“Casablanca” is one of the most famous films in cinema history. Directed by Michael Curtiz (“Mildred Pierce”), the film was shot in sumptuous black and white by Arthur Edeson, the cinematographer for “Frankenstein” (1931) and “The Maltese Falcon” (1941). Despite its age, the film is as smooth as silk, carbonation for the eyes—richly nostalgic and engaging.
Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is here tending an expatriate bar in Morocco. He is jovial, yet eaten inside by the sadness and haunt of lost love. The town of Casablanca is neutral, yet blighted by the threat of Nazism. When Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) his old flame appears with a handsome man (Paul Henreid), Rick is stricken by a romantic pox of hurt, regret and chances not taken.
Melodrama ensues and the buildup from the happy to the sinister is virtuosic.
Bogart winces and cringes like someone who swallowed a whole lump of charcoal only to belch solid gray clouds upon the bar. Bergman is lit softly in melting soft tones, a liquid dream, one on float as if delivered from an enigmatic heaven. In one scene a tear falls slowly from her eye, flashing like a chip of ice or a faraway star.
The mysterious allure of Ilsa as well as Rick is legendary. Conrad Veidt is appropriately frosty as a Nazi general and Claude Rains plays the formal policeman with a heart. The great character actor Peter Lorre is here too, suave and hapless by turns.
If this is not enough, there is the eerie and forbidding moment when Nazi officials strike up their anthem, loud and shocking, only to be drowned out by patrons of the French Resistance.
Director Michael Curtiz took special care to inject a film noir sensibility to the happy and jubilant place known as Rick’s American. Several moments feature shadows of bars and lines of harsh confinement. Danger is never far.
To see “Casablanca” on the big screen is to travel to another land, making the notion of time and place seem insignificant. One is plunged in the realm of feelings and images where the icy yet melting face of Ingrid Bergman seems as bright as an undiscovered planet.
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