Casablanca ★★★★½

~ Remember, this gun is pointed right at your heart.
~~ That is my least vulnerable spot.

Casablanca succeeds as a classic due to a variety of factors: a memorable score and setting, uniformly strong performances, significant lead character development (especially for an average length film), a sharp and quotable script, and of course, the iconic ending scene. Michael Curtiz's film won the 1944 Best Picture Oscar, overachieving expectations, and has never looked back to this day in holding prominence and a reputation as a classic romantic drama.

Most of you know the story, but in a couple sentences: It's a movie about a lonely and cynical, scorned ex-lover operating a bar in Casablanca, a place in Morocco occupied by the French, in which fleeing European refugees often converged in hopes of obtaining the means to escape to America during WWII. The bar owner Rick (Humphrey Bogart) faces a moral dilemma when a former love affair (Ingrid Bergman) returns with a husband and needs safe passage, to which he ends up holding the key. Rick, who strongly prides himself as a political neutral, has become an isolationist of sorts in almost every way since his heart was broken those years ago, but despite his grouchy nature, he still finds himself in this respected position, right in the heart of this charged political landscape. Without getting into endgame details, Rick's character experiences some of the best development work that I've seen in an average length film. He's a bit of an antihero from the start, showing signs of a good heart, but hidden under a somewhat unlikable nature. He's placed into a unique situation and it's interesting as a viewer to see the steps of his inner journey and anguish.

Details, details. This film has details. The score is great. "As Time Goes By" was not originally conceived for Casablanca, but the film did really raise the profile of the song. The wistful music combines with the set design of Rick's bar and the shots in such a classy and romantic way. It's all very comforting and inviting, despite the tense and serious nature of the plot. I think that's one of the real reasons people take to this film so much. Casablanca really is a film that successfully "suggests" the idea of romance so much more consistently than it actually shows it. I feel strongly about that view. Again, that's a result of the detail work and strong filmmaking. Really the only thing holding me back from giving this that perfect score is that I really would have liked to SEE more romance developing in the Paris flashback and really watch it unfold and develop with an extra 15 minutes, instead of just being told it was there and seeing some short bits of dialogue towards the end of that time.

All in all, it's an excellent film and I'd echo the mass praise, for the most part. I think it's pitch perfect as both a drama and a character study and definitely still fairly strong as a romance, if slightly unfulfilling in its actual romantic setup. Either way, the payoff is so perfect that every time it pretty much quells any significant issues that are brewing in my mind or heart. My rating: 4.5 out of 5 // 9 out of 10 planes. -KF

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