The movie has a simple plot, which I won't waste too much time explaining. Rick Blaine is a surly man who owns a cafe in Casablanca. He says he won't "stick my neck out for nobody" and stays neutral in pretty much all situations. There is some business with letters of transit, which in the Blu-ray commentary, Ebert (who has an entire commentary track on the disc) points out that "Hitchcock would have called them a MacGuffin", since they never really make any sense, but it doesn't matter. All that matters is that everyone wants them. One night a beautiful woman comes into the cafe with a man - it is Ilsa, a woman that Rick had been in love with in Paris. She asks the piano man, Sam, to play "As Time Goes By", and he refuses. She insists, and Rick comes flying out of the back, yelling about how the song is never to be played. The two ex-lovers finally see each other again. It turns out Ilsa is with Victor Lazlo, who is a French revolutionary wanted by the Nazis. They need to leave Casablanca, obviously, and Rick is sort of caught up in the middle.
I think the great characters are one of the reasons why this film remains so timeless. Ebert writes in his essay that "What is intriguing is that none of the major characters is bad. Some are cynical, some lie, some kill, but all are redeemed" (The Great Movies, 102). It's easy to relate to all of them, since they are all basically good people. We understand unrequited love, we understand sacrifice, we get it without much effort. I guess this is why I was sort of shocked - my boyfriend never saw this, and even my mom never saw it! Maybe people don't know how easy this movie is to relate to, no matter how many years later.
I really wish I had some more time with the movie, but because of the nature of this project, I have to send it back right away. The commentary on the disc seems like it would be amazing. Ebert seems to know a lot about this history of the movie, and he writes about some of this in his essay. He mentioned something in it that I had never heard before. He writes about the end of the film, when Ilsa, Rick, and Lazlo are standing around in the airport. There are only two letters of transit, so only two people can leave. Who is getting on the plane? Ebert writes, "In her closeups during this scene, Bergman's face reflects confusing emotions. And well she might have been confused, since neither she nor anyone else on the film knew for sure until the final day who would get on the plane. Bergman played the whole movie without knowing how it would end, and this had the subtle effect of making all of her scenes more emotionally convincing; she could not tilt in the direction she knew the wind was blowing" (The Great Movies, 102). I had no idea that she didn't even know how the movie would end! I just assumed that her acting was really incredible.
Because of little factoids like this, I really wish I could watch some more of the special features on the disc! I bet there are a lot more interesting things that I could have heard about. I hate to comment on the actual disc itself, but I can't let this go. I rented this on Blu-ray, and it looked simply stunning. The high definition transfer was pretty incredible. I've seen this movie on a large variety of screens, but it's never looked this good. If you have the capability to see it like this at all, it's worth the extra effort of tracking down the Blu-ray to rent.
I'm a bit too sleepy and throat-hurty to keep writing. How is it that having a sore throat always makes it harder to focus? Maybe it's just me. If you are one of the people I know who hasn't seen this movie - rent it! It's great, you will love it, I promise. If you haven't watched this in a while, you must watch it again. This movie gets better every time you watch it. There are scenes that grow in power once you know the plot already. It always feels moving and emotional, never predictable. It's the perfect nasty weather to cuddle up with an old movie and some hot tea, and it's not as though there is anything on TV or in movie theaters. Do yourself a favor and watch this. You will be happy you did.
Have any thoughts about Casablanca? Share them with me in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie essay on Casablanca