Casablanca (1942) / Drama-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG for some mature themes
Running Time: 105 min.
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Heinreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre
Director: Michael Curtiz
Screenplay: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, Howard Koch (based on the play, "Everybody Comes to Rick's" by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison)
Don't say a word -- I know exactly what you're thinking. What kind of critic do I purport to be if I give the greatest film ever made only 4 out of 5 stars? Yes, I see you all shaking your heads in disbelief that I could give the same less-than-perfect rating to Gone with the Wind. The worst part of reviewing a great classic film is that, if you give it anything less than the highest rating possible, you spend more time talking about what you feel is wrong with it than what's right and it comes off as sounding like a negative review, even if you think the movie is very good.
After having watched Casablanca, I was depressed that I did not find within it whatever qualities that others have found such reverence for. Perhaps more viewings will reveal it to me in the future, but I've seen this film five times already (as of this writing) and each time I'm left with the same feeling: it's a very good, well-written film, but less than the greatest film ever made. I would not blame anyone for disagreeing with my assessment, but in my reviews, I always strive to be honest and consistent within my own beliefs.
Casablanca is set In the middle of WWII in Casablanca, a part of unoccupied France, where an American former freedom fighter named Rick (Bogart, The Maltese Falcon) runs a popular nightclub. This club is frequented by people who've made the long journey in order to try to get passage to America, away from the Third Reich's iron-fisted rule. Rick happens to get a hold of a couple of letters of transit, which allow unquestioned travel out of Casablanca which can never be revoked -- very valuable stuff indeed. The Nazis are also in town, with the local French police captain (Rains, Lawrence of Arabia) doing everything he can to appease them. Things get tense when an underground Czech rebel named Victor Laszlo (Henreid, Now Voyager) arrives, and along with him is Ilsa (Bergman, Spellbound), a former love of Rick's who deserted him in Paris some years back. Ilsa needs the letters of transit before Victor is sent to a concentration camp, but the embittered Rick is still angry at her, causing emotional strife for all players involved.
Casablanca is a well-made, intelligent film, strengthened by terrific performances and flavorful characters that are the highlight of the eternally-quotable script, not to mention it contains the forever memorable song "As Time Goes By". As a film, it's perfectly directed and brilliantly edited, with almost no scene or character shown needlessly, always progressing the story or giving more information about certain characters.
So why not 5 stars? Unfortunately, for as well-made as I found Casablanca, it never transcended to another level for me. While I enjoyed the film thoroughly, and very highly recommend it, I found myself feeling rather aloof to the goings-on despite the undeniably compelling moments. Although I may have personally found it not to seem worthy of all of the immense critical acclaim it has received over the many years, don't let that put you off. Casablanca is still a must-watch classic film, particularly for fans of the two leads.
©1999 Vince Leo