I know it's a cliche choice, but come on, it's cliche for a reason. I first saw Casablanca about three years ago and I have since seen it 16 times. Every time I watch it, I find a new layer to it. Casablanca is the onion of the film world. On almost every "Best Movies of All Time" list you can find, numbers 1, 2, and 3 are Citizen Kane, Casablanca, and The Godfather: Part 1, in varying orders. (Sometimes Gone With the Wind is thrown in there as well.) I'm not going to summarize the whole movie here because that would take forever, but for those of you who haven't seen it (tsk tsk) here are the opening lines of narration that set the scene:
"With the coming of the Second World War, many eyes in imprisoned Europe turned hopefully, or desperately, toward the freedom of the Americas. Lisbon became the great embarkation point. But, not everybody could get to Lisbon directly, and so a tortuous, roundabout refugee trail sprang up - Paris to Marseilles... across the Mediterranean to Oran... then by train, or auto, or foot across the rim of Africa, to Casablanca in French Morocco. Here, the fortunate ones through money, or influence, or luck, might obtain exit visas and scurry to Lisbon; and from Lisbon, to the New World. But the others wait in Casablanca... and wait... and wait... and wait."
It's hard to summarize why I love it so much because I love so much about it, but I'll do my best.
First off, the script. I LOVE a good screenplay! Casablanca's screenplay is incredibly witty and is home to many of cinema's most famous lines.
"We'll always have Paris."
"Here's lookin' at you, kid." (Did you know that Humphrey Bogart ad-libbed that line?!)
"Round up the usual suspects."
"Play it, Sam." ("Play it again, Sam" is never once uttered. Get your facts straight, people)
"I stick my neck out for nobody."
Even if you haven't seen the movie, you've most likely heard at least one of these lines. These one-liners are great when read, but they are even better within the context of the film. The dialogue is so zippy. It actually reminds me of Aaron Sorkin dialogue, but even better.
At this point my dad would want me to share this fun fact: The screenwriters, Julius and Philip Epstein, are the grandfather and great-uncle of Theo Epstein, the general manager of the Boston Red Sox :)
Casablanca is also home to some of the greatest cinematic characters. The main trifecta, Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), and Victor Laszlo (Paul Henried) are so well-developed as individuals and brilliantly acted. You feel Rick's loneliness, you understand the heart-breaking choice Ilsa has make, and you are in awe of Victor's bravery and vision for a free Europe.
The supporting cast is also superb. My favorite supporting character is Sam, the piano player at Rick's. Rick is not the type to have friends, but if he were, Sam would be his best friend. Sam is sort of a third-party observer in Rick and Ilsa's relationship. He was with them in Paris, he came to Casablanca with Rick, and he is very protective of Rick when she returns. I love the scene that takes place after Rick has seen Ilsa for the first time since Paris. Rick is drunk and angry and Sam refuses to go home and leave him alone. Another interesting thing to point out is that very often in the 30's and 40's the black characters in movies were portrayed as unintelligent and used as comic relief. They spoke in broken English and were usually the doofy sidekick of the white main character. Sam is smart and friendly and intensely loyal to Rick, which made him somewhat unusual in Hollywood in the 40's.
Now, instead of going on and on about this movie here a few quick favorites:
Favorite Character: It's a toss-up between Victor Laszlo and Sam. First of all, can we please acknowledge how awesome the name VICTOR LASZLO is? It makes an ordinary line like "Victor Laszlo must never leave Casablanca" 10 times cooler than if his name were Gregory Jones or something. And also, Laszlo has cool hair. It's a period appropriate hair-do, but he has that awesome streak of grey hair in front. Isn't it awesome?
Favorite Scene: The dueling national anthems. The Germans start singing their own national anthem and then Victor Laszlo swoops in and starts singing "Les Marsiellais." Soon everyone joins in and they drown out the Germans. I've seen it 16 times and it never ceases to move me.
Favorite Line: "Here's lookin' at you, kid." It's just old-school romantic and I love it. I also love the line spoken by Captain Renault when he asks Rick why he doesn't go back to America: "I've often speculated why you don't return to America. Did you abscond with the church's funds or run off with a senator's wife? I like to think you killed a man. It's the romantic in me."
And there you have it. My favorite movie. Holy Moly, this is long. If you've made it this far, give yourself a pat on the back and then go rent Casablanca.