- Casablanca (movie 1942) review: Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid, producer Hal B. Wallis and director Michael Curtiz’s Best Picture Oscar winner is one of the most revered Hollywood classics. But is it really that good?
- Casablanca was nominated for eight Academy Awards (for 1943, the year it opened in the Los Angeles area), topping three categories: Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay (Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein, Howard Koch).
Casablanca (movie 1942) review: Is Warners’ World War II romantic melodrama truly one of the greatest Hollywood productions ever?
“Likability” and “greatness” are wholly different qualities, be they applied to a work of art, an idea, or just the execution of a plan. While Michael Curtiz’s 1942 classic Casablanca is a good movie, it’s nowhere near greatness for a variety of technical, aesthetic, and artistic reasons.
First off, director Michael Curtiz, while a good studio man, was in no way an auteur. Take Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life and one can clearly see stylistic continuity from those films to others in the auteur’s canon. That includes the use of dialogue, visuals, character development, editing, scoring, etc.
Watch scenes from any earlier Capra film and one can easily see that James Stewart’s George Bailey would be perfectly at home in them. As for Casablanca, there’s no continuity when compared to Curtiz’s other efforts.
‘Lack of vision’
Next, there is the film’s lack of “vision.” In short, Casablanca isn’t in the least bit poetic like the works of true masters like Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, Theo Angelopoulos, Michelangelo Antonioni, or Stanley Kubrick. Instead, it’s a solid-prose movie with no higher meaning to it.
This flaw is revealed by the fact that virtually all of its characters are, to be generous, archetypes – if not full-blown stereotypes – and this one-dimensionality makes much of what occurs in the story predictable.
That’s not to say that this predictability is poorly handled, but from the moment Humphrey Bogart’s and Ingrid Bergman’s eyes first meet, you know that theirs is destined to be a doomed romance.
Because that’s the way Hollywood formula works with dark, brooding antiheroes, and angelic, Madonna-like heroines. The hows and wherefores are minor in comparison to the knowledge that these two characters will not end up together.
Now, compare Bogart and Bergman’s relationship to that of other romantic film couples – from schlock like Arthur Hiller’s Love Story (which also uses the doomed love trope) to deeper investigations of human relationships as portrayed in, say, Michelangelo Antonioni’s great films of the 1960s.
True, Casablanca is both propaganda and melodrama. These are fine reasons to explain why there isn’t a good deal of depth in the characterizations and resultant relationships, but … an explanation is not an excuse for a flaw.
Written haphazardly according to historical reports, the Casablanca screenplay – credited to Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch, from Murray Burnett and Joan Alison’s unproduced play “Everybody Comes to Rick’s” – would have been more bearable with a few more moments to flesh out complexities and off-handed bits of “accidental” poesy or philosophy, and with the loss of some of the the dramatically absurd moments, e.g., the scene where Bergman threatens Bogart with a gun, or the cringe-inducing jingoism of the stagy bit when German soldiers and French refugees do battle with patriotic songs.
But the flaws in terms of character development and the subsequent narrative that flows from it do not all stem from the script. It’s also the result of acting that mostly ranges from mediocre to downright bad.
Unfairly maligned Paul Henreid
The top-billed Casablanca actors are Humphrey Bogart as club owner Rick Blaine, Ingrid Bergman as his ex-lover Ilsa Lund, and Paul Henreid as Ilsa’s husband, the Czechoslovakian Nazi Resistance outlaw Victor Laszlo.
Virtually all critiques of this trio leave Henreid as the odd man out, mainly because the film focuses on the love angle between Rick and Ilsa. Yet from a purely technical standpoint Henreid gives, by far, the best performance; since it’s also the most understated, it usually gets dismissed as stiff acting rather than good acting of a stiff character.
In many ways, Henreid’s performance reminds me of Masayuki Mori as the murdered samurai husband in Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 drama Rashomon. Like Mori, Henreid conveys emotional depth and complexity with his eyes or the slight lift of a brow. He is restrained, but this is because his character is über-disciplined.
