Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.
When I watch an old movie, I don’t get why people consider it a classic. Often films from the 40s, 50s, or 60s are held up as essential viewing because they were the first to do something. The first to try a new film technique, tell a story in a new way. I think of films like Roman Holiday, or North by Northwest. By the time I see them, they feel tired because all the innovation to them has been built upon over decades. Watching them isn’t as enjoyable since they feel more like History Lessons.
Casablanca is not one of those movies. It’s a timeless story that is relatable across generations. These types of stories always hit with me. The lovers trying to reconnect. The person learning to “stick their neck out” for someone, for a bigger cause.
If you’ve found this blog, you probably don’t need me to repeat all the ways in which Casablanca is a masterpiece of cinema. The lighting of scenes, the blocking of actors, the dialogue between characters, it’s all amazing. Then the masterpiece is brought to a new level because of Bergman and Bogart giving magnetic performances. I find it hard to closely watch both of them in a scene simply because I never want to stop looking at one of them.
Enough praise that I am sure you have read and heard before. That is nothing new.
Personally, Casablanca sticks in my heart because it has so many layers (like a parfait). The film posits the city as a purgatory: people stuck between hell (Europe) and heaven (America). It conveys that atmosphere directly through Rick, a reluctant man who escaped to Casablanca because he is shackled by his past and can’t move into the future.
It’s equally valid to view the film as an allegory for the War, too. Rick as the reluctant America, unwilling or not ready to enter the fray. There’s Laszlo as the moral center of the conflict: the attack on human nature and human rights, and he’s the best version of us. Then there is Ilsa, begging for Rick’s help as the Europeans pled to the Americans to help.
Or you can stick to the barebones version of the story: one man learning to break free from his cynical prison to selflessly help others to achieve a greater good and to find peace with himself.
Watching the film through so many lenses makes for a classic movie that will age just fine. And Casablanca has aged excellently.
Movies are truly excellent.