“Of all the gin-joints in all the towns in all the world, she has to walk into mine.”
There is no hope of remembering quite when I first saw Casablanca—in fact it’s difficult to imagine a time when I hadn’t. I do know that every time it has turned up on television throughout my life, I moved everything aside to watch it. In more recent times, I’ve been to the Astor at least three times to see it on the big screen. I own a copy and have watched that often. Just a few months ago, a bunch of geriatric friends gathered for a viewing, just for the nostalgia of it all.
You can be reasonably sure that sometime in my pre-memory years, it would have turned up at one of the local cinemas and I doubt that Uncle Kevin would have been able to allow the opportunity to go by without insisting we all make attendance and pay due homage. What I do remember is that I had seen it before, no matter how early a viewing I might cogitate. It was made three years before I was born and I reckon I even saw it and loved it while I was still in the womb.
“I’ve often wondered why you came to Casablanca?”
“I came for the waters.”
“What waters? We’re in the desert?”
“I was misinformed.”
“Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By.”
It’s not the greatest film ever made—even its companion piece The Maltese Falcon probably out rates it in that regard. It certainly isn’t a perfect movie in the way, say, High Noon is. It’s a hopeless piece of melodrama with a serious flat spot in the middle, but that doesn’t matter. What it is is pure magic—a movie where, quite by accident, all of the elements came together ideally to produce something above and beyond the normal measure of things. It isn’t the best movie—it is just universally the most loved.
“You played it for her and you can play it for me.”
The first half-hour is a single, continuous sequence of the to-ing and fro-ing in Rick’s café—certainly one of the most brilliant constructs ever perpetrated on film. Although a single set sequence, it never betrays its theatrical origins. Characters and situations come and go as we track about the place, all fitting together seamlessly into a magnificent whole. This is indeed great film-making.
“Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects.”
“Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow.”
The ending is purely the stuff that myths are made on— awesome in its power and beauty and emotional muscle. Moment follows moment with escalating tension, snapped when the plane engine starts up and the three characters turn toward it, each knowing that this is their moment of destiny. Then Bogie’s immortal ‘hill of beans’ speech—it is pointless to try and describe with words. Our very spirits stretch out across the gap to touch these people, to touch them and maybe absorb into ourselves a little of the passion of their lives. The chaos of their various desperations all brought together for this final, extraordinary moment of resolution. The beautiful friendship that begins at the end is really between the movie and the whole world.
In between is the stuff everyone tends to forget about—especially the bloody awful flash-back to Paris. Bogart tells you more in one line “You wore blue, the Germans wore grey.” than the whole sequence manages to evoke. And none of this matters in the least. To complain is to be reduced to quibbling. Love is blind, and this is the movie that more people fell in love with than any other.
“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
“Ilse, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that. Not now. Here’s looking at you, kid.”