Victor’s two-time overt declaration of love for Ilsa stands in starkly positive contrast to Rick’s cartoonish, caveman-like refusal to utter such declarations. Furthermore, Victor shows his love for Ilsa throughout the film, while Rick’s love is displayed only in the final scene; even then, Rick’s final gesture is not something that emanates from within.
Because he ends up doing the very thing that Victor initially suggests that he is willing to do: He would allow Rick to leave Casablanca and take his wife with him, for her own safety.
We never doubt Victor’s love for Ilsa, whereas there is the sneaking suspicion that Rick merely had the hots for her even if he blew it up into more than what it was.
‘Center and lynchpin’
It’s always more difficult to play a character that is the “good guy” and does not undergo some sort of however slight transformation. Paul Henreid’s Victor is thus not only Casablanca’s best portrayed character, but also its most nuanced.
Really, does anyone for a moment not believe that Victor knows full well what went on between Ilsa and Rick both in Paris and Casablanca?
Of course not, but Victor has to pretend not to be affected even if he is – because he has his eyes on the greater prize, the overthrow of the Nazi regime, not the famed “hill of beans” problems of three little people.
In short, Henreid’s character, despite having less screen time than Ingrid Bergman’s and Humphrey Bogart’s, is Casablanca’s center and lynchpin. Simply stated, without Victor Laszlo – in his physical being and internal composition – the movie would not have even reached the level of “good melodrama.”
‘Not that good’ Humphrey Bogart
Now, contrast Paul Henreid’s Victor with Humphrey Bogart’s Rick.
Rick is rather one-dimensional despite the character’s early evocations of depth. His attraction to Ilsa seems superficial; after all, in the flashback scenes in Paris and even those in Casablanca, does he ever speak of higher purpose?
No, Rick is wholly selfish, through and through.
Bogart’s Rick is also a far showier role than Henreid’s Victor. But does Bogart do anything more with it? Despite some wittier lines and the nice scene where Rick lets a Romanian refugee couple win at roulette to pay for their visas out of Casablanca, is Rick Blaine sufficiently different from the Sam Spade Bogart essayed in John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon, or any of the rather stolid thugs he played throughout the 1930s?
That’s because there is the same reliance on trite body mannerisms that, while they define the Bogart “star persona” (as did John Wayne’s personal foibles define his), they add nothing to the actual Casablanca character. In short, Rick Blaine is the generic Humphrey Bogart character from past films.
Bogart simply was not that good of an actor and could not differentiate his characters, unlike, say James Cagney (compare his roles in White Heat and Yankee Doodle Dandy), or Gary Cooper (see Sergeant York, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, High Noon), or James Stewart (see It’s a Wonderful Life, Rope, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), or, more recently, Robert De Niro (contrast his roles in Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, and The King of Comedy).
‘Rather mediocre’ Ingrid Bergman
That brings me to the last and least of the trio of star performances: Ingrid Bergman’s rather mediocre portrayal of Ilsa Lund.
First of all, I should clarify that Bergman’s is not a “bad” performance; yet it’s nowhere near great, either. One need only look at contemporaneous performances by, say, Katharine Hepburn, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, or even Judy Garland, to see how much Bergman pales in contrast.
Her Ilsa is a pawn, a toy, a heroine who is the plaything of the two men in her life – and, incidentally, isn’t it interesting how similar in facial construction both Henreid and Bogart are? A fortuitous development that adds some much-needed depth to Ilsa’s psyche.
Ilsa has zero control of her destiny and zero ability to will herself any power – emotionally, spiritually, or sexually. It’s rather apparent that Ilsa really loves Victor, not Rick, because anyone who’s ever been in love knows that she would have stayed with Rick, no matter. The truth is she likely just lusted for Rick and realized that, but lucked out in having him make a decision she knew was right while being too weak to voice it.
As for the actress?
The raving over Bergman’s performance is likely the worst aspect of most critical assessments of Casablanca. I’ve pointed out how nuanced Paul Henreid’s acting is, being able to convey emotions with his eyes alone; well, Bergman does something different – she totally overacts with her eyes. Many a critic fulminates rapture over her terminally tear-filled gaze, but from the get-go Ilsa is a stereotypical damsel in distress, prone to hyper-emotionalism and in no believable way a “mature” woman.
