CASABLANCA (1942)

by williamldennis

A classic I’ve been long overdue seeing. Doesn’t age perfectly but ages very very well (1942 is old!!).

It’s dramatic, complex, emotionally, and dense. There are classic man vs the world, man vs man (or woman), and man vs himself through out. Not just with the protagonist but with most supporting characters as well. The result is a rich story underscoring an already well paced plot.

What makes this film masterful is that all the characters different motivations interweave, relate, and complicate each other. Saving the free world from the Nazis is tightly woven into the success or failure of the various relationships in the film. In that way the relationships themselves have more weight – they’re not just “B” plots but rather subplots of the A story – or arguably the A story themselves.

Additionally impressive and a characteristic of older movies is the specific dialogue. Every word seems to be carefully thought out, every retort sharp, and all banter chock full of jokes and subtext. It seems like more modern moses err on the side of naturalism and forfeit the cleverness of great dialogue in exchange. While arguably less emotional, the entertainment value more than makes up for it. A complicated but well executed tight rope of dialogue can be as satisfying as a great twist of the plot. The more modern BRICK took the “noir” approach to dialogue and was so much richer as a result.

What makes CASABLANCA so successful is the sense that people’s difficult decisions are at the core of the plot and story. Because they’re difficult and the humans responsible are complex, and realistically so, how the story unfolds is dramatic and suspenseful.

The simple storytelling device of putting a character in a situation where either choice is the right one leads to such tight and effective drama. Too often I focus on plot and circumstance to drive story when I should more often consider providing characters with a difficult choice then letting them unravel from there.

I also appreciated how limited the set was. While not simple, most of the action takes place in Rick’s Cafe Americain (which has such a badass neon sign). There are luxurious shots throughout the large space, but overall the locations are limited.

Always worth mentioning when the medium shines through, as it does in the flashback sequences where Rick and Ilsa are in Paris on a obviously-projected background. Having said that, for 1942 the film seems modern and dynamic. Lots of tracking shots.

Also impossible not to notice the super-soft, almost blurry close ups that seem like a completely different lighting set up from the wides and mediums. I don’t know if that’s a style choice or just necessary to get the right look (or increase the drama of the close up).

A rich film with amazing global and interpersonal issues that’s boiled down to a human drama with high high stakes. An ironic ending that’s unexpected while highly believable and showing some significant change in our protagonist.

The central thematic question of weighing your own self interest versus the greater good is timeless and so well highlighted.

It’s understandable while CASABLANCA is a cornerstone of cinema.

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