Casablanca [1942]

It’s just a classic. I was sitting at work about a year ago, and one of the architects was talking about watching it for the first time a few days before. They found it tremendously funny. The occasionally dodgy acting, (mostly coming in the form of the slight mistiming on some of the lines; but with real hints of over-acting, or total woodenness). The unbelievably silly looking fights. The sets which were solid, but lacking modern sophistication.

I think they found the dialogue to be the heart of the humour though; the understatements, the cliches; but most especially the rawness of the emotion in the dialogue. If you don’t believe in love, it’s the language of the soap operatic melodrama; but like many of you, I’ve been Rick sitting with his liquid companion, and said those kinds of
elevated lines. It was amazing the litany of faults they’d found, while missing the entire point of the story, and without managing to pick up any of the good points.

What do I like about it each time that I watch it? Well, none of the characters are simple. Richard Blaine is a deeply scarred person, he’s essentially good, but he’s blinded by a deep-seated bitterness. Renault is cynical, but shows his true character in the little rueful touches. I think though, it’s the character of Laszlo which draws me back to the film, because he’s a noble, though faulted, character who wins. I think we realise that Ilsa really does love him, and Laszlo really loves her. Rick is the wrong chocie, in every way, but he redeems himself by understanding that.

Of course, the snappy dialogue, which shows it’s class by what it doesn’t say, doesn’t hurt. the noir setting and feel are good; I mean, when Renault says, about Ugarte “we’re filling out the report now, we haven’t decided whether he committed suicide or was shot trying to
escape”, it doesn’t have to tell us he was probably beaten to death by the Gestapo trying to shield the letters of transit. We can see that the world inhabited by the romance part of the film, is a thin layer of pond scum on the vast and deep horror of the war. When watching the movie, you also have to remember it was made in 1942, when the war was not only far from over, but decidedly going the way of the Germans!

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