Now, having seen Ingrid Bergman in other films, I know she is a better actress than what can be attested in Casablanca.
‘Scripted’ Claude Rains
In the second tier, Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nominee Claude Rains plays Captain Louis “Louie” Renault.
While there are certainly several great moments for Louie, the character isn’t a great one nor does Rains exhibit great acting chops.
Besides, there is a flippancy and preciousness in the repartee between Louie and Humphrey Bogart’s Rick – and between them and other characters – that’s simply not believable. One would think they were the reincarnations of Oscar Wilde, for their conversation, however quotable, feels scripted.
Other Casablanca movie issues
Additionally, Casablanca lacks a single memorable shot – nothing that defines cinematographer Arthur Edeson’s images the way, say, an Ingmar Bergman film is noteworthy for the images of a Sven Nykvist.
I should add that I’m not saying Edeson lacked talent. After all, he helped to create film noir with his work on The Maltese Falcon and helped to define 1930s horror films with his work on James Whale’s Frankenstein.
As for Michael Curtiz’s direction, it’s rather pedestrian. Having stated that, does it surprise you in the least that Curtiz garnered one of the three Oscars Casablanca won (out of eight nominations)?
The other two were for Best Picture of 1943 (the year the film opened in Los Angeles) and, no surprise, Best Screenplay.
The worst technical aspect of the film, however, is its music, most of which is diegetic. In the formal scoring field, Max Steiner shows an inept handling of music, for the “As Time Goes By” piece, used as the love theme for Rick and Ilsa, too often gives away upcoming dramatic elements.
At other times, the scoring is mawkish, often intruding on scenes better left unscored, giving away plot elements before they arise or emotionally leading the audience in ways the actual narrative does not.
Problematic black character
Another important problem is the handling of Casablanca’s black character, Sam. The film may reflect its time fine enough, but there is still a cringe-inducing quality to Dooley Wilson’s slightly above coonish attitude of deference to Rick.
Despite many critics’ claims that the film portrays the two men as equals, this is clearly not so. Sam’s deference is typical of black depictions of the time, as if he had no personal or interior life of his own; it’s as if he exists merely as an extension of his white friend and employer.
In that regard, the worst scene in Casablanca takes place when Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa offhandedly refers to Sam as the “boy” who plays piano, even though he’s forty-something years old – or quite a bit older than Ilsa herself.
The moment is teeth-grinding because, unlike Gone with the Wind, there was no reason for Casablanca, which is set in a French colony in Africa, not to reflect a more accepting attitude toward blacks.
Now, the biggest mistake that prevents Casablanca from reaching greatness is its lack of great themes.
There is nothing in the film that is so overwhelmingly majestic, technically or performance-wise, that can put it in a class with many of the other highly praised motion pictures of the past. Seen next to Citizen Kane, Tokyo Story, Seven Samurai, La Dolce Vita, or 2001: A Space Odyssey, Casablanca comes up short. Way short.
It lacks Citizen Kane’s innovations, acting, and screenplay. It lacks Tokyo Story’s characterizations and philosophical depth. It lacks the action, acting, and universal appeal of Seven Samurai. It lacks the acting, humor, and biting social commentary of La Dolce Vita. It lacks the intellectual probing, audacious screenplay, and mind-blowing presence of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Some yahoos have read homosexual and Oedipal subtexts into Casablanca. It’s this unstinting (and often unthinking and uncritical) praise by those who should know better that is the most silly.
Exception to the auteur theory?
Lastly, film critic Andrew Sarris claimed that Casablanca is “the most decisive exception to the auteur theory,” but he’s wrong – and wrong for several reasons.
For starters, the auteur theory generally applies toward films and filmmakers that are great; while Casablanca has been claimed as great, no one has ever made that claim for Michael Curtiz. Thus, it’s not an exception to the auteur theory because it’s outside the scope of greatness.
Moreover, greatness is part and parcel of a vision; and vision is, almost by definition, a property only a singular person can have, not a group. And Sarris’ admission that Casablanca had more than one “auteur” also places it outside the scope of the auteur theory.
And in order for something to be an “exception,” it has to fall within the purview of the claim.
