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USA 1942
Directed by
Michael Curtiz
102 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Casablanca

Casablanca is regularly voted, at least in America, the best romance film of all time, if not outright the best film ever made. Whether it is the former is debatable and it certainly isn’t the latter but it is good. The setting is Vichy-ruled Tunisia during the early days of World War II when Rick (Humphrey Bogart), an American expatriate owns a bar into which walks a former lover, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), who with her German husband (Conrad Veidt) is fleeing the Nazis.

The combination of Bogart's super-cool anti-hero and the classical beauty of Bergman (the film was to be her breakthrough screen appearance), the smart dialogue, Max Steiner's music, Arthur Edeson's photography and Michael Curtiz's skilful direction happily come together to lift this head and shoulders above a typical Warner’s production of the time.

Whilst the overt patriotism of some scenes might seem today heavy-handed this was, of course, wartime, with Curtiz. a Hungarian expatriate whose homeland had been invaded by the Nazis, so the flag-waving was justified. But aside from this, the director gives us many magic moments, such as the one when Rick and Ilsa meet in the former's bar and the camera closes in on their faces. Then there's that famous, wistfully melancholic song, As Time Goes By, written by Herman Hupfield in 1931 and performed by Dooley Wilson, as well as being interpolated into the score in different places by Steiner. Needless to say the scene has been invoked innumerable times, probably most wittily in Woody Allen's Play It Again, Sam. a reference to the most famous line that was NOT said in a film. Claude Rains, Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet provide a perfect complement to the main event by helping to create the setting of exotic seediness and desperate times.

The result was a rare conjunction of sophisticated style and popular success and, of course, a gilt-edged Hollywood studio era classic that shows no sign of tarnishing.(scarily, at one time, contract players Ronald Reagan and Hedy Lamarr were slated for the leads).

FYI: The film won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay in a year when the statuettes were made of plaster because precious metals were reserved for the war effort.

 

 

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