Combustible Celluloid
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With: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, S.K. Sakall, Madeleine LeBeau, Dooley Wilson
Written by: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, Howard Koch, with Casey Robinson (uncredited), based on the play "Everybody Comes to Rick's" by Joan Alison and Murray Burnett
Directed by: Michael Curtiz
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 102
Date: 25/11/1942

Casablanca (1942)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Of All the Gin Joints, in All the Towns

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When it all comes down to the end, I think I'd rather be curled up in front of Casablanca (1942) than just about anything else. It's like a warm blanket, a hot cup of tea, or a cuddly old dog.

Casablanca is the epitome of movie magic. Who would have thought that such a ragtag melodramatic old story could stand the test of time and melt even the grumpiest of hearts? It's just the right combination of elements: Humphrey Bogart's cynical Rick, whose heart always goes out to the underdog, Ingrid Bergman's lovely and brave Ilsa, and the rogue's gallery of shrieking weasel Peter Lorre, crooked official Claude Rains, and charming slug Sidney Greenstreet. It also gives us Dooley Wilson as Sam the piano player and Paul Henreid as Victor Laszlo, the man that causes all the trouble in the first place. Add to this Max Steiner's heartbreaking score, the great dialogue by the Epstein brothers (Julius and Philip), and the whole thing held magically together by studio director Michael Curtiz, and it doesn't even matter that Howard Hawks made the same movie better with To Have and Have Not (1944). Everyone who loves going to the movies loves Casablanca. Lines like "is that cannonfire... or the beating of my heart?" make me wince, but I'm hooked. I've seen Casablanca more than 20 times and I'm always ready to see it again, Sam.

Update 2003: It's not a masterpiece by a great auteur, but it's a great movie nonetheless, a perfect coming together of all the right talents at just the right time. It has a true magic to it, and it's one of the few movies that can easily hold up to many, many viewings (as it has for me). Though the great Casablanca has already been well represented on video, laserdisc and DVD, in 2003 Warner issued a new 60th anniversary 2-disc version with lots of extras, an introduction by Lauren Bacall, and two new commentary tracks, one by author-historian Rudy Behlmer, and the other by TV critic Roger Ebert. Ebert talks pretty fast and tends to repeat himself, but he has a wealth of information at his fingertips, and his familiar voice drips with enthusiasm for this, one of his favorite films. He holds the film up to the light and exposes its holes and he debunks certain myths surrounding the film, such as that Ronald Reagan was once considered for Bogart's part. For die-hard fans, this Casablanca supplants all other versions.

Update 2012: Though I once saw the movie on the big screen for its 50th anniversary, it's now celebrating its 70th anniversary, and Warner Home Video has topped itself once again with an absolutely gorgeous Blu-Ray. It comes in a huge box with a hardbound coffee table book, a poster, and -- get this -- a leather walled filled with drink coasters! The first two discs are Blu-Ray, with all the same extras from the 2003 disc, plus more. The third is a DVD for those that have not yet converted to high-def. A new documentary argues that Michael Curtiz is one of the great studio directors, and I'm beginning to believe that argument. Watching Casablanca yet again, I find that it is a good deal more complex and nuanced than I initially believed. It's no longer just a happy accident of Hollywood, or a throwaway wartime entertainment, but really a true work of art.

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