In conclusion, Casablanca is a good – if vastly overrated – movie mainly on the strength of its wit, pacing (there’s not a dull or “wasted” moment in it), and the acting of Paul Henreid.
Still, it’s not even what I would term a “genre great” film, whether one considers its genre to be melodrama, romance, war, or thriller – or even were it to fall into the purview of an auteur film. That’s because Casablanca lacks vision, in addition to being a stylistic and narrative hodgepodge.
But it does entertain. In fact, the lower your expectations, the more entertaining it seems.
Casablanca (movie 1942) cast & crew
Director: Michael Curtiz.
Screenplay: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch. (Uncredited contributor: Casey Robinson.)
From Murray Burnett & Joan Alison’s unproduced play “Everybody Comes to Rick’s.”
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt, S.Z. Sakall, Dooley Wilson, Joy Page, Madeleine Lebeau, John Qualen, Leonid Kinskey, Curt Bois, Helmut Dantine, Marcel Dalio.
Cinematography: Arthur Edeson.
Film Editing: Owen Marks.
Music: Max Steiner.
Art Direction: Carl Jules Weyl.
Producer: Hal B. Wallis.
Production Company | Distributor: Warner Bros.
Running Time: 102 min.
Country: United States.
“Casablanca (Movie 1942): Less Than Great Classic” review text © Dan Schneider; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes © Alt Film Guide.
“Casablanca (Movie 1942): Less Than Great Classic” is a condensed/revised version of Dan Schneider’s text currently found in its original form here.
“Casablanca (Movie 1942): Less Than Great Classic” notes
3 Oscar wins, 5 other nominations
 Besides its three Oscar wins, Casablanca was shortlisted in the following categories: Best Actor (Humphrey Bogart), Best Supporting Actor (Claude Rains), Best Black-and-White Cinematography, Best Film Editing, and Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.
Ingrid Bergman was also a nominee at the 1943 Academy Awards, but for her portrayal of the Spanish rebel Maria in Sam Wood’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. She lost to Jennifer Jones for The Song of Bernadette.
Casablanca movie credits via the American Film Institute (AFI) Catalog website.
Martin Garralaga, Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid Casablanca movie images: Warner Bros.
“Casablanca (Movie 1942): Less Than Great Classic” last updated in April 2023.
Great assessment of an overrated movie. It’s not just me, then.
What an abysmal, sneering review of a film that represented an era of hopelessness and tragedy. The feelings the actors purveyed were not even mentioned. Rick’s heartbreak over his memories of his time with Ilsa are not something that can be written….they are felt and the audience feels them as a result. I found this picky review to be so disheartening to read that I am sorry I found it. All I wanted to do was to find the one comment that Ingrid Bergman made about not wanting, initially, to be in the movie because she felt it was of so little consequence. And yet it turned out to be one of the most famous roles she ever had in an unforgettable movie. People don’t go to movies to pick them apart scene by scene. They want to see movies that they can escape into, that they can relate to. They want to experience feelings of people they have never met but who lived their lives the best they could in circumstances beyond their control. I’m sorry to have read such a soulless review.
Sorry, but I have to disagree with RG. I come at it a little differently.
a) First, l want to distinguish between how a character is written up in the script–Ilsa Lund has been given this kind of character, Rick Blaine has that kind–and the way the actors develop the script. I’m contending that the script delivers two characters who act according to the beliefs of their times. In general, men were to be the active partners, not show much emotion. manage & protect their women etc. In general, women were to be passive, show lots of emotion, accept the managing and protecting. etc/ According to norms like these, both Ilsa and Rick behaved the way ideal characters were supposed to behaveback then.
In the past 70 years, relations between men and women have modified themselves. Paul Henreid’s Victor allows Ilsa to say “no” in the Blue Parrot, to turn back questions about Paris, to act as it seems best to her regarding the letters of transit (unlike Rick, Victor promises to go on believing and trusting her no matter what she does or how things seem). As it’s written, his character is less time-bound.
b) Now, how well do the actors put their characters across? I think Bergman does a pretty good job with a pretty dull character–lots of beauty, not much grit–whereas Bogart does a less good job with a more interesting character. His part has more motion and more good lines than, for instance, Henreid’s Victor, but I have to agree with our reviewer, Dan Schneider: Bogart falls back on his mannerisms and doesn’t develop Rick until maybe the end dialog with Ilsa. Best actor of his generation? How about Spencer Tracy, or Gary Cooper, or even Lawrence Olivier? Or, closer up, Paul Henreid, who does a detailed portrit of a tense, buttoned-down man who loves his wife and tries to keep his cool in the midst of a life on the run.
