Casablanca, the film that originally sparked the idea for the Classic Movie Challenge, due to everyone’s surprise, shock, horror and disgust of my never having seeing this film before.
“What? Never!?” They’d ask in disbelief.
“Nope, never” I’d reply, “It’s not really my kind of film.”
But they’d insist that there’s no such thing, that this is a film that has something for everone, and that I must absolutely watch this film some day in the near future.
Well, six months later since it was last suggested to me, that’s exactly what I did.
I’m afraid to go against the grain on this, but whilst this is a good film and the acting is excellent, I don’t get the fuss. In all honesty, I found this film to be caked in overhype.
The story is basically about an American man, Rick Blaine (Bogart), who is stranded in Casablanca, which is in the temporarily pro-German Vichy French “protectorate” of Morrocco and runs a secret illegal casino frequented by a large variety of people who otherwise wouldn’t normally share breathing space with each other. In lamens terms, Casablanca is a town in the middle of nowhere, Morocco, and has a population dynamic made up of Nazis, locals, and refugees of various Occupied Countries who are waiting for tickets out to safer places.
The tickets (called transport papers in this) aren’t just expensive for those in poverty, they’re impossible to get. The only way seems to either be to pass on information to the corrupt police or to steal them from someone who already did, which was the method of poor old Peter Lorre’s character Ugarte. Ugarte only lived long enough to pass them on to Rick for safe keeping, he was taken in by said corrupt police shortly after and later died in custody.
Poor old Peter Lorre.
Admittedly, this isn’t sounding too much of a bad story so far. Not the strongest of films to keep me entertained, but not bad. Unfortunately, all of that was established and took place within the first twenty minutes, and it all went downhill from there.
No matter what anyone says, this film is absolutely, 100%, a love story that just happens to be set in the specific equivalent of Occupied France. (See the whole Protectorate thing above.) Rick has held a candle for his long lost love Ilsa Lund, played by Ingrid Bergman, for far too long. He has banned his piano man and possible best friend Sam (the famous Sam!) from playing “As Time Goes By” within his hearing for fear it’d remind him of the heart ache, and unfortunately for him, that’s exactly what Ilsa wants him to play the second she sees him. I don’t know if we’re meant to sympathise with Ilsa’s so called tragic love story or not at some point in the film, but I certainly didn’t. Mostly because it’s not really a tragic love story, it’s a love story set during what was a very oppressive, very stressful tragic time. Really, considering everything, I’d say she of all the characters had it the most easy. Unlike her husband who was a known fugitive needing a way of escape, and unlike Rick who’d already risked his life for the good cause and ended up in Casablanca.
I did like the battle of the the national anthems, though. Not just that the everyone in the bar sung along to a national anthem that might not have even been theirs to spite the Nazis, but it also showed that Rick wasn’t as neutral as he was making out to be. He nodded, he gave the orchestra permission, he didn’t stop them overpowering the voices of those singing Die Wacht am Rhein. For as bland as the rest of the film was, on a whole, that part wasn’t.
And for an extra bit of trivia, I looked it up to see whether Hornblower borrowed the idea of having the little boy singing La Marseille to the Marquis in the episode The Frogs and The Lobsters, which was set during the French Revolution, and apparently they did.
And my problems with this film doesn’t cloud my judgement – it is a very good film for those who like these sort of films. People can think deeply about it if they’d like to, or they can stick to the more shallower levels and just admire the supposed tragic love story. The acting is fantastic, the music is perfect. It might not be pitch-perfect to those perfectionists out there, but the singing and the instruments all have that natural sound for it that doesn’t need to be pitch-perfect.
But I can honestly say that my favourite part of the whole film was when it ended. The story tied up and Rick got away.
I’m aware that as a generalisation, I might be that one exception, but there really isn’t something for everyone in this film. There’s better love stories out there, there’s better films about war oppression. I’m only glad I watched this film to put an end to the recommendations that follow the shocked faces.