Monday, April 4, 2011

The Great Alphabet of Films—C is For


      The most difficult challenge, thus far, in my alphabetic assemblage of films has been deciding what film will represent the academically passable letter C. I was torn between highlighting Citizen Kane, Casablanca, City of God, Clueless, Cinema Paradiso, Chinatown, Corky Romano, Cool Hand Luke or Casino. Ultimately, I chose Casablanca. But WTF! What the heck are Clueless and Corky Romano doing in that magnificent listing? Ah bloggers, it's just a cruel joke. Those two films drastically pale in comparison to any film title, for that matter, that ever donned the letter C.
      Casablanca is the foremost, seminal American romantic drama. This iconic film is directed by the prolific Michael Curtiz (Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Adventures of Robin Hood, White Christmas), and stars arguably the greatest male star in American cinema history, Humphrey Bogart (The African Queen, The Caine Mutiny, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) as well as the eminently beautiful Ingrid Bergman (For Whom the Bell Tolls, Spellbound, Joan of Arc). Without exaggeration, Casablanca is a pitch-perfect example of masterful cinematic execution. It is an enthralling coalescence of exquisite dialogue, superlative character development, and breathtaking music.
      I won't review the entirety of the plot (if you've not seen it, you'll appreciate my brevity). Set during World War II, it focuses on a tragic man's (Rick Blaine) explicit struggle between love and virtue. He must choose between either his once shattered love for a woman or helping her and her Czech Resistance leader husband escape from the Moroccan city of Casablanca. Bogart plays the sentimentally romantic figure, Rick Blaine, a cynical American expatriate, and the owner of an upscale nightclub and gambling den called "Rick's Café Américain." The crux of the story, and the cause of Rick's brackishness comes in the form of his ex-lover llsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), who walks into his establishment. And so begins, the greatest American romance ever told.

      Bogart plays Rick Blaine with such a kinetic warmth and sophisticated charm. He is the epitome of the stalwart American romantic lead—take notice Hollywood—that is worth rooting for. As the leader of AFI's "Top 100 Quotations in American Cinema" Bogart offers up these legendary Casablanca lines:

"Here's looking at you kid." "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." "We'll always have Paris." "Of all the gin joints in all the tows in all the world, she walks into mine." 

      Ingrid Bergman plays llsa with an effulgent resolve, leading to a dynamic chemistry between herself and Bogart's character. Claude Rains and Paul Henreid round out the illustrious cast, providing strong supporting performances.
      Casablanca gains its greatest appeal from Curtiz' taut and simplistic direction, for he relies more upon a psychological and temporal blush than any advanced technical command or visual bravura. The story, based upon the play "Everybody Comes to Rick's," focuses on the divergent moral dilemmas of its central characters. Curtiz tells the story through complementary images rather than any overt implementation of splendid visuals for visuals sake.
      The cinematography is defined by bars of shadows that help elicit feelings of imprisonment and emotional turmoil. Consequently, Casablanca is an unabashedly dark film noir that employs expressionist lighting to contrast the bleak nature of war and love forlorn. This contrast helps ignite a spirit of goodness and redemption. The music beautifully accentuates the tonality through some delicate and alluring numbers, including "As Time Goes By" and "It Had to Be You."   

      This unrestrained and unblemished artifact from the Golden Age of Hollywood is a ravishing composition of sentimentality and fragile humor. It's guided by an enduring pathos fused together from fragments of melodrama and dazzling intrigue. Sacrifice may be one of the films grand themes, emblematic of the painful sacrifice required for war. But the purity of the film is commensurate with the unadulterated, undiluted character of Hollywood's Golden Age—a flawlessly entertaining balance of comedy, romance, and suspense. Citizen Kane may be a "greater," more revolutionary film in terms of technique and narration, but Casablanca is unquestionably more loved.

*A collection of some of Casablanca's (and consequently, the history of film's) greatest quotes.


  1. I'm a huge Casablanca fan. One of the greatest American films, of all time. But I have to take a stand here and pledge my love for Clueless, too. LOL! Come on! That's a modern classic, if ever there was one!!

    Thanks for the follow -- looking forward to your A-Z Blogfest movie titles!

  2. LOVE Casablanca. Has to be in the top ten of best films ever.

  3. I think I'm one of the very few people who haven't seen CASABLANCA. But I do like Bergman.

  4. I love Casablanca. It's a film I own and yet, when I spy it on the schedule, I watch it on television as well. I could quote this film from start to finish and it's timeless story resonates with me each time I see it. My favorite character is Louis, he's just trying to do his job and survive the damned war, but he can't resist tweaking the Gestapo. The banter between he and Rick is some of the most riveting dialogue ever.

  5. I'm ashamed. I've never seen Casablanca, though I'm familiar with all the famous quotes. It's on the list, along with Citizen Kane....

  6. Casablanca is terrific - I got to see it projected a few years ago - but the projectionist had no clue about the differences in screen ratios for films made 60 years previously, and the squarish frame of Casablance was mashed into the 1:85 standard rectangle of today - result, three feet of Casablanca ending up on the wall above and then below the screen. I tried to get them to fix it - but they were clueless youths. Still very cool to see - great choice!

  7. I think nobody can remake this timeless movie. It is too perfect as it is. And like most great roles, no one can play Rick as well as Humphrey Bogart. Only Michael Curtiz and his crew can ever pull this movie off.

  8. @ Nicole

    Glad you love the film! Haha, I never understood the appeal of Clueless, but then again, I'm not a female, and it definitely espouses an overt feminist viewpoint. So, I'm biased, and perhaps, I'm not giving it due praise.

    @ Bish

    Absolutely! AFI has it in their top 5, I believe.

  9. @ Dezmond

    I implore you, no demand you, to see it ASAP. You've probably heard everything you need to. Now you just gotta watch it!

    @ Melissa

    Awesome! Ah, Louis is great. I also love the banter! From beginning to end, the dialogue never lets up. It's mesmerizing.

  10. @ Liz

    No need to be ashamed, as you have it on your must see "list." I'm sure you'll thoroughly love it!

    @ Craig

    Thanks! Your story is hilarious, though I sympathize with you. Hopefully, you'll witness a polished version for your next viewing.

    @ Jaccstev

    You are absolutely right, my friend! Classics on this level need not be remade. And Bogart is an unrivaled, larger-than-life movie star who was perfect for the role of Rick. I also loved his performance in The African Queen!