstreet: Signor Ferrari
Peter Lorre: Ugarte
Dooley Wilson: Sam
Screenplay by Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Esptein and Howard Koch (based on the play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison)
Directed by Michael Curtiz
I hesitate to label a movie "required viewing" because it suggests a homework assignment. People don't like homework. They shudder and sweat and remember the days of reading classic novels or short stories that had been deemed classic. But, everyone should see Casablanca, and not just because it is one of best movies ever made. It is representative of what an A-list picture was in the early 40s. It's that era's version of Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Christian Bale working on a movie today. In that respect, Casablana is an excellent historical marker of the time. The real reason everyone should see it, though, is that is simply a remarkable movie about characters and themes that are universal.
The story is simple. Rick, a hard-drinking, cynical American runs a nightclub in Morocco during World War II. The country was a high-traffic location for spies, Nazis, and the French Resistance. One night, his long-lost love Ilsa, comes into his gin joint. She seeks letters of passage through Morocco to Portugal, where she and her husband Victor can be free. Into the mix wonder a wonderful assortment of characters played by some of the finest actors of the day: Claude Rains. Sidney Greenstreet. Peter Lorre. But it's all about the love triangle between Rick, Ilsa, and Victor.
Rick carries resentment because he and Ilsa were supposed to escape together years before, but she never showed at the train station. Soon after seeing each other again, they realize they still love each other deeply. But, she is devoted to Victor now, who is a key member of the Resistance. Should she leave with Victor or stay with Rick? It's not as simple as following her heart. If anything, Casablanca is a case study in how trite a phrase "follow your heart" is. Life is complicated. Love, more so. Add in Nazis and the need to contribute to the greater good and you've really got a conundrum. I'm reminded of this hilarious exchange from the excellent but under appreciated Elvis movie spoof Top Secret!:
Nick Rivers: Listen to me, Hillary. I'm not the first guy who fell in love with a woman that he met at a restaurant who turned out to be the daughter of a kidnapped scientist, only to lose her to her childhood lover who she last saw on a deserted island, who then turned out fifteen years later to be the leader of the French underground.
Hillary Flammond: I know. But, it all sounds like some bad movie!
But, Casablanca is a great movie. One of the greatest ever. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman are brilliant together and Paul Henreid's performance as Victor is equally wonderful. A key strength is that Victor's character is a good man with a noble cause. This make's the tension tighter and allows us to relate more. Don't make the mistake of thinking this is some maudlin, overwrought drama. Casablanca is a marvelous entertainment. The whole thing climaxes in the most iconic ending scenes in cinema. Even if you haven't seen the movie, you know the scene. Or, at the very least, you know the last line.
Here's looking at you, kid.