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Why It Works: Casablanca

09.04.2015

Why It Works is an ongoing column which breaks down some of the most acclaimed films in history and explores what makes them so iconic, groundbreaking, and memorable.

****SPOILERS AHEAD****

1942... not the happiest of times. The Second World War saw Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and other Axis leaders committing atrocities and causing unrest around the globe. While it wasn't uncommon for films and other media to condemn the Third Reich (have you seen Donald Duck as a Nazi?!), any criticisms were made at a great risk should the war not go our way. Think the fiasco surrounding THE INTERVIEW, but replace Kim Jong-un with a much scarier dictator who looks slightly less like a cartoon. Set in discordant Morocco, CASABLANCA sees refugees from occupied Europe and beyond desperately seeking passage to neutral Portugal and the United States. Amid the chaos, an equally tumultuous love story comes to a head, resulting in one of the most well-loved, studied, and iconic films of all time. Here's why it works:

WHY WE LIKE THE CHARACTERS:

At the onset of our story, Rick Blaine is cold, distant, and mysterious. While he may not be instantly likeable, we catch glimpses of the character we'll grow to love. When a stuffy Nazi affiliate tries to get into the gambling room, Rick banishes him to the bar, assuring him he's lucky to be let in at all. Rick hints at a yearning to leave Casablanca behind, wields a quick wit and debonair charm, and shows unwavering strength in his decisions. Once we learn Rick has been a lost soul since the beautiful Ilsa left him waiting on a train platform in Paris, we're brought through the rough exterior and see a much more vulnerable protagonist. Of course, CASABLANCA is nothing without the troubled Ilsa Lund, desperate for freedom, both from war-torn territory as well as her own heart. Finally, the rest of the cast pepper the film throughout, bringing both levity and tension to the story, including the radiant Sam, Rick's jilted lover Yvonne, the shifty Ugarte, the morally ambiguous Renault, Victor Laszlo- naive but impressive, and the Vader-esque Strasser (tell me Strasser getting off the plane isn't the inspiration for every the-bad-guy-is-here-and-needs-an-update scene).

"Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine."

WHY WE CARE:

CASABLANCA opens with a prologue detailing the plight of imprisoned Europe and the importance of French Morocco as an embarkation point to the Americas. We're then treated to a medley of desperate refugees, pickpockets, and German soldiers, eventually transitioning to the Mos Eisley cantina scene of Rick's Cafe Americain (okay, I'll stop with the STAR WARS comparisions, but they're totally there). We haven't even met the main character yet, but the alternating scenes of tension and levity immerse us into this world and have us intrigued. Immediately after Rick's introduction, the driving plot device is introduced: two letters of transit have been obtained, allowing the bearer passage to Lisbon and then the United States. It's not apparent whether Rick has any interest in said papers, but their importance is nonetheless clear. Shortly after we've settled into the world and understand Rick's involvement in it, Ilsa comes on the scene and stops Rick dead in his tracks. As we learn their backstory and see a fire still very much alive, letters of transit are the last thing on our minds.

"Here's looking at you, kid."

WHY WE'RE SATISFIED:

Once Rick and Ilsa's story takes off, CASABLANCA becomes a love story with the war as a backdrop. While Ilsa struggles with her feelings for Rick, we learn that she and her husband are indeed in search of extraction to the States, something she discovers Rick can provide (oh, that's what all that letters of transit business was all about). Having once been deserted by Ilsa with no explanation, Rick refuses to help. After several attempts, including threatening Rick at gunpoint, Ilsa reveals that she thought he husband was dead during their dalliance in Paris and only left upon learning he was alive and in need of help. Finally, as people tend to do after light gunplay, Rick and Ilsa discuss running away together. Following an unexpected conversation with Laszlo, though, Rick has a change of heart and arranges for Ilsa and Laszlo to escape together, ensuring Ilsa that it's the right choice. What matters most here is that we've seen Rick mature from a near-heartless wreck to a compassionate person making an extremely difficult and selfless decision. Oh, also Major Strasser shows up, so we get to see Rick kill a Nazi piece of shit (every movie should end like this) and make plans to join the resistance with Captain Renault.

"Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

WHY WE REMEMBER:

It's not uncommon these days for a film to feel dated after only ten or twenty years (often due to its dependence on the filmmaking trends of the time), but CASABLANCA feels timeless and as relevant and relatable today as it was in 1942. The characters are flawed and three-dimensional, the two circling plots don't work without each other, and significant political and societal criticisms pierce the story. As for the leads, Humphrey Bogart's Rick embodies a style and definition of cool we can still look up to, and Ingrid Bergman's Ilsa is as captivating and stunning as ever. With dozens of memorable lines, an exciting cast of characters, and a precise balance of comedy, drama, and political intrigue, it's no wonder CASABLANCA set such a precedent for modern film and continues to be celebrated and revered as time goes by.