As for patronizing: “Women don’t appreciate Bogart because women see what they want to see.” Well, maybe some do, some don’t: let’s not generalize. But to tell the woman you love that she can’t understand the situation, and maybe won’t if ever. seems kind of patronizing to me. For this women, thank goodness the world has moved on.
I really enjoyed this blog because I think it has some of the most perceptive comments about Casablanca, especially about Paul Henreid’s performance. So many people don’t seem to appreciate his work, probably because it was subtle enough that not everyone “gets” it.
I ‘m always surprised how many people think of him as having a very limited range when he was capable of a lot more than Casablanca & Now, Voyager.
Just buzzing around looking for feminist views on Bogart. What an utter surprise that feminists hate him. I think the fact that without Bogart’s clever heroism in Casablanca both Henreid and Bergman would be dead or headed for the gas chamber in a Polish concentration camp is something this nameless female reviewer has chosen to ignore. The true story of this marvelous film is that almost the entire cast was made up of refugees. Once you learn that the fat bespeckled waiter in real life lost 3 sisters in German concentration camps, you will never look at this movie the same way again. Both Bogart and Rains were WWI veterans. Both were wounded. Was Henreid a better actor than Bogart? He certainly wasn’t good enough to manufacture a Czech accent. Women don’t appreciate Bogart because women see what they want to see. Women love Cary Grant because he appears to be perfect. Bogart doesn’t. Bogart was a bit actor who became a star. His style represented the have-nots. Bogart rarely gets the girl. He gets killed a lot. He’s a crafty loser. He’s a chain smoker and a drunk. He can hardly speak. Yet he remains an american hero, both on film and in life. John Wayne was a deceitful fraud (and no veteran). Bogart, like Lon Cheyney, Paul Muni, and Lee Marvin, was true blue. Women who disregard him are women who don’t see him. A bad actor? He was the greatest actor of his generation. Watch Sahara or Treasure of the Sierra Madre, if you dare. Casablanca is about love, but not Bergman’s. Bergman only loves herself. She sacrifices nothing. Bogart saves her even though she doesn’t deserve it. He gives her up. What he says to her isn’t patronizing. It’s an excuse to get her on the plane. He recognizes the Henreid character will take better care of her. He is being utterly unselfish. Something wrong with that?
I agree that Ilsa’s character is written up as pretty passive & pallid, but I think Dan’s judging her by a post-feminist criterion. Ideal women, Hollywood women, were SUPPOSED to be passive, steered by their men, victims of rageing emotions; men were supposed to be the active, initiative-taking, hard-charging members of a couple, capable of objectivity and reason. That’s why Rick is so sure he is the right one to “think for” both of them, and why he doesn’t give Ilsa any final choice about her future life. That’s what a “strong” American male did back then: manage and protect his woman. (Of course, there were men who were exceptions to this rule, who respected strong women. Paul Henreid was married to Lisl Henreid, who was famous all over Hollywood for her wit and strength. The Henreids enjoyed each other for over 55 years.)
I’m a member of the “silent” generation, and that’s what we rebelled against in the women’s movement of the ’60’s and ’70’s. Rick Blaine’s “You’ll be grateful to me later when/if you can understand my decision for your future” is the kind of paternalism we expected when our men gave orders. But poor Ilsa: back in 1942 a “good” woman–even, in popular culture, a supposedly “normal” woman–was usually supposed to passively accept the destiny offered to her by the fathers, husbands, sons, or lovers in her life. Back then, most of us did, sometimes gratefully, sometimes not. Remember, we weren’t supposed to be set up for decision-making. Again, there were exceptions: Bette Davis played some of them. But Ilsa’s tears were her best resource when arguement failed.
