CASABLANCA (1942) – Happy Valentine’s Day! A few readers of Balladeer’s Blog have asked me for my opinion on this classic movie so I figured Valentine’s Day was the perfect opportunity.
People are often surprised when I like movies that so many other people rate highly. I like plenty of the old, old classics, it’s just that I prefer to blog about much more offbeat and obscure items. My favorite film of all time is Citizen Kane. Really. But I’ve never reviewed it here because I wasn’t in the mood to write the 100 millionth glowing review of that particular movie.
Getting back to Casablanca, it’s possibly the greatest “bittersweet ending” romantic flick ever made. I find that it appeals to almost everyone. If you’re young and naïve it can make you ache at the thought of persevering despite your broken heart. If you’re older and cynical it makes you nostalgic for a time when you actually thought a broken heart was the worst thing that could happen to you.
For people who sneer that the ending smacks of A Tale of Two Cities, I’ll grant you that but I’ll just remind you of the old, old Plotto truism about the small number of templates there are for all of the world’s stories. Of all kinds.
The fact that the outcome of World War Two was still in question when Casablanca was released adds to the emotional impact of the film. It was not one of those post-war “let’s relive winning the war” movies.
And for a Spanish Civil War geek like me the references to Rick Blaine having been one of the Americans who fought in that conflict and in Ethiopia before it never fail to move me. Especially when Victor shakes Rick’s hand and says: “Welcome back to the fight. This time I know our side will win.”
The international supporting characters are not realistically written but are at least wonderfully written, albeit along narrow lines. The overall effect is like a Morality Play set on a global stage with each figure representing their nation in the ongoing conflict.
Rick Blaine, in particular, in his moment of truth, chooses a side in December of 1941, just like the United States did in real life in that fateful month.
The romantic triangle is, as a wartime flick, appropriately without blame on anyone’s part. Victor was believed dead and Ilsa was trying to move on with her life. The reality of her love for Rick back in Paris is enough to sustain him and thaw his “heart in winter”.
He wasn’t played for a fool. The greatest tenderness and the wildest passion he’d ever known were real, after all. And so he can move on. And more than just move on – find the willingness to sacrifice himself for his true love’s happiness AND the cause that all three parties are fighting for.
The obvious studio backlot shooting locations are a distraction, but all of the emotional appeal, including the lyrics to As Time Goes By, more than make up for that. It may sound cliched, but Casablanca is a terrific film to watch with someone you love.