Directed by Michael Curtiz
In a French-Moroccan city on the periphery of a Nazi war zone, rampant with impropriety, baleful foreign officials have gone awry. A New Yorker operates one of the local watering holes, where royalty mingles with the proletariat, each seeking a way out––whether besotted on gin and smoke, or trying their hand at roulette for traveling wages.
When the woman he planned to escape Paris with years earlier walks into his establishment with her husband––a notorious member of the French resistance––Rick Blaine, the bar owner whose sole code was never to do a favor for anyone, recaptures his misplaced political ideals.
Perhaps it’s not the archetypal setting for a love story, but with the striking faces and personalities of Humphrey Bogart as Blaine and Ingrid Bergman as his beloved, Ilsa Lund, Curtiz’s film burgeoned from a play of no importance to the embodiment of romance in cinema. Rick and Ilsa’s love affair ended just before the Nazi invasion of Paris years earlier, where she left him alone and waterlogged on a train platform with two tickets to their freedom. With Sam, his piano player, as his only confidant, Rick makes his way to Casablanca and begins a new life there, leaving any impression of Ilsa, or their infatuation for each other, behind.
During production, none of the actors knew how the film would end, and Bergman’s subtle facial expressions and oftentimes genuine exasperation at which man to choose––a noble, steadfast warrior emblematic of a greater cause, or a hard-drinking, maudlin American––demonstrate that conundrum. Casablanca is timelessly arresting thanks to a remarkable supporting cast (Paul Henreid, Peter Lorre, and Dooley Wilson, notably) and a bevy of pungent witticisms carried by Bogart’s languishing mystery man. Samantha Vacca (December 28-January 3 at Film Forum; showtimes daily)