January 22, 2008

Mini-review: Casablanca

(CCLaP publishes mini-reviews of both books and movies on a regular basis, none lasting more than a few hundred words. Click here for the full list.)

Casablanca, the movie
Casablanca (1942)
Written by Julius & Philip Epstein and Howard Koch, from the stage play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison
Directed by Michael Curtiz

So how freaky is this? Not only did I watch my first two Humphrey Bogart films ever last week, but it was entirely by coincidence that they came so close together; one arrived via Netflix, the other spied just randomly the same day at my neighborhood library. And not only are both films considered classics, and not only were they filmed just a year apart and share much of the same cast, but I managed to get to the age of 38 without knowing even the first thing about the plot of either. I'm telling you, the strange coincidences never stop! I thought it'd be fun, then, to present both reviews on the same day as well, as befitting the odd circumstances behind the entire thing to begin with.

The other film was 1941's The Maltese Falcon, which I ended up liking a lot more, which is why I wrote a full review of that one; 1942's Casablanca, the subject of this shorter essay, was a lot more troublesome in nature from my viewpoint, not only in terms of how it's held up over the years but even its pure artistic quality when it first came out. Essentially a wartime noir with a liberal amount of patriotic rah-rah sprinkled throughout, it tells the tale of French-held Morocco in Africa and its role during World War II; as a haven for criminals trying to sneak out of Europe, that is, all of them either waiting for a short plane to Lisbon (the closest Allied city with transatlantic flight capabilities) or a local scumbag preying off those waiting for the flight. In the middle of all this Graham-Greene-like gray-market haze, then, lies Rick's American Cafe, owned by a former freedom fighter turned cynical boozehound (Bogart), who because of an abandoned girlfriend during the Nazi occupation of Paris has decided that he no longer gives a damn about humanity, instead running a temple devoted to vice as far away from the war as he can get.

Of course, it goes without saying that said ex-girlfriend (Ingrid Bergman) will eventually show up in Casablanca herself, and will accidentally gravitate towards Rick's because as we all know, "Rick's is the place to be." This time, however, she's accompanied by Czech Occupation folk hero Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid, sounding not the least bit Czech at all), a good-looking Nazi-hating rebel who has broken out of multiple prison camps and has fled all the way from Eastern Europe to the eponymous African city in question. Will Rick give the couple the no-questions-asked stolen visas that accidentally came into his hands earlier in the movie, because of a ridiculous subplot involving Peter Lorre that exists only to put the visas in Rick's hands in the first place? Will he ever resolve the no-questions-asked torrid affair that he and Bergman had had in free Paris before the war? Will he shed his apathetic world-weariness and become the Good and True and Proud Freedom Loving Nazi Ass Kicking American we all know he is? Will Sam ever stop playing that stupid maudlin "As Time Goes By" song? Will the characters ever stop getting drunk and weepingly pleading with him to play the stupid damn song one more time?

It's a cute enough proposition, I suppose, even if leaning too heavily on the flag-waving patriotism of the times that I don't care for, but man is this movie starting to show its age; between the syrupy string music that accompanies nearly every scene, the stilted dialogue, the awkward adaptation from its original stage-play form (which basically involved the producers plunking a camera down on the middle of a stage), and all the times the black piano player is referred to as "boy" by his white co-actors, it is certainly a historically important movie but not something I would call a "timeless classic" by any means. I can definitely see why the film has picked up the following that is has over the years, but also disagree that it's one of the all-time greatest movies; it's an okay movie, when the Vaseline blur of nostalgia is removed and the film looked at in current critical terms, a film that I suppose is okay for what it is, yet lacks the basic core strengths of a Maltese Falcon, which is why that film is getting a longer review today and this film the shorter one. It's certainly a movie to check out if you ever have the chance, but not something I'd recommend going out of my way to see.

Out of 10: 7.0

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:27 AM, January 22, 2008. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |