Saturday, 13 May 2017

Casablanca (1942)

Fig 1 - Casablanca Poster
Directed by Michael Curtiz, Casablanca begins in the titular Moroccan city in 1941. The second world war has left many European refugees stranded in the as-yet unoccupied territory, bringing much business to the American-run nightclub "Rick's Café Américain". The club's owner, Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), is world-weary and exclusive in the company that he keeps. However, when Rick is given responsibility over some much-coveted visa documentation stolen from German couriers, he is thrust into an unexpected quandary which shakes the foundations of the life he has made for himself in Africa. Proceedings escalate further when a former lover, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), and her husband find themselves in Rick's club after she abandoned him many years prior. German forces have been tracking Ilsa's husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) across Europe in the hope of divulging intelligence regarding the resistance. Rick has been commanded by Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) not to let Laszlo leave the country, though it is clear that the sudden presence of an old flame is at the forefront of Rick's priorities...

The film won the Oscar for Outstanding Motion Picture at the 16th Academy Awards and has since cemented itself in cinematic history as one of the greatest, and endlessly quotable, films of all time. I had always been aware of Casablanca's honourable reputation, though I did admittedly settle into the film with the trepidation that accompanies such a renowned work of art. Needless to say, the film was an absolute joy to behold. I am particularly glad to say this considering many of the stars of The Maltese Falcon (1941) played a part in the film, which I worried would affect my ability to enjoy it. However, it only further justified my perspective of that film specifically, whereas Casablanca showcases it's cast in a much more satisfying way.

Fig 2 - Casablanca - Rick and Sam
For me, the element that felt most pertinent to the film's success came from the establishment of atmosphere. Though there is some expository narration in the beginning, the refugee situation is clearly outlined and immediately brings us to the smaller scale of things. We flit between discussions in Rick's club between expats who are eager to travel to the still-neutral America, who complain of how difficult attaining a visa has become and hush their voices as German soldiers walk by. Tensions between the rival nations boil over in a significant scene, in which the German soldiers have taken over the club's signature piano. They are seen belting out a patriotic German anthem ("Die Wacht am Rhein") which is soon overhauled by Laszlo, who strikes up a chorus of "La Marseillaise" amongst the crowd. The French anthem drowns out the Germans in a moment that is too beautiful to describe, and perfectly captures the strength and endurance of those who still remain.

Furthermore, the cast are pretty spectacular in their respective roles. In-particular Humphrey Bogart, who captures the troubled yet soft character of Rick Blaine with a much more nuanced charm than I had previously seen of his work. Ingrid Bergman is similarly captivating in her conflicted role as a romantic interest torn between the two lives that the war has forced upon her. However for me, Claude Rains as Captain Louis Renault was the most fun to watch in a role that essentially amounts to the 'comic relief' (or as close to it as the circumstances could permit). Renault has a promiscuous way about him and flaunts his corruption in subtle remarks, as well as being responsible for some of the biggest laughs of the film.

Overall, I found that Casablanca lived up to it's reputation entirely. It's memorable characters and veritable "joie de vivre" in the face of adversity makes the film a joy at every turn, leaving oneself with an unruly sense of satisfaction at it's climax. Tinkey tonk old fruit, and down with the nazis.


Fig. 1 Casablanca Poster (1942) From: Casablanca - Directed by: Michael Curtiz

Fig. 2 Casablanca Screenshot (1942) From: Casablanca - Directed by: Michael Curtiz

No comments:

Post a Comment