Nope, I won’t do the usual and start the review with a snappy line from the film, as everyone else does while analyzing the film, for I know that lines seldom make a movie great! However, if you think I have figured out what makes ‘Casablanca’ great, then you are mistaken. If there is one movie that follows all the Hollywood conventions and yet moves us most unconventionally, it is ‘Casablanca’. It can no longer be classified as just a movie; it is in fact a mascot of cinematic excellence back during the Golden Age of Hollywood. A close look at the film unambiguously reveals that the screenplay is painstakingly ordinary, the characterizations are pretty predictable and the story is hardly remarkable. Notwithstanding, there is something universal about the film, something that jolts our inner psyche. Cynicism, romance and subtle comedic undertones have never since been juxtaposed so masterfully. Well, what is ‘Casablanca’ all about? To put it in simple words, it is about love and the sacrifice of love for a greater good. While, one might scoff at the apparent simplicity, it might very well be remembered that simplicity is the most difficult thing to achieve while making movies.
Humphrey Bogart plays the seemingly cynical Rick Blaine, a nightclub owner in the city of Casablanca in Morocco, someone who might have endured a difficult past. Bogart, who is known for having played multiple roles of worn-out heroes, plays his usual self in the beginning. While deception, betrayal and brazen inhumanity act as overt backgrounders to the movie; there is also an innate attempt at recreating the turbulent times that marked the Second World War. Rick’s outer shell begins to crumble when his earlier love interest Ilsa Lund comes to his nightclub with her husband, who also happens to be one of the primary figures of the French Resistance. The heavenly beautiful Ingrid Bergman plays the role to almost perfection.
‘Casablanca’ is not so much about the celebration of love as it is about the sheer desire to be loved. Very few movies deal with the concept of romantic deceit better than ‘Casablanca’. However, one factor that differentiates the movie despite its obvious banalities is its ability to arouse emotions and empathy. While the plotline is fairly predictable, there is a strong undercurrent of fundamental human instincts that propel the film forward in its journey. The presence of the likes of Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre as supporting actors helps the cause of the movie immensely. Claude Rains, plying the role of Captain Louis Renault, turns in one of the most memorable performances in the history of cinema. The renowned movie critic and film historian Roger Ebert described the character as the “subtly homosexual police chief”. However, the deduction could be logically opposed as well on multiple grounds.
All said and done though, the USP of the movie happens to be a collection of some of the most memorable dialogues that still permeate the ears of cinephiles from all across the globe. The moral and emotional ambiguity in the film helps set up the central narrative. It is another thing though that Bergman didn’t know the ending of the movie when it was being made. Probably, this is one of the reasons why Bergman acted the way she did without taking an obvious moral siding.