Plot: Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) runs a nightclub in Casablanca, Morocco, home to all sorts of folks who are in a purgatory of sorts. The locale is home to countless people who have fled from occupied nations, but are unable to leave Casablanca for America, at least until they’ve secured transit papers. Those kind of documents are expensive and hard to get, though local lawman Captain Renault (Claude Rains) will bend the rules for enough cash or more unsavory favors. As World War II escalates, Casablanca has drawn more attention from the Germans and a contingent has recently arrived, looking to make sure a resistance leader never leaves Casablanca. That leader is Laszlo (Paul Henreid), who is a valuable man to the resistance forces and as such, the Nazis wish to imprison him. Laszlo travels with the beautiful Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), who has a connection to Casablanca, even if she doesn’t know it yet. As these threads converge, Rick will be pushed to take a side and for a man who prides himself on staying neutral, that will be no simple task.
Entertainment Value: A lot of movies have been heralded as “one of the greatest.” but Casablanca is a film that never fails to be in those discussions and in general, is held as one of the top handful of movies ever made. Aside from Citizen Kane, perhaps no other movie is as universally ranked as a contender for the top slot in cinema, even numerous decades after it was released. While some movies held as all time classics are masterful pictures, but not ones that inspire frequent viewing sessions, Casablanca manages to deliver on all fronts. The movie has it all, romance, drama, suspense, and effective humor, it is just a fun, brisk movie to watch. This is no dusty, technical masterwork that earns immense praise, but just isn’t fun to watch. Casablanca nails the balance between appealing to critics and casual audiences, as you can appreciate the entertainment, then admire the craftsmanship if you so wish. The pace is excellent and the movie never feels slow, yet it is able to develop depth within the characters and their relationships, which is no easy feat.
Of course, the cast of Casablanca has to be discussed, as it boasts an impressive roster of top name talent. Humphrey Bogart is beyond iconic in his role here, one of the coolest movie characters of all time played to perfection. Rick is such a set in his ways man, so seeing him break all of the rules he has laid down once Ilsa arrives says a lot, but Bogart is able to make that shift seem natural, not a contrived part of the narrative. As good as Bogart is, my favorite performance from Casablanca belongs to Claude Rains, as the openly corrupt local official. He provides much of the comic relief, but his barbs and banter feel so natural here. Often the humor used to relieve tension can feel out of place or forced, but not the case here. To me, Rains is a crucial presence in Casablanca and the movie wouldn’t be the same without him. The rest of the cast is excellent as well, with Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Dooley Wilson, and the small, but memorable role of Peter Lorre. Even if you don’t often seek out older movies or you have an aversion to black & white cinema, Casablanca is one you should seek out, as this is no cold, technical relic, but a warm and beloved movie classic.