Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca (1942) falls into that special category of all-time greats, a phrase that has become so ubiquitous that it fails to capture the sheer excellence of the film. Starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, Casablanca has saturated the public consciousness, even for those who are yet to see it. The Park Circus 70th Anniversary rerelease gives a whole new generation the opportunity to see what is arguably one of the greatest film ever made.
Set for the majority in a popular Casablancan nightclub owned by the highly cynical American expatriate Rick Blaine (Bogart) during the Second World War, the North African city was an unoccupied sanctuary for Europeans escaping the Nazi jackboot and fleeing to America. When Rick’s old flame Ilsa (Bergman) arrives with her husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), a resistance leader seeking to escape, it is up to Rick to help them – but will he? Casablanca is infamous for many reasons. The classic line “Play it again, Sam,” is often wrongly attributed to the film but is never actually said, and the closing scene is perhaps one of the finest examples of on-screen romance ever filmed.
From Bogey’s cynical performance as Rick, living by the code “I stick my neck out for nobody”, to Bergman’s passionate portrayal of Ilsa, Curtiz’s film screams quality from start to finish. Made in ’42, Casablanca has an obvious political edge – the theme of occupation is prominent, yet ultimately dwarfed by the beautifully-told love story. The production history of the film makes its popularity all the more impressive – made on a stringent budget and given a relatively small theatrical release, Warner Brothers could never have expected that, 70 years on, it would still be so popular.
There are still some issues for modern audiences. Rick is an unbridled macho chauvinist and Ilsa a somewhat weak female archetype, living through the men she loves. Yet Casablanca offers up a world of higher ideals, of strong men with morals and loving woman willing to risk all for what is right. With such great subject matter, timeless performances and an iconic soundtrack, Casablanca is, and will forever remain, a cinematic classic.