Best Picture Winners #16 – Casablanca (1943)

“Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.”

“Play it again, Sam.”

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”

More like, of all the “classic” movies we’ve seen so far, this has been the first one to truly deserve that status.

OK so maybe I inserted my own quote there!

But it’s totally true.

If I had to sum up the movie with one sentence, it would be that.

Now, this was the second time I’d seen this movie, and Andrew’s first. Before I had even seen this movie for the first time as a teenager in the early 2000s, I had heard those famous lines quoted elsewhere in pop culture. I knew they were from some famous older movie, but I didn’t see it for the first time until I took a Film History class in high school. (Now that I’ve seen the movie for a second time and have paid more attention than I did as a pimply teenager, I also know that second quote is actually “play it once, Sam,” but I digress!) I remembered it being really good, but didn’t remember much else. Again, pimply teenager with limited attention span.

Seeing it again in my early thirties….


I can see why this is a total classic.

You get an American expatriate, Rick (Humphrey Bogart) who owns a place called Rick’s Café Américain in what was then French-occupied Morocco (I’d forgotten about France’s involvement in Morocco; I usually remember Algeria and Senegal before I think of Morocco). In these early days of World War II, Rick’s place attracts a variety of folks: Vichy French and German officials, refugees who are desperate to make it to the US, and people who prey on them.

Rick is more than just the nightclub owner. He’s a cynical, bitter guy who claims to “never stick his neck out for no one,” yet despite his claims of being neutral, you find out later that he ran guns to Ethiopia during their war with Italy (a little known part of history for me) and he sided with the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War.  He’s also not allowed back to the US, but that part is never explained (apparently it was left ambiguous on purpose by the filmmakers). Hmmmm….. So already, you get an intriguing character who doesn’t seem to be completely good but not bad either.

In the beginning of the movie, Rick comes into possession of some “letters of transit” from a petty crook who plans to sell them at Rick’s place that night. Unfortunately, the crook is killed before he can meet with his contact. These letters are important because it would allow refugees who are currently stranded in Casablanca to travel around German-controlled Europe and neutral Portugal.

That same night, we find out why Rick is so bitter. In walks his old flame Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), who happens to be there with her husband Victor Lazlo, a well-known Czech Resistance leader. They want those papers so that Victor and Ilsa can escape to America and he can continue his resistance work. Meanwhile, a German general named Strasser has come to Casablanca to make sure he doesn’t succeed.

Seeing Ilsa again, Rick recounts to Sam, his piano player, how he and Ilsa were once lovers when he was in Paris. They were supposed to run away together but on the day they were supposed to leave, she left a note that she couldn’t come with him, leaving him heartbroken. Meanwhile, Lazlo makes inquiries as to who has those letters of transit, and is told that Rick might have them…..

I could go on from there but I won’t spoil the rest! You’ll just have to watch it yourself!

Not only is the story well-told, but it’s well-paced, has interesting characters, and never once was I bored. It’s hard not to be bored with such interesting plot threads that all fit together in the end without being forced. Not to mention it’s one of the shorter Oscar winners. At the end, I went, whoa, it’s over? Wha??

What I liked the most about Casablanca was that it told an interesting story that had several different genres melded together without going too far into one. It’s a war movie, but you don’t see any combat. It’s a romance movie, but it’s not the main focus of the story (at least, to my eyes). It’s a drama but it doesn’t lean on melodrama like some of the other movies we’ve seen in this project. Oh and the ending…. OK I will say it ends with a plane taking off, and at the time, the filmmakers weren’t allowed to film on an actual airfield. So they used props and other tricks to make it look like they were all in an actual plane. I couldn’t even believe that when I first read it in the IMDB trivia board, but there you go!

All in all, a well-deserved classic movie that I will definitely be watching again!

Five stars out of five

Next time: The 1944 Best Picture winner Going My Way. Going (no pun intended) from a war drama to a musical…. We’ll see how this goes…..