Casablanca: Play It Again Sam and Other Annoyingly Misquoted Lines

The next film on our list is the 1942 classic Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.  In addition to being one of the most famous love stories of the past century, it's also a pretty effective drama about World War II.  TSPDT ranks it at an impressive #16.

Full Disclosure:  I have seen Casablanca before, although actually only two or three times, which is strange considering how good this movie is.  I mean, I've seen a lot of really crappy movies more than that.  Hell, I've seen Return of the Living Dead 3 probably as many times as I've seen Casablanca.  Don't judge.

Rick is an American expatriate who owns a club in Casablanca, Morocco during World War II.  It's pretty common knowledge that there's a lot of black market visa action that goes on in his club, but he doesn't seem to have anything to do with it, so the Vichy authorities allow Rick's Cafe Americain to remain open.  He talks a good game about not getting involved on either side of the conflict, but pretty early on we learn that he ran guns for the Ethiopians and fought for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War -- which kind of flies in the face of the whole isolationist vibe he's trying to put on.

So word on the street is that Victor Laszlo, a Czech resistance fighter whose hobbies include making trouble for the Third Reich, is going to be in Casablanca looking for an exit visa for him and a lady friend.  But imagine Rick's surprise when Victor shows up with Ilsa, a girl Rick had a fling with once upon a time in Paris.  This is bad news bears for Rick.

So we go into an extended flashback scene of Ilsa and Rick in Paris, earlier in the war.  It's sweet, it really is. You can tell how much they love each other, although it's clear that Ilsa has a secret.  But then German jackboots fall on Paris, and they need to leave by train immediately -- only Ilsa never shows up.

Ilsa comes to Rick's club late at night, presumably to explain herself.  But Rick's drunk and he's having none of it.  And pretty much calls her a whore.  Smooth, Bogey.

The next day, the officials tell Laszlo in no uncertain terms that he will never obtain an exit visa and leave Casablanca.  As providence would have it, the night earlier Rick received letters of transit from Ugarte just before he was killed.  Which is pretty lucky for Ilsa and Laszlo, only they don't know it yet.  Because then Ilsa drops a bomb on Rick - she tells him that she's married to Victor, and was even when she was having an affair with Rick in Paris.

So when Laszlo shows up and asks to buy the letters from Rick, you kind of understand why he tells Laszlo to piss off.  And then Ilsa tries again to explain herself and beg for the letters, but Rick isn't interested.  So Ilsa pulls a gun on him.

Luckily she wasn't really planning on hurting Rick because she loves him!  They embrace, and she tells Rick everything - she and Victor were secretly married (to protect her, I guess), Victor was sent to a concentration camp, Ilsa thought he was dead, and then she met Rick.  So you can't really blame her there.

Laszlo goes all noble and tells Rick that he knows about their relationship, but he asks only that Rick give the letters of transit to Ilsa, so that she at least can escape.  Rick then kind of pulls a dick move: he makes a deal with Captain Renault so that they can arrest Laszlo.  He tells Laszlo and Ilsa that he'll give them the letters of transit, but then Laszlo will get arrested for trying to escape, and Rick can run off with Ilsa.  That's wicked cold.

BUT...when Renault shows up to arrest Laszlo, Rick pulls a gun on him.  Apparently he really is going to help them escape.  Good on you, Rick!  Only Ilsa thought she was going to be running off with Rick, so she's all fickle and conflicted.  But in the end, Mr and Mrs Laszlo get on the plane.  Rick, realizing that he can never go back to his old life, apparently decides to join the Free French along with Captain Renault.  And the two walk off into the sunset together.

Random Musings:

  • Confession: This is one of the very few films that I can actually tolerate Humphrey Bogart in.  That alone is pretty impressive.

  • Sam the Pianist is one of the coolest minor characters ever.  I love how loyal he is to Rick, and he's actually a pretty developed and non-stereotypical African-American character, considering the time.  Yeah, Ilsa calling him "boy" is one of those Hey Its Not Racist for Its Time moments, but it's more weird because she's from Norway in the 1940s, how many black people has she ever even seen anyway?

  • "See that Major Strasser gets a good table, one close to the ladies." "I have already given him the best, knowing that he is German and he will take it anyway." LULZ.  Whoever wrote that, I am awarding them my Best German Insult award.

  • I love the depth to Rick's character.  He comes off as such a tough, pragmatic person, but underneath that he's a man with principles.  I like it because his character doesn't do a complete 180 -- he doesn't turn out to be this ushy-gushy romantic type.  He cares about things more than he lets on, and as much as he tries to be the uninvolved cynic, he just can't do it.  I think Rick has one of the better character arcs in film, period.

  • "We mustn't underestimate American blundering, I was with them when they blundered into Berlin in 1918." That's right.  Better recognize.

  • So let me get this straight.  The Third  Reich wants the names of every resistance leader in Europe, and they're going to...ask Laszlo politely and offer him an exit visa?  You put him in a freaking concentration camp!  Did they think for one second that was going to work?  No wonder they lost the war.

  • I think it's really interesting that they included the character of Yvonne, a French woman who takes up with a German soldier, and people don't respond to it too well.  Especially knowing the terrible things that happened to female "collaborators" in France after the war.  Considering that this movie came out in 1942, I'm pretty impressed that the filmmakers even thought to address this.

  • Also, not to be all hyperbolic, but this has got to be in the Top 25 Movie Scenes Ever:

First of all, it's a beautiful sequence.  We see the oppressed citizens overpowering the Germans, even if it's only with song.  This one scene makes it so much more believable that Ilsa would ever leave Rick...because Victor really truly is a great man, and we can see how much love and respect she has for him.  But what makes it so powerful is really the context in which the film is being made.  Most of the cast (pretty much everyone except for Rick, Sam, and a few other minor characters) was European, and was personally affected by the Nazi regime.  So when they're emotionally singing La Marseillaise...those tears are real.

  • Love this exchange:

Victor: You might as well question why we breathe.  If we stop breathing, we'll die.  If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die.
Rick: Well, what of it.  It'll be out of its misery.
Victor: You know how you sound, Mr Blaine?  Like a man who's trying to convince himself of something he doesn't believe in his heart.

Oh see through him like cellophane.  Also...Laszlo for President 2012, yes?

So that's Casablanca.  While watching this film, I'm struck by how perfectly well-rounded it is.  It has equal parts humor, romance, and action, and it excels in every department.  When I watch a good movie, I always try to think, "Is there anything I would do that would make this film any better?"  Usually there is...there's some niggling little problem that I would want to correct.  I can't really think of anything in this film...there's absolutely nothing I would change.  The story is great, it's got one of the best scripts I've ever heard ('s ridiculously quotable), Bogart turns in a performance that doesn't make me want to bash his head in, Claude Rains is deliciously corrupt but has such a wonderfully dry sense of humor.  It's not easy to have a character caught up in an extramarital conflict like this, and it's an even harder job to make her at all likable, but Ingrid Bergman pulls it off.  It really is a joy to watch.  And as a big history buff, I have a lot of appreciation for this film.  It shows a real awareness of what people go through during an occupation - the things they're willing to do, and all of the conflicting emotions.  Love it!

That's all for now!  Thanks for reading, and come back for Scorpio Rising!

Want to know more about the Top 1000 List?  Check it out and see if your favorites are here! They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?

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