Casablanca. Directed by: Michael Curtiz. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid. Runtime: 1h 42 min. Released: November 26, 1942 (New York City).
Casablanca is filled to the brim with some of the greatest movie quotes (“Here’s looking at you, kid,” “This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”) but one of my favourite quotes here is one I’ve never seen mentioned, spoken by an uncredited character. While the usual suspects are being rounded up after a pair of German couriers have been killed, a pickpocket (Curt Bois) is surprised to learn that a British couple hasn’t heard what’s going on.
The character, Pickpocketed Englishman (Gerald Oliver Smith) says, “We hear very little, and we understand even less.” Watching the quote back, he’s probably talking about the fact that not everyone in Casablanca, Morocco, speaks English, but I took it as they’re just stupid and that’s why I think this monotone line is very funny.
The story: It’s December 1941 and Casablanca is a temporary stop for transients trying to get out of Europe. The best place to drink and gamble is Rick’s Café, owned by ex-pat Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart). The story gains speed when his former lover, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) walks into his gin join with her husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid).
He’s just escaped from one of Germany’s concentration camps and is trying to return to America. Standing in their way is Major Heinrich Strasser (Conrad Veidt), a Nazi who oversees Casablanca, as well as the prefect of police in Casablanca, Captain Louis Renault (Claude Reins). Meanwhile, Rick must decide if he wants to help the couple escape French Morocco.
I’ll start with Rick. This is the first time I’ve seen this, 78 years after its release, but Humphrey Bogart is just so effortlessly cool. Any time he speaks he demands attention with his calm demeanor. He doesn’t want to get involved in his customer’s business but is apt to help if no one makes a big fuss about it. His moral code is clear – but does not want it celebrated. Bogart is incredible and gets a bulk of the famous lines. This is my first Humphrey Bogart film, too, and he is so suave he would have made a great James Bond had he not died at the age of 57 in 1957.
His romance with Ilsa is great and so is their chemistry. It can’t happen in the present, but they’ll always have Paris. Bergman is charming and her fight is passionate, and the way she has to choose between Rick and Laszlo is fascinating, too. She’s a force alongside Bogart.
I love Arthur Edeson’s cinematography in this film, especially the way he captures Bergman. The way her eyes look on 35mm in black and white is just stunning, and I love the one shot where light is reflected in her earrings. As for Laszlo, his character and background is fascinating and Paul Henreid is great, though obviously Bogart and Bergman’s pairing is the true star power here.
I know this isn’t big headline news 78 years later, but I think Casablanca is a perfect film. It’s 102 minutes but the pacing is excellent and it feels like it goes by in a breeze. Every scene matters and the way the letters of transit, which would let Ilsa and Laszlo escape Casablanca, drive the story is flawless. It’s a simple story, but it’s a great one.
The screenplay’s fantastic, written by Julius J. Epstein, Phillip G. Epstein and Howard Koch, and the romantic scenes are made better by Casey Robinson’s uncredited rewrite. The supporting characters like Carl (S.Z. Sakall) and especially Sam (Dooley Wilson) the piano player are excellent.
I think an interesting thing about Casablanca is when Major Strausser asks Rick who he thinks will win the war. This made me realize that I had never seen a World War II film that was filmed during the Second World War, where the outcome (obviously) was not yet decided. It’s a compelling conversation as they don’t who will win or when it will end. There’s not much of a point to this observation – I’m not eloquent like Humphrey Bogart – I just think it’s interesting.
I know this film isn’t billed as “comedy,” but I think it could be. It’s probably not considered comedy because the funny moments are so small. Some of the best moments are when Captain Louis (who is also such a great character) shuts down Rick’s Café on the request of Strauss. Louis uses the establishment’s gambling as an excuse to shut it down and then a guy gives him his winnings and he says, “Oh, thank you!”
I also love the pickpocket in this film, played by Curt Bois. He goes around taking people’s wallets and warns them, “This place is full of vultures, vultures everywhere. Everywhere!” It’s better the second time when he says and then bumps into Carl and Carl checks his pockets to make sure he wasn’t robbed. I also love the way the pickpocket says vultures. With scenes like these and other countless small comedic moments that are made funny because of line delivery, I really question why “comedy” isn’t one of Casablanca’s official genres. The film’s charming as hell and funny, too, and I think it should be considered comedy in the same breath as its romance and drama.