BP’s Top 100 Movie Challenge #6: Casablanca, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list provided such a challenge.
Undoubtedly, I’ve written about how much I love a good love story (heck, I even love a bad love story). But Casablanca has become, over time, the gold standard of love stories. The story, dialogue, and performances are all fantastic. And the use of “As Time Goes By” makes for an unforgettable and timeless soundtrack.
One thing that I really admire about Casablanca is that it doesn’t really have a happy ending. It isn’t a sad ending, but the couple you are “shipping” the whole film doesn’t end up together. We see that Rick is a pretty selfish jerk at the start of the film. He keeps saying that he doesn’t risk his neck for anyone, but at the end of the film he gives up his chance to be with Ilsa so that she can escape with her freedom-fighter husband. Ilsa makes him remember that he is a rebel in his heart and that he used to fight for the underdog. So, he thinks of the greater good and gives up the girl. He also risks his life by screwing over the Nazis and helping Victor Laszlo flee Casablanca.
I am not always the biggest Humphrey Bogart fan, but his performance as Rick in Casablanca is probably my favorite of his career. More so than in any of his other films that I have seen, Bogart balances the hard and soft of Rick perfectly. We see the hard, selfish, self-loathing Rick of today, but we also see the flashbacks and at the very end the softer, more loving Rick. He is never more vulnerable than when he is standing in the rain at the Paris train station heartbroken when he gets Ilsa’s note. We see how much he loved her and how losing that love transforms him.
I am, on the other hand, a big fan of Ingrid Bergman. I haven’t seen a ton of her work, but everything I have seen of hers I love. She plays strong women so well. She plays realistically strong women. So often strong women in films are also extremely cold. Almost to the point of being robotic. As if Hollywood thinks that emotions make women weak. Most of the women I have met in my life that I would consider strong are very emotional beings. They think and feel but are not ruled by only their emotions. Ilsa is the same way. She is strong because she chooses Victor. He is a good man whom she can help do good things in the world. But she is also emotional and in love with Rick. She does lose her head a little when she chooses Rick but in the end she is strong and goes with Victor. She choses what is right not what is easy.
A couple of smaller performances that I really enjoyed in the film are Dooley Wilson as the piano player, Sam. He plays a character type that is a favorite of mine: the best friend who is loyal, no matter what. Sam is unfailingly loyal to Rick and sticks with him after Paris all the way to Casablanca. He beautifully performs “As Time Goes By” throughout the film but his performance of “Knock on Wood” with the band is a lot of fun and a nice break from the drama. The other staff members of Rick’s, Sascha and Carl, also add a lot of color and depth to Rick’s place. But the real stand out is Claude Rains as Captain Louis Renault. Renault is steadfastly corrupt but also a good man. That is not an easy part to play but Rains balances it perfectly and delivers one of his best performances in Casablanca.
I have to give the film’s director Michael Curtiz a lot of credit. If he had made just a few different choices while making Casablanca it could have been a very different movie. Casablanca walks a thin line between classic romance and cheesy, but it stays true to its course. It could have very easily steered right into cheesy and stayed there, but because Curtiz had a vision it doesn’t go there. I am not very familiar with Curtiz as a director beyond Casablanca, but he has a robust filmography for me to dive into.
I am always happy to return to Casablanca, so the Battleship Pretension Top 100 list was a great excuse to rewatch this delightful classic.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
Casablanca ranking: Carrier