Here's looking at Casablanca
It's widely accepted that "Casablanca" is a great movie, as of writing it happily sits in the top 20 of the imdb top 250 movie list and has had page after page written about it, be it the actual movie or what went on behind the scenes. But why is "Casablanca" such a great movie? You could say it's the storyline which is tremendous, or the way director Michael Curtiz delivers the drama, tension and romance, or even the actual cinematography. In fact there are a lot of elements to "Casablanca" which makes it perfect such as the writing, making it one of the most often quoted movies. But for me it is perfect casting of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman who deliver what for many are their finest performances as the chemistry between them flies off of the screen.
With the Germans having invaded France Isla (Ingrid Bergman - Indiscreet) and her husband, freedom fighter Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), show up in Casablanca where they are taken to Rick's bar. On the run from the Nazi's they are hoping that they can buy travel visas to head to the States but with the German's controlling the local government there plans may be thwarted. What Isla doesn't realise is that the bar is owned by Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart - Sabrina) a man she loves and who she had a romantic fling with in Paris before jilting him as he made his exit. With tension between them Rick must decide whether or not to help them escape or will his jealousy and bitterness prevent him.
Breaking "Casablanca" down into the various elements such as the storyline, the camera work and so on would do it a disservice as it is the perfect combination of all the elements under the guidance of director Michael Curtiz which makes it so impressive. Right from the opening scenes we get just enough history so that we know the situation before being taken to Rick's bar where most of the movie takes place. And then the whole thing grows mixing romance with a thrilling storyline so that when Isla re-enters into Rick's life we know that she is part of the reason for his bitterness, his cold exterior yet deep inside he still loves her. The scenes as we are taken back to their romance in Paris are just beautiful as is the tension between them in his bar as we can feel the emotion. And then the drama kicks in as it boils down to whether Rick will help both Isla and Victor or will his jealousy of her husband, the bitterness she caused stop him from doing what is right.
The thing is that the storyline, the drama and tension is all brilliant thanks partly to Michael Curtiz's brilliant direction but also because of Bogart and Bergman. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman may not have been the first choice but it is they who bring "Casablanca" to life. Bogart is spectacular as Rick as he delivers that icy coldness, almost bitterness as he runs his bar, but the minute Isla walks into the bar that frost is broken and feelings start to rise up. What makes it spectacular is that Bogart makes Rick likeable and easy to understand, as we soon realise that it is Isla who turned him into the cold man he is yet beneath the surface is a compassionate man. And it has to be said that the chemistry between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman just flies off the screen thanks to Bergman not only being so lovely but also delivering such a strong character. Isla may have been the woman who broke Rick's heart but we can sympathise with her when we understand that she truly does love him.
Without Bogart and Bergman "Casablanca" would be a much lesser movie but it is also the supporting cast who help take it from being good to great. Paul Henreid maybe the forgotten man when it comes to the love triangle, and he may be out shone by both Bogart and Bergman but his performance as Victor Laszlo is both solid and believable. And solid and believable is what you can say about the likes of Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt, S.Z. Sakall and Dooley Wilson who plays Sam. But it is Claude Rains as Capt. Renault who stands out and delivers a performance which is as strong as those of Bogart and Bergman. Almost every scene he appears in he steals, not through over acting but by creating a memorable character.
Talking of memorable you have to say that "Casablanca" is one of those movies with such strong writing that it is not only memorable but often quoted. The list of quotes which often get rolled out when you mention "Casablanca" is quite staggering such as "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine" and "Here's looking at you, kid" to name just two. But it is ironic that the line so often rolled out never even existed, yes "Play it again Sam" is never mentioned once in "Casablanca" yet it is the one most people wrongly say when you mention the movie.
What this all boils down to is that "Casablanca" truly is a great movie which delivers everything from memorable writing and scenes, brilliant direction and cinematography plus a brilliant blend of drama and romance. But for me it is the casting of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman which takes "Casablanca" to another level because they deliver what for many are their finest performances as Rick and Isla.