"Casablanca" comes closer to perfection than any other
film that I have seen, and is probably the best film
ever made. "Casablanca" has everything: a great script,
a great cast, and outstanding cinematography and direction.
If you are reading this, you've probably seen the film
several times. "Casablanca" stars Humphrey Bogart as
Rick, who owns a popular nightclub in Casablanca, Morocco.
The film takes place during World War II, and the Nazis
have taken France. Morocco is a French territory.
Casablanca is filled with refugees trying to escape
Nazi influence, and there is a black market for exit visas.
Deeply cynical Rick tries to suppress his anti-Nazi sentiments,
as does corrupt official Claude Rains. Peter Lorre and
Sydney Greenstreet are simply profiteers. Conrad Veidt
plays a dislikable Nazi officer, who is chasing fugitive
Paul Henreid. Henreid is married to lovely Ilsa (Ingrid
Bergman), who once had an affair with Rick. Rick, whose
motto is "I don't stick my neck out for nobody", is asked
to help Henreid escape. He is also tempted to resume his
romance with Ilsa.
What makes "Casablanca" possibly the best film ever made?
The most important element is the script, which is the
most quoted in film history. The script was based on
an obscure unproduced play, "Everybody comes to Rick's",
and according to legend was written hastily during filming.
But more than in any other movie, the script brings out
the depth of the characters, with Veidt's contemptible Nazi
as the only stereotype. Even minor supporting actors,
such as piano player Sam (Dooley Wilson) and desperate
refugee Annina (Joy Page) are made real.
The glorious black and white cinematography is the
second most important element. The cinematographer was
Arthur Edeson, who was also behind the camera for two of the
best films from the 1930s, "All Quiet on the Western Front"
and "Mutiny on the Bounty". But of course the shots were
under the Director's supervision. The director was
Michael Curtiz, who remains relatively obscure despite
his body of work, over 150 films including "The Adventures
of Robin Hood", "Angels with Dirty Faces", "Yankee Doodle
Dandy" and "Life with Father". These famous films are all
very different, ranging from crime drama to comedy to
adventure to musical, showing the range that Curtiz had.
As great as the cast is, it is less important than
the script and cinematography. Rains should have won
Best Supporting Actor, while Bogart and Bergman
are inseparable from their roles. Lorre is probably
my all-time favorite character actor. "Casablanca"
was key to Bogart's subsequent career as an anti-hero
male lead, as he previously was noted for supporting
roles portraying gangsters.
Copyright © 1997 Brian Koller