Classic Intel: Casblanca - DVD Review

''the Germans wore gray, you wore blue' Rick tells Ilsa at one point, a perfect one-line capture of his simultaneous cynical humour and hopeless romantic streak'

In a short test about what you know about Casablanca, odds are you can quote two lines. In fact, odds are you can quote these two lines whether you know they're from Casablanca or not. Like many iconic films, parts of its script have entered modern day parlance and so the next time you find yourself gazing wistfully into your partner's eyes and whispering, 'here's looking at you kid' or sitting in the pub as your 'ex' walks through the door, muttering drunkenly, 'of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the worlds, she walks into mine', just remember, you've got Casablanca to thank for your latest witticism.

In a way, it's a shame that in the general consciousness, Casablanca gets largely remembered for individual moments of scripting genius such as these when really, its premise and basic story are equally as fantastic. Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) runs Rick's Cafe, a semi-illegal drinking, partying and gambling den in Casablanca: last stop on the road from occupied Europe to America. Rick operates under the all-seeing eye of corrupt official Captain Renault (Claude Rains), a begrudging but good-natured ally. All that changes however when Rick's former lover Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) shows up with husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), a resistance leader who the Germans will do anything to keep in Casablanca. As Rick struggles with seeing Ilsa again he becomes the centerpiece around which all the players move in their efforts to either keep Laszlo in the corrupt city, or ensure his passage to America.

It's a shame to that too often, Casablanca's script gets boiled down to the two elements above because there are plentiful examples of the three screenwriter's (Julius J. Epstein, Phillip G. Epstein and Howard Koch) genius above and beyond the short epigrams they will doubtless be remembered by. Rick has countless touching and humouress one liners which add to Bogart's titanic performance of the debonair showman with a good heart and chequered past, 'the Germans wore gray, you wore blue' he tells Ilsa at one point, a perfect one-line capture of his simultaneous cynical humour and hopeless romantic streak.

Rick is the alpha male, top dog and eventual protagonist and director Michael Curtiz never misses a chance to let us know so, 'there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn't advise you to try to invade' he sagely advises Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) whilst the German attempts rather puerile antagonism. Curtiz knows Bogart is who the audiences' attention is on here and whilst he does dare (quite rightly) to distract us with Renault's foibles and Laszlo's nobility, he never forgets to ensure Rick is our dashing hero.

Which speaks volumes then for Bergman and Rains who both manage to steal scenes on a fairly regular basis and who both compete with Bogart's indomitably. Bergman is the prototypical femme fatale and simultaneous damsel in distress. Unlike other female characters of the era though, there are definite and deliberate hints that under the surface of her Ilsa, there's a working mind - she isn't just eye candy, the subject of a vulgar, almost unspoken, argument between Laszlo and Rick - you suspect that without them, she'd probably be just fine. Rains too as Renault embodies awkward charm, seedy corruption and a comedy that often borders hilarity. Whilst, like many of the players, his accent may not quite fit his character, his mannerisms are enough to convince us of his innate European charm and careful pandering of the bourgeoisie.

Unlike many 'classics', it's nigh on impossible to level the criticism of pace in Casablanca's direction. In this shady town there's always something happening, always something to see, always a deft bit of scripting to be emblazoned on a icon t-shirt. Like many of its individual players, this is a true cinematic monument.

Look further...

'An accidental masterpiece that has withstood the test of time, Casablanca is a simple but bittersweet love story set in the backdrop of World War II' - Anomalous Material, A


  1. my favourite bit - and Jo and I were only in hysterics the other day quoting it - is the conversation between bogart and lorre:

    "You despise me, don't you rick"

    "maybe thats why I trust you"

    in that amazing voice of Peter Lorre!


  2. So happy you noted the gray/blue line. I've always felt it should be as noteworthy as the others.

    My personal favorite: "What's your nationality?" - "I'm a drunkard."

  3. Simon - with Bergman and Bogart I often see reviews that don't mention Lorre, Rains or even Heinreid but they all help to make it and you're right, that conversation is just another one of the fantastic moments in the film.

    Nicholas - I came very close to including that one as well! The gray/blue line is to me a perfect piece of writing. It's both funny and sad, uplifting and depressing, romatic and cynical. Brilliance in only seven words.

  4. Thanks for the link! Excellent review worthy of this masterpiece.

  5. No problem Castor - as you know, always happy to link to quality content!