The 1944 Oscar ceremony marked the end of an era in a lot of ways as it was the last time for more than sixty years that there were ten nominees for Best Picture. Triumphing in that year was a film that still holds up today as an absolute classic in the form of Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca.
Those who haven’t seen Casablanca will still know lines from it ‘here’s looking at you kid’, ‘of all the gin joints in all the world she had to walk into mine’ and ‘Louis, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship’. There’s also the ‘Play it Again Sam’ quandary as that line doesn’t appear in the film when Bogart tells piano player Sam to play ‘As Time Goes By’, the song which also is something that people would associate with the film. The basic plot concerns people stuck in Casablanca trying to travel from Nazi occupied Europe to the neutral Lisbon and then on to America. Our central figure is Humphrey Bogart’s Rick who is seemingly uninvolved in all the struggles that are going on around him and instead is happy to take people’s money whether they are Nazi officers or those trying to escape. The item that keeps the plot moving are letters of transit, documents which let whoever holds them travel freely around Europe, which end up in Rick’s possession after they are handed him by a petit thief who is arrested by the Nazi Officers. Rick’s former love Ilsa, played by Ingrid Bergman, comes into his bar and back into his life after the two had a fleeting romance in France years earlier. Ilsa along with her husband Victor are another couple trying to leave Casablanca and is after letters of transit himself. From there the film is both a love triangle and a thriller revolving around the transit papers will Rick give them willingly to Ilsa and will they be discovered in his possession by Claude Rains’ corrupt cop Louis. Again I’m not going to ruin it for you either you’ve seen it already or you really need to watch it.
One thing I do really love about Casablanca is the characterisation. None of the main leads are either truly good or bad, even the despicable Louis has a moment of redemption in the film’s final scenes. Rick’s motivations are unclear for most of the film, and he certainly isn’t a hero preferring to be a passive figure during this war. While Ilsa isn’t just a wallflower and seems to more in control then husband Victor in terms of their quest for the papers. I also have to applaud the art direction in particular Rick’s cafe, in which the majority of the film is set, comes to life through the hustle and bustle of the various patrons and the gambling rooms in the back. Of the performances themselves Bogart is amazing in the lead while Bergman manages to hold her own. Also I do love Claude Rains as Louis; he is incredibly slimy but also humorous and straight-laced when he needs to be. Rains and Bogart were both nominated for acting awards but neither were successful while Bergman wasn’t even nominated for her role here, although she did get a nomination this year for her role in Whom The Bell Tolls. As well as Best Picture, the Adapted Screenplay and Michael Curtiz’s direction also won, but I think Casablanca should’ve swept the board. But again this is a classic which more than deserves its place as one of the 82 films that have won Best Picture.