Monday, August 30, 2010

Day Fifty-Nine: Casablanca

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #15
Year: 1942
Director: Michael Curtiz
Starring: Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman

As I'm sure is true for many people, Michael Curtiz's Casablanca was my introduction to classic cinema, to that lost era of Hollywood where black-and-white was the norm, Technicolor was unusual, and actors and actresses were called movie stars. I was immediately enamored by the film. I wanted to seek out more movies like it. The first things I noticed were the amazing screenplay – including Dooley Wilson's brilliant rendition of "As Time Goes By," which had this metalhead YouTubing Frank Sinatra for a week – and the less-is-more aesthetic that drives the picture. One setting, Rick's Cafe Americain, houses the vast majority of the screen time. The remainder is split between flashbacks to Paris, shots of Captain Renault's office, and The Blue Parrot, a rival nightclub owned by renowned human trafficker Signor Ferrari. With a fairly limited scope, the film's script is allowed to breathe free, and it's ten times better for it.

There's probably no more essential movie in the history of film than Casablanca. That isn't the same as calling it the greatest film of all time, because, while it's close, I don't believe that it's quite that. But for one to have truly have an understanding of cinematography, of screenwriting, of soundtrack, of acting, and indeed, of Hollywood itself, Casablanca is mandatory viewing. It wasn't the first great talking picture – that was All Quiet on the Western Front – or the most ambitious at its time – that probably goes to either Gone With the Wind or The Wizard of Oz – but in 1942, there was no better movie than Casablanca, and it would be decades before a better one was made. Everything that people see movies for is present and executed to perfection, and with a concise 100-minute running time, it doesn't overstay its welcome in the slightest.

It would be pretty easy for a film with a reputation as good as Casablanca's to become overrated, but for once, the hushed, reverential tones with which a classic movie is discussed are completely justified. Anyone worth their salt on movies loves, or at least respects, Casablanca. It tells a great story, and doubles as a parable in support of U.S. involvement in the Second World War without ever feeling like propaganda. Humphrey Bogart's Rick Blaine is one of the all-time greatest cool guys in film, and Ingrid Bergman perfectly plays his love interest and female counterpart, Ilsa. This movie has been referenced and aped and parodied so many times, that even first-time viewers will feel like they've seen it before; it's a part of the collective unconscious at this point. For anyone who has yet to actually sit down and watch it, though, the experience will still be incredibly rewarding. It's one of the greatest movies of all time. 'Nuff said.

The Good: There's a number of things that could be said here, but I think the screenplay stands out. No movie had more quotes on the AFI "100 Years...100 Quotes" list, and even though I normally hate AFI, that list is pretty good.

The Bad: A few of the alleged nationalities are extremely unconvincing and it'll be hard not to think of damn near everyone in the movie as American. That's not a big issue, though. It's not like they were going to subtitle the whole thing for realism's sake.

The Skinny: The top 15 is very, very high for any movie, but this one actually deserves it.

1 comment:

  1. I love this movie. The scene in the bar when the nazis are singing their anthem and the town people are singing "Les Mersailles" is seriously one of the most amazing scenes in film history. Lots of great acting in this movie and it's ok if you know the ending because you still don't know the movie.
    Not many films can claim that.