Thoughts? What else worked for you? What didn't? Strike back below!

If you have any movies you'd like to see put under the microscope, let us know below or send me an email at brianbitner@joblo.com.

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Source: JoBlo.com

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11:47AM on 09/05/2015
I love this movie. Very well written piece and agree with what's written completely. I love the story, the characters, and especially the dialogue. The back-and-forth between Rick and Renault make the movie worth watching over and over again. This movie is the true definition of classic.
I love this movie. Very well written piece and agree with what's written completely. I love the story, the characters, and especially the dialogue. The back-and-forth between Rick and Renault make the movie worth watching over and over again. This movie is the true definition of classic.
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10:00AM on 09/04/2015
"It's not uncommon these days for a film to feel dated after only ten or twenty years (often due to its dependence on the filmmaking trends of the time), but CASABLANCA feels timeless and as relevant and relatable today as it was in 1942." Really? This movie did seem like it hadn't aged very well to me (I gave it a 6/10). Since it's a classic, at first I thought it was my fault that I felt that way. However, since then, I've seen a lot of movies that were made during the same period (and even
"It's not uncommon these days for a film to feel dated after only ten or twenty years (often due to its dependence on the filmmaking trends of the time), but CASABLANCA feels timeless and as relevant and relatable today as it was in 1942." Really? This movie did seem like it hadn't aged very well to me (I gave it a 6/10). Since it's a classic, at first I thought it was my fault that I felt that way. However, since then, I've seen a lot of movies that were made during the same period (and even before) that I've liked more than CASABLANCA. Those did (and still do) feel timeless to me.
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8:51PM on 09/04/2015
What specifically makes you say it doesn't hold up well?
What specifically makes you say it doesn't hold up well?
8:23PM on 09/05/2015
When analyzing an old movie, the viewer has to keep in mind the time it was made in, specially if it was the 1st movie to do something specific. However, there are movies with stories and characters so engaging that the viewer doesn't have to constantly remind him or herself WHILE WATCHING. To me, CASABLANCA didn't have them, but the following pre-1950s movies did: ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET THE KILLER, ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM, BAMBI, BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN, BICYCLE THIEVES, A CHRISTMAS CAROL
When analyzing an old movie, the viewer has to keep in mind the time it was made in, specially if it was the 1st movie to do something specific. However, there are movies with stories and characters so engaging that the viewer doesn't have to constantly remind him or herself WHILE WATCHING. To me, CASABLANCA didn't have them, but the following pre-1950s movies did: ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET THE KILLER, ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM, BAMBI, BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN, BICYCLE THIEVES, A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1938), DEAD OF NIGHT, DRACULA, DUMBO, FANTASIA, FRANKENSTEIN, THE GOLD RUSH, GONE WITH THE WIND, THE GREAT DICTATOR, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, THE JAZZ SINGER, KING KONG, LIFEBOAT, METROPOLIS, MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, SNOW WHITE and THE WIZARD OF OZ.
9:32AM on 09/04/2015

Such a great movie.

