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May 19, 2013

Casablanca (1942)
Director: Michael Curtiz
Actors: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid


Synopsis: Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is a dissolute American emigré wiling away his time in Casablanca – a city intriguingly pitched at the fringes of WW2, being part of a non-occupied French Morocco. His old flame, Ilse Lund (Ingrid Bergman), arrives in town with her new husband – famed resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). Laszlo is a wanted man by the Nazi authorities, but Rick has it in him to secure Ilse and Laszlo’s safe passage to Lisbon.

Review: Beneath its hard-boiled, fatalistic, quasi-noirish veneer, Casablanca is a film steeped in sentimentality. Its opening is unquestionably brilliantly though, as it makes a clever geo-historical feature of Casablanca being the nexus where the dregs of society are escaping the ‘hot’ arenas of WW2. The film is at its best in those opening moments as the chaos of Casablanca is conveyed, and Michael Curtiz takes us through Rick’s bar with aplomb – using tracking shots and floating casually around the various players as all their respective agendas in Morocco become clear. There’s also a particularly lovely pair of support roles for the greats, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre.

At the risk of committing cinematic heresy, there are some small problems with Casablanca. One is in the characterisation of Claude Rains’ corrupt French-Moroccan. Though it’s a lovely performance by Rains, the character ventriloquises the film’s wish to be sugar-coatedly cynical and world-weary. It’s also funny how one of his character’s persistent mantras is how Humphrey Bogart’s Rick is far more sentimental than his heavy-drinking, sardonic persona would let on, yet this subplot about Rick’s bruised emotional core is telegraphed throughout.  (May 2013)

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