Victor is portrayed as respecting Ilsa’s freedom much more. He lets Ilsa say “no” when he tries to talk her into that single visa in the black market; later he doesn’t press her about what went on in Paris (he knows perfectly well what happens with lonely people in war time.) In the 1940’s, though, he could have been judged as “weak ” for not insisting.
At the end, compassionate and sad, he simply asks, “Are you ready, Ilsa?” Hardly belittling or paternalistic to the wife he’s just been observing, crying her eyes out. One wonders what they’ll talk about on the plane.
Your analysis & elevation of Paul Henreid’s Victor Lazlo is so on-target. Bogie was just playing Bogie, with the mannerism that he was noted for and that fans paid to enjoy.
Henreid was never that type-cast, rolling from Nazi villains to suave continental lover to tense, tight-focussed resistance hero, who’s dedicated to his Cause, freedom for Europe. At first Victor seems so cool and restrained it’s hard to believe he’s a charismatic leader until he yields to impulse over the Marseillaise. When he lets loose, he has the passion & power to stir audiences 60 years later. Not just Henreid’s eyes but his shoulders, neck and jaw portray what’s going on inside: the wary man entering Rick’s for the first time, tense with his eyes sweeping the room, unlike the next evening when he’s familiar with the scene: he’s more relaxed and ready to try some charm. Or after he gently questions Ilsa about Paris–in vain–and she pops up with her interjection “Victor!” His whole being stiffens in terror at what she’s maybe going to tell him. If she’s going to lie, he doesn’t want to deal with it just now; if she’s going to tell him the truth, he doesn’t want to face that, either. This may be the last time he ever sees her, because he’s on his way to a dangerous meeting. When she changes her mind and just says “Be careful!” you see him relax with relief. A nifty piece of acting.
Victor is what we term a “secular saint”; think Ghandi, or Eleanor Roosevelt, or Dag Hamerskjold. Typically, he isn’t much fun to live with and continually involves himself together with anyone he’s close to. Typically, he’s a manipulator. Typically also, he’s accepting and non-judgmental. Typically, Ilsa probably doesn’t love him as a person, or in an intimate way; the people around secular saints give them awe and admiration as embodiments of causes they believe in. Typically he’s good at setting up support groups; in one evening he forms one at the Cafe after the Marseillaise, and goes off to another with the Resistance group. Unfortunately both groups evaporate on him, so he changes course and offers to sacrifice his own needs to send Ilsa out of danger with his rival, Rick. Because Victor’s focus is far off on the Cause, he doesn’t focus on his own needs or Ilsa’s either, though he needs and adores her. She’s portrayed as the one person he can be vulnerable with, but he’s not good at intimacy. If he can ever let up and relax his sense of total dedication, you wonder what Ilsa will see in him. She’ll have to learn to love him in a new way, and she’s not portrayed as bright enough to learn that. Typically, secular saints push on until they die trying.
We need secular saints to keep us moving in the right direction, and sometimes even getting there. Henreid portrays the layers of such a person with nuance and verve. Why people prefer Bogart’s acting is beyond me.
The statement: “there was no reason for Casablanca, which is set in a French colony in Africa, not to reflect the more accepting French attitude toward blacks.” is remarkably naive. Ask the Algerians how accepting the French were. Look closely at contemporary French society. You’ll see as much bigotry in France as anywhere in the world now. it did not appear overnight.
Although this review focuses overly much on Paul Henreid’s eye movements, the question of what makes a great vs. good film is worthy of critical examination, particularly in the case of a film such as Casablanca, where character development is limited.
Schneider seems a bit too enthusiastic in his criticism of Bogart. I would agree that the ending of the film cannot support the big themes suggested within it. The tension between personal desires and patriotism/freedom fighting is, in my opinion, rich enough to make a great movie. Bogart’s performance may be part of the reason that film’s story does not completely elucidate big themes in an emotionally or intellectually satisfying way, but that’s more the fault of the script than the actor. Watch Maltese Falcon again. With better lines, Bogey can deliver.
Some commentators have already made some valid observations, such as Casablanca does in fact have themes, some of which are rather important.
