Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Berman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre
Oscar Wins: Best Picutre, Best Director (Michael Curtiz), Best Writing, Screenplay (Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, Howard Koch)
Oscar Nominations: Best Actor (Humphrey Bogart), Best Supporting Actor (Claude Rains), Best Cinematography (Arthur Edeson), Best Film Editing (Owen Marks), Best Music, Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Max Steiner)
SUMMARY: In 1941, Casablanca (in French Morocco) is full of Europeans trying to go to America to escape the Nazis. As such, it is also full of police from Vichy France, Italy and Germany. One of the few people not trying to escape is Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), and American who now owns and operates a nightclub/casino in Casablanca. At the time of the film, the city is in an uproar because two German couriers have been murdered, and the letters of transit they were carrying have been stolen. These letters are an extremely valuable commodity, since they will allow the bearers to leave the country and travel through German-occupied territories completely unopposed. Not long after the letters are stolen, a small-time criminal named Ugarte (Peter Lorre) shows up at Rick’s Café and announces it is he that has the letters. He asks Rick to hide them temporarily for him: Rick takes the papers and puts them in the club’s piano. Ugarte intends to retrieve the papers in a few hours, but is arrested before he can do so. Later, Ugarte dies without revealing the location of the letters. More trouble arrives at Rick’s in the form of Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) and her husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). Laszlo is from Czechoslovakia, and is a leading figure in the Resistance. He had been captured by the Germans and put into a concentration camp, but managed to escape. The Germans are aware of his identity, and his presence in Casablanca, but have nothing to arrest him on. Instead, they intend to make sure that he does not leave Casablanca to continue his anti-German activities. However, Rick is more concerned with Laszlo’s wife, Ilsa. Later that night, Rick reveals that he and Ilsa had met in Paris, and had quickly become a couple. With the imminent arrival of the Nazis, they decided to escape together, but when the day arrived, Ilsa did not show up. Rick never saw her again, until the night she walked into his club.
Laszlo and Ilsa have come to Rick’s club because they believe he has the letters of transit, which provide virtually the only way for them to get out of Casablanca. Laszlo offers to buy the papers from Rick at any cost, but Rick, still bitter over Ilsa’s betrayal, refuses to sell them. At the same time, a group of Germans in the club has begun singing one of their Nazi songs, putting an obvious damper on the mood of the other patrons. An irate Laszlo orders the band to play “La Marseillaise”, the French national anthem: when Rick gives his approval, the entire club starts singing along, eventually drowning out the Nazis. The Nazi leader of the area, Major Strasser, retaliates by forcing Vichy Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) to close the club. Rick has refused to sell the papers to Laszlo, but Ilsa believes that she may be able to talk him into it. She visits the closed club that night, and tries to force him into handing over the papers. Rick calls her bluff, and Ilsa confesses that she still loves him. She then tells him what happened in Paris: she had believed that Laszlo had been killed in the concentration camp, and so had begun a relationship with Rick. The same night they were to leave Paris, Ilsa learned that Laszlo was really alive. She immediately left Rick and went to Laszlo, who was very sick. With Ilsa’s confession of her feelings, Rick decides to help Laszlo get away, since Ilsa clearly wants to stay with him. Not long after this, Laszlo arrives at the club, having narrowly escaped the Nazis who are chasing him (they interrupted a Resistance meeting). Aware that he is about to be arrested, and of the chemistry between Ilsa and Rick, Laszlo asks Rick to take Ilsa to safety. Minutes later, Laszlo is arrested. Rick arranges for his release by striking a deal with the admittedly corrupt Renault: in return for Laszlo’s release now, Rick will set him up to take the fall for the stolen letters of transit later. However, when Renault arrives to arrest Laszlo, as planned, Rick forces Renault to help the escape attempt. Laszlo boards the escape plane, while Ilsa remains with Rick. Just before the plane begins taxiing, Rick puts Ilsa on the plane with her husband, telling her that if she remains with him, she will eventually regret it. As the plane takes off, Major Strasser arrives to arrest Laszlo. When he figures out what has happened, Strasser tries to call in reinforcements: Rick then shoots him. When the police do arrive, Renault tells them to round up the usual suspects, even though he knows Rick is responsible. As he and Rick walk away from the runway, Renault suggests that they join the Free French resistance together.
MY TAKE: This is yet another movie in contention for the “greatest movie ever made” title (others include Gone With the Wind, Citizen Kane, The Godfather and The Wizard of Oz). The funny part is that like a lot of other great movies, the actors didn’t think it was anything special when they were filming it. There’s nothing really extraordinary about the movie, in terms of there not being any crazy special effects or stunts: despite the presence of the Nazis, the biggest confrontation comes when in the club when everybody is singing. It’s hard to pinpoint why this movie is so special, and still has such a pull over people. I think it’s probably a combination of the reformation of Rick, the love story, and the resistance to the Nazis. It’s kind of a bittersweet inspirational story, since Rick ultimately decides that Ilsa belongs with Laszlo, not him. Due to the fact that this movie was actually made during World War II, there is some interesting trivia regarding Nazis and Germans. First of all, most of the actors that played Nazis in the film were actually German Jews who had escaped from the Nazis. This includes Conrad Veidt, who played Major Strasser. He was not Jewish himself, but his wife and many of his friends were: in fact, he fled Germany because the SS put a price on his head. Veidt, who also played the somnambulist in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, specifically requested to play only villains in his contract, because he thought playing a Nazi would help the war against them. Since many of the actors were actual refugees, the scene where La Marseillaise is sung over the Nazi song caused a lot of them to become really emotional – the tears you can see in their eyes are real. In another interesting note, the famous airport scene is not what it appears to be, again because of the war. The crew couldn’t film at an airport after dark, so they had to use a soundstage. To create the illusion of depth, the plane was a small cardboard cutout: the people that appear to be working on the plane are little people. On a completely unrelated note (it has nothing to do with the war), there was a problem with the height difference between the two leads – Ingrid Bergman was 5’9”, Humphrey Bogart was 5’8”. Consequently, the director used several different methods to make Bogie appear taller, including shoe lifts, boxes and even pillows (which he stood on) – he even had Bergman slouch on occasion, which you can see in the scene where she is sitting on the couch with Bogie during one scene. As a result, in the movie, the height difference between them changes a lot. The film is also responsible for a lot of famous movie lines, including what is probably the most misquoted line. Many people think that the line is, “Play it again, Sam,” and is spoken by Bogart. In reality, it is Bergman who says, “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By’.” Later, Rick says, “You played it for her, you can play it for me. If she can take it, I can take it so play it!” The line from Ilsa, along with five other lines, made it onto AFI’s list of 100 Years, 100 Quotes. The quotes, and their placement on the list, are listed below.
“Here’s looking at you, kid.” (#5) — reportedly an add-on from Bogart that was not in the script
“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” (#20)
“Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By’.” (#28)
“Round up the usual suspects.” (#32)
“We’ll always have Paris.” (#43)
“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” (#68)
Extra note: After the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, the Marseillaise clip has enjoyed renewed popularity — people have been sharing it on Facebook and the like.
RATING: A classic that lives up to its reputation.