Warner Bros’ wonderfully gush-worthy Casablanca is one of the most iconic and recognisable films of all time. Expertly directed by Michael Curtiz, it has it all: drama, romance, sacrifice, danger, betrayal, loyalty and even humour - plus arguably film’s greatest love triangle.
1. RICK / ILSA / VICTOR
Ok, let’s start with the love triangle - as it’s absolutely central to the film. First, we’ve got enigmatic Humphrey Bogart (in his first romantic lead, after a slew of tough-guy and gangster roles) as the apparently cynical bar owner Rick Blaine. Then ‘in walks …’ Ingrid Bergman, as mysterious Ilsa Lund, Rick’s ex-lover. Finally, there’s Paul Henreid as Ilsa’s husband, freedom-fighter Victor Laszlo. As events unfold and the truth as to why Ilsa left Rick comes out, there’s a hot bed of emotions and moral dilemmas. Will Ilsa leave her husband to be with her old lover? Will Rick think beyond what he wants for himself, make a sacrifice and become an idealist? Will Victor wake up smell the coffee and realize Rick and Ilsa are ex-lovers, before it has to be explained to him? The love triangle culminates in the famous airport scene, where right up until the last moment, the audience (and rumour has it, the actors too) don’t know who Ilsa will end up with. It’s riveting! The whole Rick / Ilsa / Victor drama gets my vote for the best love triangle in film history.
[Side note: it’s hard to think of the airport scene without remembering the hilarious scene in When Harry Met Sally when Harry and Sally discuss who Ilsa should be with. Sally: ‘I don't want to spend the rest of my life in Casablanca married to a man who runs a bar….’ .Harry: ‘..the man you’ve had the greatest sex of your life with…’ ]
2. FANTASTIC SUPPORTING CAST
Casablanca has an incredibly strong supporting cast. The minor leads and supporting players are often overlooked when thinking of this film – because the main leads are so iconic. The rest of this amazing cast include some fabulous character actors. Claude Rains plays Police Captain Louis Renault. Rains’ portrayal of Renault is so nuanced that he somehow manages to simultaneously play both charming/endearing and sleazy/corrupt at the same time. Lesser actors could not have pulled this off. Sidney Greenstreet is delightfully cheeky as opportunistic Signor Ferrari. It’s hard to believe that at the age of 63, the Casablanca shoot marked only Greenstreet’s second year of professional film acting (of an unfortunately short eight year career). Another notable supporting actor was the deliciously creepy Peter Lorre as Ugarte. His unmistakable speaking voice and wonderfully descriptive eyes bought so much to this role, as they did to all his roles. There are also many actors with small speaking parts who were genuine refugees at the time of filming. In a very sad ironic twist, many of them who played Nazis in Casablanca had in fact themselves only recently escaped from the Nazis.
3. BRILLIANT LIGHTING
The lighting in Casablanca is really stunningly. A few particular scenes come to mind. The first time Rick discovers Ilsa at his bar, we see he her in close up from his point of view. The way Ilsa’s face is lit, she looks almost like she’s glowing. The expert use of filters mean already-beautiful Bergman looks somehow luminous and other-worldly. Another expert use of lighting is in the flashback scene of the then-lovers Rick and Ilsa on the Seine. These happier days of the past are brightly lit, in stark contrast to the darker look of Rick’s bar. Finally, and most stunning, is the lighting in the airport scene. Rick, Ilsa and Victor are shot in beautifully evocative shadows.
[Side note: I implore you, if you ever get the chance to see the colourised version of Casablanca: please don’t!]
4. THE FAMOUS QUOTES
I can’t think of any other film with more recognisable quotes than Casablanca. And not only are they memorable, they’re evocative too. Some of the most famous and most loved lines form the film include:
- ‘Here’s looking at you, kid’.
- ‘Of all the gin joints ...’
- ‘The problems of three little people ...’
- ‘I stick my neck out for nobody’.
- ‘Round up the usual suspects’.
- ‘Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship’.
And my personal favourite:
- ‘We’ll always have Paris’.
One of the particularly fascinating things about the screenplay for Casablanca is that no matter how familiar these lines become, they never sound hackneyed. They might be familiar, but they aren’t cliché’s in the negative sense of the word. They’re the best types of clichés. They’re ones that make you feel something: something good.
5. THE FILM THAT KEEPS ON GIVING
Casablanca is a film that gives more with each viewing. No matter how many times you see it, there’s always something more to get out of it: particularly in some of the very busy bar scenes. I had the good fortune last year of seeing Casablanca on the big screen for the first time (after repeated viewings over the years on VHS and then DVD), and it was such a beautiful thing to behold.
Lisa Malouf - follow Lisa on Twitter here: @lisamalouf