11/5/09

Casablanca (1942)

Humphrey Bogart (Rick Blaine), Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa Lund), Paul Henreid (Victor Laszlo), Claude Rains (Captain Renault)

Directed by Michael Curtiz (White Christmas)

Summary: Set in occupied Africa during the early days of World War II, an American expatriate meets a former lover who must choose between her duty and her heart.

I can't believe I've never discussed Casablanca on my blog! Many of you may know that we were inspired to name our second daughter, Ilsa, after Ingrid Bergman's character in this classic film, and yet I haven't seen it in its entirety since roughly March of 2003. While riding high on my WWII kick of late, I thought I'd revisit it and see how it holds up.

It's held up brilliantly. Good news for Ilsa!

The romance actually takes up considerably less screen time than I remember, even though it remains the main thrust of the plot and the heart of of Rick and Ilsa's character development. What stood out for me this time around was the humor. Claude Rains, in particular, is hilarious--as much a foil and partner to Bogey as Bergman is. Their quips and cracks liven the film with the gallows humor that typifies WWII comedy. It's all very dark and resigned to what cannot be changed, while maintaining an underlying earnestness of purpose that marks it as a product of a war that could yet be won.

However, with regard to the romance, I believe what resonates with me is that we get to bear witness to Rick's suffering. We get to see him drenched and crestfallen at the train station. We get to see him drinking himself into oblivion and listening to "As Time Goes By" for the hundredth time since Ilsa walks back into his life. "If she can stand it, I can! Play it!" I can't name a film from this era where the man's suffering is so painfully laid bare. It would be the equivalent of watching Rhett Butler sloshing back drink after drink because Scarlet O'Hara was twisting him into knots. The 1940s version of machismo didn't allow much of that brand of love moping, yet Bogey pulls it off with masculinity to spare.

Ilsa's desperation made me cry. "I can't fight it anymore. I ran away from you once. I can't do it again. Oh, I don't know what's right any longer. You have to think for both of us. For all of us." And of course, Rick does. He rips out his heart again and sends her off to be with the man who needs her more--even if he isn't the man who loves her more. Damn, what a good ending. I'm not one for unhappy endings, but you know what you're getting into with Casablanca. If you want happy Bogart, you have to turn to To Have and Have Not instead!

One line that stood out for me this time around came from Victor Laszlo regarding his role in the resistance against Nazi occupation: "And what if you track down these men and kill them, what if you killed all of us? From every corner of Europe, hundreds, thousands would rise up to take our places. Even Nazis can't kill that fast." Sorry, Victor, but you're three years too early to make a definitive statement of that kind--one that history proved wrong.

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