But since you mentioned Ingmar Bergman several times, I’ll just say that Bergman was a great fan of Curtiz, and in the 40s he was influenced by his work, in particular his style. But you can see it even in the late 60s. Because Curtiz had a style. You’ll notice it if you compare Curtiz with Raoul Walsh for example, at their Warner Bros. periods. I once zapped through the channels and came across a film I didn’t recognise. A watch for a few minutes and then though “It’s probably Curtiz.” Then I had a look in the TV-guide. I was not wrong, and yet it was a film I hadn’t seen before. One thing about Curtiz is his expressionistic style, excessive use of shadows (for example it’s much more of it here than in The Maltese Falcon, also shot by Edeson but directed by John Huston). He also uses edgy camera movements, not a friend of lingering takes. You said that nobody has said that Curtiz was a great director, or auteur. That’s wrong. Peter Wollen for one is a fan, and has written an essay explaining why Curtiz can be regarded as an auteur. As has James Robertson and Paul Leggett. When Curtiz made Captain Blood, it went over budget because Curtiz “wanted to stamp his personality all over it”. And Curtiz was usually engaged in the script writing process, even on Casablanca. As for themes, he had a socially conscious agenda, champion of underdogs and revolutionaries.
You also said about Ingrid Bergman’s acting that she was too young and inexperienced when she made Casablanca. That’s a bit silly, since she had been a great star and a great actress in Swedish cinema for 10 years before she came to Hollywood.
But all of this is irrelevant as to whether Casablanca is a good film or a bad film. Personally I think it is OK, but it’s not exactly on my top 100 list, or even top 200. But that’s just me.
As a film studies professor, I confessed to being a bit shocked at the lack of understanding about Casablanca exhibited by the article’s author. He is of course entitled to his opinion and expresses it very well. However, it would take me an entire article to engage in a rebuttal. I came across this article while searching for more references about this great film because I’m screening it for my class this next Thursday.
Are you joking Dear Dan ?! Bergman’s beauty in CASABLANCA is unique. I can’t compare her to any other female characters in Rick’s bar. She was really one of the most beautiful actresses ever. I’m sure that many people enjoy watching Casablanca because of Ingrid Bergman’s natural beauty.
Well, you certainly know your film criticism, but YOU JUST DON’T GET IT. ” Casablanca” is agit-prop which transcends the limitations of its genre, made shortly after Pearl Harbor, when it looked like the Nazis might win. It’s as unfair to fault it for not having the emotional distance of postwar films like “Paths of Glory” or ” It’s a Wonderful Life” as it is to criticize “Birth of a Nation” for being politically incorrect by the standards of 2009.
You come across as someone who is either too young or too cynical to have suffered to defend your principles, and your inability to grasp the dueling national anthems scene is what gives you away. Speaking as the daughter of a veteran, someone who saw her high school classmates drafted, and who spent years doing relief and development work in Africa, I feel your different history makes it hard for you to understand the film.
Performing a banned national anthem is a political act of great courage, because IT CAN GET YOU KILLED ON THE SPOT. And Curtiz the Hungarian emigré understood this. He made good use of music to advance the story, just as the contrasting musical styles and rhythms in “Battle of Algiers” reveal the different goals and world views of the French and Algerians.
I agree with you about Henreid’s acting but disagree about the others. I’m sure you know Bergman was directed to “play it down the middle,” since the screenplay was being written just a day ahead of the shooting. But I think what you see as limitations are Curtiz’s choices,again informed by his experience. The actors are meant to be icons: Elsa symbolizes Occupied Europe, Rick is the USA – and thus uncertain about the depth of his commitment until the end. The same is true for the rest of the cast.
Just as “Liberty Leading the People” is both propaganda and a remarkable painting and “The Marseillaise” is a genuinely stirring national anthem, “Casablanca” is a war movie and yet so much more. Watch a contemporary newsreel and then give it another chance.
I think Casablanca is one of the most abysmally boring movies ever made. The only think even remotely great about that film is Ingrid Bergman’s face. Casablanca being ranked as the greatest film “of all time” is one of the purest examples of cowardly people afraid of expressing their own opinions.