(United States, 1942)
It may come as a surprise to some readers that I was 25 years old when I first saw Casablanca. That was after I had started reviewing movies, when the film enjoyed a limited re-release in 1992 for its 50th anniversary. At the time, I wrote the following in an unpublished review: "Many of the classic films of the 30s and 40s, when examined by today's movie-making standards, don't hold up well. Casablanca bucks the trend, proving that it's a classic. It is every bit as entertaining on the big screen today as it must have been 50 years ago when it was first released." A little na´ve, perhaps, but true nonetheless. I initially gave the film ***1/2, but revised that to **** a few years later, after I had been given the opportunity to watch the movie several more times on laserdisc. Like countless others, I loved Casablanca the first time I saw it, but subsequent viewings deepened my appreciation, and it soared in my estimation. It truly is one of the greatest, most timeless American movie classics to have come before Hollywood's cameras. This is one instance when I am in step with just about every other critic and movie-lover who has ever made a Top 100 list. Casablanca is not only on most of them, but many have it ranked as high as (or higher than) I do.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
Casablanca takes place about a year after the Germans invaded France. Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) and her husband, Czech freedom fighter Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), wander into Rick's Cafe in Casablanca. The two are on the run from the Nazis, and have come to the American-owned nightspot to lie low. But the German-controlled local government, headed by Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains), is on the move, and Laszlo has to act quickly to get the letters of transit he came for, then escape. Little does Ilsa know that the cafe is run by Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), the one true love of her life. When the two see each other, sparks fly, and memories of an enchanted time in Paris come flooding back.
It's probably no stretch to say that Casablanca, arguably America's best-loved movie, has had more words written about it than any other motion picture. Over the years, the legends and rumors surrounding the making of the film have generated almost as much attention as the finished product. It's not much of a stretch to say that Hollywood doesn't make movies like this any more, because the bittersweet ending has gone the way of black-and-white cinematography. One of the things that makes Casablanca unique is that it stays true to itself without giving in to commonly held perceptions of crowd-pleasing tactics. And because of this, not despite it, Casablanca has become known as one of the greatest movies ever made. Although just about everyone involved with this legendary motion picture has departed this life, the film itself has withstood the test of more than a half-century to rise, like cream, to the top. One can only imagine that, in another fifty years, its position in the hierarchy of all-time greats will be even higher.
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