Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942, USA)

It's easy to look down upon Casablanca as a piece of schmaltzy sentimentality, but this is a cynical view that understates the enduring legacy of the film. Michael Curtiz's 1942 film seems to have transcended cinema itself into becoming a cultural icon outside of time and space. Even those who have never seen a classic film, or never seen a black and white film, know about Casablanca. Whereas Citizen Kane seems to be the enduring critics' choice for best film of all time, Casablanca has far more enduring emotional appeal. It spoke to a generation about how they saw themselves and wanted to be seen in the future.

Casablanca marked a turn in the career of Humphrey Bogart. Bogart had been best known for playing heavies and gangsters up until Casablanca was released, but his role as Rick Blaine, the cynical owner of a bar in the French city of Morocco, turned him into a veritable leading man. Likewise, the film launched the career of Ingrid Bergman. Her appearance was very distinct from many American actresses of the time and brought an appealing foreign allure. Perhaps the weakest link in the incredibly cast film is Paul Henreid as Ilsa's lover Victor Laszlo, but the relative weakness of his performance is visible because everyone else in the film is so good.

It is hard to comment on Casablanca without mentioning the movie's score. The famous song played by Dooley Wilson's character in the film - "As Time Goes By" - was originally not even intended to be in the picture. The great Hollywood composer Max Steiner opposed its usage. Its eventual appearance in the film is one of the film's many happy accidents that came together to produce an exceptional film. Casablanca seems to be evidence against the auteur theory and it stands the test of time.


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