Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Casablanca - Classic Review

There are a number of "classic" films that many would consider a prerequisite watch  before ever talking about or reviewing films seriously. Well, this reviewer has seen his fair share over the years but there are still a good number that remain unseen to these eyes. So, in an effort to right this wrong this review column has been created to document the first viewing of these "Golden Oldies of the Silver Screen" by this particular reviewer. The criteria for these reviews is the same as any other review and despite the historic signifigance of any one particular film, they will all be treated the same. That does not mean their status as a classic will be neglected, it just won't influence the final verdict on the film. These are the opinions of a film lover seeing these classics for the very first time. So, to get this ball rolling we are starting with the 1942 romance classic "Casablanca".

Review Vital Stats

Release Date: November 26, 1942 
Starring: Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman
Directed by: Michael Curtiz 
Total Lifetime Grosses: $2,875,243 figures courtesy of
Distributed by: Warner Brothers
Most memorable quote/moment: Rick telling Ilsa, "Here's looking at you kid".
Fun Fact: This was Humphrey Bogart's very first romantic lead role in a film.

"Casablanca" tells the story of Rick (Humphrey Bogart), an American who has been running his own bar/restaurant/lounge/casino called "Rick's Café Américain" in Morocco during the height of World War 2. Rick doesn't believe in choosing sides, he will turn on a fellow American or freedom fighter as quickly as he would a German soldier if it meant keeping himself out of trouble. He and his loyal pianist Sam (Dooley Wilson) have done well in keeping out of everyones way, making money and friends however they can to insure their own survival. Only after an incident involving two dead German couriers brings the local German Colonel to Casablanca do things start to spiral out of control for Rick when his long lost love Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) shows up at his bar out of nowhere seeking his help to get her husband, the Czech Resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) and herself out of the country before they are found and caught. Soon Rick is faced with a difficult decision, either continue his neutral status and do nothing or betray his longstanding loyalty to himself and risk everything for the only woman he has ever truly loved.

As the first film out the gate for this "classic film review" marathon, "Casablanca" is the perfect choice. Considered by many to be one of the best films of all time and appearing on countless best of all time lists, there isn't any other film that epitomizes what a true classic is like it. For all the praise thrown its way, it was surprising to realize just how simple of a film "Casablanca" actually is. It's themes are near universal, good versus evil, two men fighting for the love of one woman, a conflicted hero and all with the greatest war of modern times looming in the background. When watching the film for the first time it is important to keep in perspective that at the time of it's release in 1942, these are themes and ideas that weren't beaten to death like they are today and likely felt fresh and interesting compared to how we view them now. Problems arise however when someone has been subjected to endless retreads and repeats of these same themes and despite understanding the film's place in history, it becomes very difficult to look upon it without jaded eyes.

That is when the other aspects of the film begin to spring forth and either shine brightly or stick out like a sore thumb. Call it a sign of the times but the acting in "Casablanca" is just barely acceptable by today's standards. Humphrey Bogart is an American film icon, but that doesn't stop one from seeing his performance here as extremely one note and nearly lacking in all emotion. Rick is a guy who is supposed to be broken, a guy who loved a woman who broke his heart in the worst way possible, but there is no real discernible difference between how we see him in the present with how we see him in the past. Those flashbacks between Bogart and Bergman are supposed to sell us on the idea of their undying love for one another but instead it feels like two people pretending. With the entire film resting on their shoulders, this one moment in time just doesn't feel like enough to justify the conflicting character motivations that happen later.    

The hard truth of the matter is that there just isn't anything truly remarkable about "Casablanca". There wasn't really anything special about it when it was released and there still isn't. But with all that being said, if it's themes aren't exactly groundbreaking and the acting isn't anything particularly special then what exactly is it about "Casablanca" that has so many people enamored with it? Why has it's popularity persisted for so long? What makes the film such a joy to watch anymore is how well it captures and embodies everything we have come to love about classic filmmaking. Bogart's immortal lines such as "Here's lookin' at you kid", "We'll always have Paris" and "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship" are so memorable because of how they reflect a way simpler time in filmmaking when your leading man didn't need to bare his soul but instead just be cool.

As a slice of old school classic filmmaking, "Casablanca" is without equal. If you are fan of the old school filmmaking process then there are near limitless things to love about it. The corny dialogue, the calm and collected coolness of its leading man, the unmatched beauty of its leading lady, the tried and true story of a doomed romance, that style of filmmaking just wouldn't work today if someone were to attempt and replicate it now. It is near impossible to watch the film now and not judge it by today's standards. Its story of romance and intrigue at this point in time simply doesn't work because of how artificial it all feels. But just so long as you can view it as work of art from a bygone era of filmmaking, there is no reason why you shouldn't appreciate it for what it is.

In closing, "Casablanca" is a product of its time and while many of it's themes may resonate with audiences of today, its corny nature, wooden acting and lack of any sort of emotional impact relegate it to more of a curiosity than something someone would watch for pure entertainment. So, with all of that in mind, "Casablanca" is recommended for fans of classic cinema but all others should simply rent it if they feel so inclined to see what all the fuss is about on their own. It is a decent film, but not exactly the work of art it has been made out to be. It may not amount to a hill of beans, but it is worthy of its classic status regardless of its entertainment value or lack there of by today's standards.





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