The usual suspects were rounded up by Warner Brothers and set to making a film. There was no pretence at high art, the rationale behind the exercise was to make a movie that made a profit for the studio, to do so it had to be entertaing enough to get good reviews and popular enough with the public to generate box office revenue. In that it differed little from any of the hundreds of films made by the major studios in 1942
The script is well crafted and offers a romance in a crime/spy setting or conversely a spy/crime thriller with a romantic component. It thus appeals to a broad section of the cinemagoing public. The direction and photography is good, unobtrusive (except for a jarring dolly toward Ingrid Bergman as she threatens Bogart with a gun), the noirish lighting is deftly done and the casting is excellent. Humphrey Bogart is playing a tough guy, cynically wisecracking his way through life but what takes this away from typecasting is the opportunity for him to play as a romantic lead. I enjoyed the complexities of his character and felt the script and direction gave Bogart room to express himself.
My liking for Rick varied as the film progressed, amused by his cynicism, unhappy at his refusal to help Ugarte, interested to see how his staff respected and looked after him, ashamed for the self-pitying drunk and concerned at his apparent betrayals as the film reached its climax – all resolved as his seeming perfidy turned out to be a ruse to make Ilsa go with the man she loved for his patriotism and to defeat Major Strasser. He appeared to be prepared to sacrifice himself and his liberty to achieve that end, fortunately and perhaps unsurprisingly Captain Renault saves him from that fate, preferring to throw in his lot with Rick rather than live with the German administration.
Ingrid Bergman was well photographed and played well though I found a couple of her costumes less than flattering. the rest of the cast performed admirably, Rains was excellent as the cheerfully corrupt chief of police, trading cynical quips with Bogart's character.
Sidney Greenstreet appeared almost avuncular as Bogart's business rival though a little bit of business – swatting flies at the end of several shots – perhaps hinted at a more callous nature than shown on the surface, something one would expect from Casablanca's ruling criminal. I would be interested to know where that came from, director Michael Curtiz or Greenstreet himself.
It's a good film, story, cast, direction and design all work well and there is a broad spectrum of genres to keep audiences happy. But why is this workmanlike film hailed as a classic when it's contemporaries such as Desperate Journey, The Major and the Minor or Reap the Wild Wind which wereall similarly competently made films with A list directors and casts?
Serendipity. That's what – in my opinion.
The film was right for its time. America was a year into the Second World War and only just beginning to ramp up its war efforts to the extensive efforts as seen later in the Pacific and Europe. Allied successes in North Africa had just begun to bolster the belief that the Axis could be defeated. The little people in this film DID amount to a hill of beans – in their own small way they showed the Germans their spirit by drowning out DieWacht am Rhein with La Marseillaise and then by the outwitting of Major Strasser and his execution. And then the European and the American move forward to an unknown future – the beginning of a beautiful friendship?
Alist ingredients skilfully blended
Had a fun entertaining story, I really liked and felt for the characters