Favorite Movies A-Z: Casablanca

This is, according a range of folks who are in a position to make an informed judgement, the greatest movie ever made. I’m not sure that’s my opinion, but it’s a very good movie in a lot of ways. It’s a great movie to be sure. And while it’s not my pick for greatest ever, I’d probably go so far as to agree that it’s the greatest popular film ever made.

It’s an unusual result (and Casablanca is even greater?) when one remembers how rapidly the movie was made and that the hastily-written script was significantly revised even after shooting began. Perhaps the quality stems from the very personal nature of the story. Resistance to Nazi invasion was perhaps more real since so many of the people working on this film (from the director to the actors) were born in Europe and some had even fled quite recently to America to get away from the danger of the war.

Michael Curtiz, Paul Henreid, and Peter Lorre were all born citizens of the Austro-Hungarian Empire while Claude Rains and Sydney Greenstreet were citizens of the British Empire. Sascha really was from St. Petersburg and Yvonne was French. Conrad Veidt was born in Berlin, but was so adamantly opposed to the Nazi regime that he insisted up front that he would only appear in the film if the Nazis were given no sympathetic characteristics of any kind, no matter how small.

The plot is simple enough. The Nazis are chasing a Resistance leader, Victor Laszlo, across Europe and he’s managed to escape to nominal freedom in Vichy French Morocco. He wishes to continue his escape to the US via neutral Portugal along with his young, female companion Ilsa Lund. They end up needing the help of Rick to escape, but there is a mysterious past between Ilsa and Rick and his loyalties are only to himself. Two relationship triangles form around the characters. Rick, Ilsa, and Victor have a romantic triangle, but Rick, Victor, and Captain Renault who’s the chief of police in Casablanca form a different triangle oriented around competing interests, ideals, and loyalties.

The solution, though partly imposed by Code restrictions, manages to work things out satisfactorily for everyone, though not quite happily. There is a vein of comedy running throughout, excellent minor B plots abound with the various other refugees and natives, and all of the elements of direction, writing, cinematography, etc. all join together to make a masterpiece that I never tire of seeing.

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