We are now in the middle of the awards season and are closing in on the holy grail of film festivities: the Academy Awards, or as we all like to call him – Oscar. This month, I will be reviewing four motion pictures that have won at least one of the major prizes of either best director, actor, actress or picture.
As I have mentioned before, I have been lucky enough to meet quite a few famous people in my lifetime. Recently I talked movies with Billy Gibbons, lead guitarist and singer of the rock band ZZ Top, (placed 32nd on Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time) and he had some insightful things to say. Coincidentally, he admitted that he had been thinking about what his favourite film of all-time was and that the 1942 romantic drama Casablanca was hands down top of the list. Some may find this surprising, yet he must be a romantic at heart.
Directed by Michael Curtiz (Mildred Pierce, White Christmas), the picture follows disenchanted American expatriate and former freedom fighter Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), owner of the high end nightclub Rick’s Café Américain, as he coolly lives his life (in a wholly neutral way) in the city of Casablanca, Morocco during World War II. That is, until acquaintance Ugarte (Peter Lorre) enters his bar with two letters of transit (allowing anyone to travel out of the German occupied country) that he has obtained through highly suspicious means. He places the papers in Blaine’s control and when the suspect is later arrested, this puts the neutral man in a very dangerous and powerful position.
To make things even more complicated, underground leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) walks into Blaine’s joint with stunning Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) on his arm – Rick’s former lover in Paris while he was a freedom fighter . . . and the woman who made him the cold shell of a man he is today after she mysteriously walked out on him. Additionally, with the ever unpredictable Captain Renault (Claude Rains) breathing down both Laszlo and Blaine’s necks on behest of Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt), what comes together is one of the most iconic stories of all-time, boldly mixing great romance and epic drama together with twisting thrills and tearful spills that no viewer will ever forget.
Casablanca has to be one of the most quotable movies of all-time. Even those who have never seen the film can recite most of the six quotes that fill the American Film Institutes ‘100 Years 100 Movie Quotes’ list. Lines such as “Here’s looking at you, kid” or “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By’” have made their way into the common adults’ vernacular. Some may not know that the quotation “Round up the usual suspects” was where the writers of the modern classic The Usual Suspects got their title from. I must say that some of my favourite lines from the film are not as well remembered. For instance, when Ugarte asks Blaine if he despises him, he quips “If I gave you any thought I probably would” or when Major Strasser enquires as to what nationality Blaine is and he says, “I’m a drunkard” which is then followed by Captain Renault’s crack “That makes Rick a citizen of the world”. It is witty dialogue like this that makes this movie as sharp today as it was 71 years ago.
It is very difficult to pick moments for people to watch for as the entire movie is so near perfection, yet to me the bold and brave singing of the French national anthem over the German elites’ singing is one of the more powerful moments in film history. It is then followed by the bar being closed by Renault (forced by Strasser to end the patrons’ riotous anthem singing) due to illegal gambling, after which he collects his winnings for the evening (simply classic). The flashbacks to Paris are also a treat and give us an excellent view into what makes these characters who they are today. Finally the finale is nothing short of superb, perhaps the most iconic ending of all-time.
In the end, Casablanca took home Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay at the Academy Awards. It has lived up to that hype to this day, with incredible acting, crisp writing, beautiful cinematography and amazing layers that one only notices upon multiple viewings. Everything in this movie simply works – giving us an unbelievably fresh picture that never feels even remotely dated. To put a spin on a classic quote from the film, “We’ll always have Casablanca“. Thank God for that.