by Carlos Tseng
Most people will probably already be familiar with Michael Curtiz’s wartime classic, or at least heard of it. But, what is it about Casablanca that makes audiences want to revisit it over and over again? After all, the ending isn’t exactly a happy one, and many critics continue to regard this as nothing more than Hollywood propaganda. Nevertheless, Casablanca retains its charm even 75 years after its first release.
Admittedly, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Casablanca when I first watched it. I found the pacing rather off, and the story just felt a bit bland. We are introduced to Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), a man who owns a nightclub in Casablanca. Here, he is reunited with his first love, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) who asks Sam to play ‘As Time Goes By’, a song which deeply haunts Rick. Upon their reunion, Rick also notices Ilsa’s husband Victor Lazslo (Paul Henreid) and the audience is introduced to the awkward love triangle that exists in the narrative. To make things more complicated, this all happens during World War II and inner conspiracies begin to come to light, as the locals begin to flee Casablanca.
Curtiz’s film garnered 3 Academy Awards (Picture, Director and Supporting Actor for Claude Rains) following its wide release. There are many memorable moments in Casablanca including ‘As Time Goes By’, and its grand spectacle in general. But, for me, Ingrid Bergman’s performance is the biggest attraction of the film with her famed teary-eyes and Swedish accent, all done in true Bergman style. Humphrey Bogart too of course ignites a blaze on screen, in his first ever romantic role, he makes a memorable performance with the line: ‘Here’s looking at you, kid’. Casablanca would be the only time the two actors would work together, but, both Bergman and Bogart would go on to having illustrious careers and their own Academy Awards.
Critics continue to hail Casablanca as being the pinnacle of the Golden Age of Hollywood. It’s certainly strange how it has been able to stand so tall among its contemporaries as you barely ever hear people talk the same way about films like Here Comes Mr. Jordan or The Song of Bernadette (made in the same year), in quite the same way. In 1998, The American Film Institute ranked Casablanca as the 2nd greatest film of all time, only after Citizen Kane, respectively. The enduring legacy of Casablanca seems overall to come back down to the overwhelmingly romantic elements of the film.
Whatever your opinion on Casablanca is, no one can deny its prominence in film history, or not be impressed by the fact that the film is still popular 75 years on. No one expected it to be as successful as it turned out, but there is something incredibly special about this film. In light of its 75th anniversary, I urge those who have haven’t seen it to watch it on this special anniversary.