They don't make movies like this anymore. I got to see this in theaters back in May (I have a local theater that shows classic films on Sunday). It is such a great experience to sit and watch this on the big screen.
They don't make movies like this anymore. I got to see this in theaters back in May (I have a local theater that shows classic films on Sunday). It is such a great experience to sit and watch this on the big screen.
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7:49AM on 09/04/2015
The fact this came out during the war, with a minimum of preachiness (let's face it, the Nazis were scary even if we weren't at war with them) is just icing on the cake. And they had support from the best bunch of character actors working at that moment in Hollywood(Peter Lorre, Claue Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sidney Grenstreet).
The fact this came out during the war, with a minimum of preachiness (let's face it, the Nazis were scary even if we weren't at war with them) is just icing on the cake. And they had support from the best bunch of character actors working at that moment in Hollywood(Peter Lorre, Claue Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sidney Grenstreet).
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6:18AM on 09/04/2015
To me, Casablanca works for two reasons: 1. The Character and 2. Humphrey Bogart. Rick Blaine is very iconic. You don't know if you want to like him or punch the guy but there's something unique about him. And Humphrey Bogart's performance was superb. He gave Rick flesh and blood. He seems strong and stubborn but yet vulnerable inside. I watch this movie once a year and it never gets old.
To me, Casablanca works for two reasons: 1. The Character and 2. Humphrey Bogart. Rick Blaine is very iconic. You don't know if you want to like him or punch the guy but there's something unique about him. And Humphrey Bogart's performance was superb. He gave Rick flesh and blood. He seems strong and stubborn but yet vulnerable inside. I watch this movie once a year and it never gets old.
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6:57AM on 09/04/2015
I recommend to you Steven Soderbergh's THE GOOD GERMAN, not a great movie but yet an interesting tribute to CASABLANCA....
And, BARB WIRE, a Casablanca remake with Pamela Anderson... Believe it or not, I enjoyed it, I remepber watching it and saying to myself : " WTF, it's a Casablanca remake !!!! "
I recommend to you Steven Soderbergh's THE GOOD GERMAN, not a great movie but yet an interesting tribute to CASABLANCA....
And, BARB WIRE, a Casablanca remake with Pamela Anderson... Believe it or not, I enjoyed it, I remepber watching it and saying to myself : " WTF, it's a Casablanca remake !!!! "
7:09AM on 09/04/2015
Haha, I know! At first I didn't notice it. Then I read it on IMDB and Wow, it's a Casablanca remake??? Talking about Casablanca remake, check out the comedy movie Out Cold starring Jason London and Zach Galifianakis. It's a good comedy movie and quite a clever remake as well.
Haha, I know! At first I didn't notice it. Then I read it on IMDB and Wow, it's a Casablanca remake??? Talking about Casablanca remake, check out the comedy movie Out Cold starring Jason London and Zach Galifianakis. It's a good comedy movie and quite a clever remake as well.
7:22AM on 09/04/2015
Lee THE FALL GUY Majors is in it ??? SOLD !
Lee THE FALL GUY Majors is in it ??? SOLD !
7:28AM on 09/04/2015
Haha, yeah, Lee Majors as well!
Haha, yeah, Lee Majors as well!
5:19AM on 09/04/2015

maybe the most beautiful movie ending ever...


I cannot decide between Casablanca's ending and Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life ending...
One of the greatest film in American History...

I cannot decide between Casablanca's ending and Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life ending...
One of the greatest film in American History...
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6:16AM on 09/04/2015
Hey, welcome back, Ernesto. Long time no see. And yeah, those endings are very close call but I'd go with Casablanca. Very iconic, plus I like Humphrey Bogart more than James Stewart.
Hey, welcome back, Ernesto. Long time no see. And yeah, those endings are very close call but I'd go with Casablanca. Very iconic, plus I like Humphrey Bogart more than James Stewart.
6:50AM on 09/04/2015
thanks Matt... back to work... lol
I agree, Casablanca is so iconic... and has more great moments...
thanks Matt... back to work... lol
I agree, Casablanca is so iconic... and has more great moments...
2:12AM on 09/04/2015

Master Class Cinema

First off I want to say that I agree 100% with everything said in this article. The second is why in the hell we don't make movies like this anymore? Mind you I said don't and not can't because we can. Most times writing, good characters and acting make better films than an explosion or 30.
First off I want to say that I agree 100% with everything said in this article. The second is why in the hell we don't make movies like this anymore? Mind you I said don't and not can't because we can. Most times writing, good characters and acting make better films than an explosion or 30.
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6:14AM on 09/04/2015
Because nobody would watch a first class movie like this any more and no producer would back this up. The average moviegoer does not care about writing, good characters or acting any more, being forced fed and dumbed down by big blockbusters, tentpole movies and franchises.
Because nobody would watch a first class movie like this any more and no producer would back this up. The average moviegoer does not care about writing, good characters or acting any more, being forced fed and dumbed down by big blockbusters, tentpole movies and franchises.
7:38AM on 09/04/2015
I don't think it has anything to do with whether people care about good writing, character. etc. I think it's more about marketing. Anyone can understand the basic pleasures of Jurassic World. I still think storytelling wins out for most audiences, regardless of whether they would've seen the movie on their own or not.
I don't think it has anything to do with whether people care about good writing, character. etc. I think it's more about marketing. Anyone can understand the basic pleasures of Jurassic World. I still think storytelling wins out for most audiences, regardless of whether they would've seen the movie on their own or not.
8:48AM on 09/04/2015
There are films made in the west that have characterisation and intelligent content but they have small marketing budgets. The real answer to your question is China. Hollywood sells more tickets in China than the west and needs language free, simple to understand, visually driven films for that market. It stinks and that's why every 'blockbuster' (a nasty cliche) of recent times looks and sounds like Transformers.
There are films made in the west that have characterisation and intelligent content but they have small marketing budgets. The real answer to your question is China. Hollywood sells more tickets in China than the west and needs language free, simple to understand, visually driven films for that market. It stinks and that's why every 'blockbuster' (a nasty cliche) of recent times looks and sounds like Transformers.
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