Reviewed on: March 30, 2024
1st time watch

Genre: Drama, Romance, Noir
dir. by: Michael Curtiz
Released: January 23, 1943

a classic for a reason

This contemporary drama, filmed and set during the start of World War II, is considered by many to be one of most significant and greatest films of all time. It takes place in the Vichy France-occupied city of Casablanca, where war refugees call home as they try desperately to escape from the German empire encroaching upon Europe. The film focuses on the seemingly neutral saloon owner, Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart). When Rick crosses paths with an old lover and a rebel leader, he must decide where his values lie.

Though I would not go into the film expecting the greatest movie of all time (I wouldn't suggest that for any film), I do agree Casablanca is a must-see influential film. Don't let the black-and-white and lack of action make you think this is a pretentious film by any means. It's actually a pretty straight-forward romp with memorable writing, suspenseful plot, and masterful cinematography. It's a film I can recommend to anyone if they're willing to give it a chance.

"here's looking at you, kid"

I remember when I told my friends I was watching Casablanca, they thought it sounded pretentious. As if it was an arthouse film or 3-hour character study (not that I'd be opposed to that). But the film is actually a pretty clean 1 1/2 hour crowd pleaser. Though it may not have action, the movie kept me more than entertained with its snappy dialogue. Every character snaps back with jests and one-liners in such a natural way. The film is full of funny jokes and clever zingers that inspire you to rewatch to catch them all. And though there aren't many location sets, each one is packed with detail and coziness.

I would describe this movie as very cozy and feel-good despite its bleak setting. Much of the film features crowded saloon scenes where characters and background actors alike excude a mix of melancholy and joy. It really immerses you in this setting. You can feel the desperation of the Casablancan refugees but also revel in the fun they have despite their unfortunate circumstances.

"the usual suspects"

The characters are great, as I've said their witty dialogue is the highlight of the movie. I enjoy how the film uses the characters to each represent larger-than-life concepts. The resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) is the charismatic symbol of proactive good in the world; and likewise Cpt. Renault (Claude Rains), the embodiment of immoral cynicism. And in between it all is the lead, Rick Blaine.

Rick Blaine is your archetypal pessimist with a secret soft spot. In this tumultuous time, Rick tries to remain neutral, which is obviously a hard thing to do when one of the two sides are literal Nazis. Without spoiling too much, he goes through a satisfying development through the story that leads to a great climax.

His love interest, the mysterious Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), is the most interesting character in the film, in my opinion. Though she doesn't have much agency, being a woman in a 1940's noir film after all, she has a lot more to her than meets the eye compared to other more archetypal characters. She's a tragic character who has to choose between her own personal desires and the greater good, and she doesn't always land on the "right thing." But this messiness made her feel the most human to me, and I would definitely call her my favorite character of the film.

watch it with context in mind

An important aspect to keep in mind during this movie is that this is not a historical fiction. The film released right in the middle of the war, back when victory over the Axis Powers wasn't actually guaranteed. Obviously, the film made 80 years ago isn't perfect.

It is nice seeing an old film with a black main character, pianist Sam No-last-name (Dooley Wilson), who is a genuinely good guy that gets treated well; but neither he, nor any non-white characters, really get anything to do besides be in the background and play music.

The major conflict of the setting is also very simplified. The film is a bit innacurate about the extent of how awful the Nazis were. But, that can be forgiven since the film was made towards the beginning of the war before the monstrous activities of the Nazis were truly known. But, it does take a clear stand against fascism. Although... the film, which takes place in the French-colonized Morocco, never really examines any of that colonialism as wrong. French colonialism is just seen as a totally neutral thing, not given another thought.

Granted, I don't point out these things to say the movie sucks for it. It's just good to keep these things in mind as you are watching this time capsule of a film. And despite the innacuracies in the film (I'm pretty sure letters of transit don't work like that), the film is timeless for its clear themes.

a message that's still relevant today

It was revolutionary to release this film in the midst of the war, because it's not really just about romance. It's a story about how you can't fall into complacency and neutrality. My favorite quote from the film is "Each of us has a destiny. For good, or for evil." The film shows how neutrality isn't an apolitical position; it's a position that sides with the oppressor because it means you accept injustice as the status quo. The honorable thing to do is not to be neutral, and to take a stand. And I think that message is one that is as relevant today as it was back then, unfortunately. For that reason, I think this film will always be timeless.

I'm not gonna go as far as to say it's near my favorite films, but I think anyone who cares about movies owes it to themselves to watch it once. And, I definitely would like to rewatch it in the future. It's very significant to the medium and also is just a genuinely great, easy watch!

miscellaneous points

  • It's pretty clear that Rick Blaine is supposed to be analogous to the United States during WWII. Dude literally runs the Cafe Americain and starts out being neutral towards everything. But, at the end, he learns to stop being a dick and fight the fascists. They even point out that he used to be a revolutionary kinda guy before becoming complacent. I don't know if I'd call America having always been the good guy throughout history but hey sure. The fact that the movie did this in the middle of the war when it was more controversial is sick. That takes guts.
  • Renault's redemption at the end was unexpected but pretty hype. Despite the tragic end to the romance, the ending is surprisingly feel-good.
  • So many cool lines in this movie I'm just gonna list some of my favorites.
    • "You despise me, don't you?" "If I gave you any thought, I probably would."
    • "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in the world, she walks into mine."
    • "What kind of man is Cpt. Renault?" "Just like any other man, only more so."
    • "We'll always have Paris. We didn't have it. We'd lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night."
    • "When I said I would never leave you-" "And you never will..." (this one hit me in the feels)
    • "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
      (I've heard this line referenced so many times in other media. Glad to finally know where it came from.)

final recommendation


If you enjoy:

  • snappy, romantic dialogue and witty characters
  • historical fiction
  • cozy vibes and immersive sets
  • film as an artform

it's well worth watching!

If you dislike:

  • lots of talking
  • melodramatic white people

nah i still recommend it, it's worthwhile






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