by Brad Nelson 10/22/17
This is not a full and complete review of Casablanca, although it should serve as a launching point for further discussion. I posted this on Facebook in 2010. It’s nothing special. I’m still not the writer I need to be to tackle this review. But here are those few thoughts (slightly edited) from the Wayback Machine:
One movie I’ve wanted to review, but haven’t yet, is Casablanca. I’m intimidated by it. This movie is brought to mind because I caught it on a movie channel last night. I was again blown away by it. Eloquence is lost. It’s like one of those Warner Brothers cartoons where the gorgeous blond walks in front of a line of construction-worker cartoon wolves and their eyes bulge out and their tongues roll out and smoke comes out of their ears. If they speak at all, a wolf whistle is as eloquent as they can get in the face of overwhelming beauty.
To me, Casablanca is the quintessential movie. (Eloquence may yet be coming. I used a five-dollar word). There is TV. There is theatre. There are books, commercials, radio, documentaries, and all kinds of media. But Casablanca is a form unto itself.
When I came to the end of Casablanca I thought, This is one of the Platonic Forms, a basic element, not a derivative of anything. It’s got great characters, a great story, great music, a great ending. (I’m wolf-whistling “great,” but I can’t help it.) It’s got the most amazing dialogue. [Editor: I sounded a bit like Trump back in 2010.] Almost every line has become a cliche in popular culture, and yet in the movie these lines work smoothly and perfectly. Rarely, if ever, are the lines self-consciously delivered.
It’s difficult to say something unique about Casablanca, but after viewing it this time I was struck by how magnificently the dark and the light, the romantic and the deadly, the selfish and the selfless, the dirty nitty-gritty of petty lives and the grandness of great things were all so seamlessly woven together.
Perhaps this is the backbone of Casablanca and why it is able to soar to such heights. It encompasses so many themes and memorable characters. In lesser hands, the character of Ilsa Lund (played by Ingrid Bergman) would have been little more than a flippant girlish Carmen Diaz chick-flickish dolt. But Ilsa Lund is deeper and makes the light and shadows of this black-and-white picture as stylish as any Technicolor flick. This is Bergman’s best film and, frankly, I can’t think of her in another role that I enthusiastically like except for her role as Sister Benedict in The Bells of St. Mary’s.
Bergman, to me, normally comes off as too much — too stylistic, hovering far above having real human emotions. But in Casablanca she is perfect and engaging. She’s vulnerable. She’s cruel. She’s desperate. She’s in love. She’s confused. She’s in control. And, at the end, she’s completely in the hands of others. She was a complex female form before modern feminism reduced women to mere one-dimensonal political toys. And although I’ve seen Bogart in many great films, I don’t think he’s been better than in Casablanca. This is an elegant movie, as weighty and dangerous as it may be sometimes. And Bogie and Bergman light the screen up. I don’t think this kind of chemistry can be planned. It just happens.
It shouldn’t matter what goes on behind the scenes in terms of enjoying a movie, but I’m struck by the fact that the filmmakers didn’t come up with the ending until quite late. I think the initial script had Rick flying off with Ilsa. And then it went through a few more re-writes. It was worth the effort for this is the best ending of any movie ever made. It’s not a happy ending, per se. It’s not a gadget ending, which is the plague of so many movies. It’s just an ending that takes all that has come before it and weaves it into a clever, plausible, and surprising conclusion. It is the fine dessert at the end of a sumptuous meal. It is the cannons at the end of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. It is the rainbow at the end of a thunderous storm. [Editor: It’s the “yuge” before the Trump.]
This movie is as good as it gets. Magnificent.
Brad is editor and chief disorganizer of StubbornThings.
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