a beautiful friendship . . .

Making the best of black and white choices

Published: Jan 13 2014, 01:01:am

Friday, May 8, 1992.
CASABLANCA. Written by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch. Based on the stage play Everybody Goes to Rick's by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. Music by Max Steiner. Directed by Michael Curtiz. Running time: 102 minutes. General entertainment.
    Casablanca. Bogart and Bergman. La Marseillaise and As Time Goes By.
    Moonlight and love songs, never out of date . . .
    OK. Just take a deep breath and relax.
    We're in the presence of an entertainment classic. Everybody who goes to Rick's knows that it all comes together in the perfect Hollywood movie.
        Critics acknowledge its flawless craft. In his 1981 book Cult Movies, Dan Peary notes that "it contains almost every element that would appear on an audience checklist: "Action, adventure, bravery, danger, espionage, exotic locale, friendship, gunplay, humour, intrigue, a love triangle, a masculine hero, a mysterious heroine, patriotism, politics (without being too political), romance, sentimentality, a theme song, a time factor, a venomous villain, and war."
    All these are in the story of Richard Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), the disillusioned American adventurer who, in December, 1941, is running a gin joint in unoccupied French Morocco. He survives and prospers because "I stick my neck out for nobody."
    Rick's past becomes present when Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) arrives. His ex-lover, she is on the run from the Nazis with her husband, legendary European resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid).
    Pressuring local prefect of police Louis Renault (Claude Rains) to detain the Laszlos is German Major Heinrich Strasser (Conrad Veidt). Pressuring Rick to help them is the radiant Ilsa.
    Its timing was just right, the casting perfect and Max Steiner's music superb. Under the unerringly professional direction of Michael Curtiz, Casablanca was an all-American assembly-line masterpiece.
    Its immediate success was validated with 1942's best picture Oscar (though it actually premiered on November 26, 1941). Its continued popularity has won it classic status.
    Remarkably, Casablanca's overall impact remains undiminished by time or circumstances. See it today and you realize that Rick faces the archetypal hero's "catch-22."
    Once lovers, Rick and Ilsa remain in love. Emotionally torn, she comes to him on the verge of collapse. "I don't know what's right any longer," she sighs."You'll have to think for both of us. For all of us."
    Rick knows what's right. His dilemma is that if he gives in to his own desire, he will no longer be the man that Ilsa really loves. If he insists that she stand by her man, Laszlo, she will continue to love him.
    See Casablanca today and you see a picture that speaks to our need for leaders. Watch "poor corrupt official" Louis Renault and you realize that he really wants to be a better man than he is. (Don't we all?)
    The fact that Rick was once much better, and is now a fallen soul, serves as an excuse for slick Louis. Even so, he'd prefer Rick as an example, a call to his own suppressed decency.
    There are those who argue that Casablanca is not, strictly speaking, great art.
    Perhaps not. But it's what we all like.
    Rated General, Casablanca opens today for an engagement to mark its 50th anniversary at the Varsity Theatre.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1992. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: The last time I looked, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) offered links to 218 external reviews of Casablanca. You could fill a book just listing the references to the film in other books about the movies and movie business. Before there were videocassettes, a film enthusiast named Richard J. Anobile produced a mass-market edition of Casablanca (1974) in book form that offered "over 1,500 frame blow-ups; every scene; every word of dialogue." The 1992 50th anniversary was accompanied by such books as Turner Classics' Casablanca: As Time Goes By, Harlan Lebo's Casablanca: Behind the Scenes, Jeff Siegel's The Casablanca Companion and Aljean Harmetz's exhaustive Round up the Usual Suspects: The Making of Casablanca — Bogart, Bergman & World War II. Then there is As Time Goes By (a book I plan to read someday), a 1998 novel written as a "sequel" to Casablanca by an American author improbably named Michael Walsh. To date, the movie has generated two single-season TV series (in 1955 and 1983), and has been referred to in countless feature film and TV series episodes. At one point my favourite was Woody Allen's Play It Again, Sam (1972), in which Bogart's shade (played by lookalike actor Jerry Lacy) helps a hapless film critic (Allen) find romance with Diane Keaton. Today, I'm holding out for a new take on its "same old story" on one of the many imaginative television series currently being made.