By most accounts, this is considered to be the most perfect movie. It certainly is my father's favorite film of all-time and there are several reasons why. It is Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman on a cloudy runway. It is the haunting melody of the song "As Time Goes By." It is dramatic, romantic, iconic, stylish, powerful, gorgeous and...I could go on and on. You would think that with all of these adjectives (and more) that this film would place at #1. But that is not the case. Now, before the stones get thrown in my direction, I would remind you that this is a list of favorite movies. Were this a list of the greatest movies, this film would definitely place in the top 3. So, as sacrilegious as it is to say, there are 14 films I like better than Casablanca; but this movie is still a phenomenal treat every time I see it.
The story centers around the titular city during the German occupation of French territory (France had most of the territory of Morocco in the early part of the century). The city is a place for denizens and degenerates as they all try to make their way out of a city being taken over by Nazi rule. The authorities crack down on ways to get out and exit papers become very hard to obtain. At the popular bar Rick's, owned by slick American Rick Blaine (the dynamic Bogart), it is rumored that stolen exit papers are floating around. When an anti-Nazi activist named Victor Lazlo (played by Paul Henreid) walks into the "joint," the German authorities become nervous that Lazlo would get his hands on those stolen papers and flee the country with his wife, Ilsa (the glamorous Bergman). Ilsa happens to have a past with Rick. They were lovers in Paris while Victor was in a German prison. The intrigue, the romance and the film-noirish style encapsulate this brilliant masterpiece.
In addition to the powerful leads of Bogart, Bergman and Henreid, the film features a fantastic ensemble cast that each add to the mystery and atmosphere of the story. The supporting players include Claude Rains (in the role of French Police Captain Louis Renault), Sydney Greenstreet (as Rick's main competition in the city), Peter Lorre (as Ugarte, the man responsible for the stolen papers), Conrad Veidt (as the ruthless German officer) and the delightful Dooley Wilson (as Sam, Rick's piano-playing entertainer). The film is filled with so many great moments and lines (like "We'll always have Paris," "Round up the usual suspects!" and "Of all the gin-joints in all the world, she had to walk into mine."). Everyone remembers Rick's final speech to Ilsa on the runway. My personal favorite scene (and also my father's) is the one where the German officers are singing a German song loudly in the bar and Victor Lazlo goes over to the band and orders them to play "La Marseillaise," the French national anthem. As the band begins the first few notes, the entire bar (save the Germans) sing the rousing and patriotic hymn to chants of "Vive Le France!" It is an amazing film that lives in the lexicon of American cinema (as it should!).
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