Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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Casablanca

Film #206

THE PLOT

Set in unoccupied Africa during the early days of World War II - An American expatriate meets a former lover, with unforeseen complications.

Year 1, Day 203

BEFORE: One of the biggest offenders to the “You haven’t seen that!” remark (the reason I started this whole marathon in the first place) is Casablanca. And seeing as it’s Oscar month, I thought now would be the perfect time to watch it instead of continuing to put it off. Casablanca was nominated for eight Academy Awards back in 1944 and won three of them including Outstanding Motion Picture (Best Picture), Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

AFTER: I’ve been known to have some very controversial opinions about some important films (e.g. Forrest Gump). Controversial in the sense that the films are almost universally adored, yet I find myself not that interested. Sad to say, Casablanca looks like it will also make it onto that list.

Now before people start freaking out and scream, “How can you not like Casablanca!”, I’d like to start out by saying that I don’t hate the film or found anything particularly bad about it, it’s just that I didn’t find that much appealing in the film. And to further analyze why exactly I think this, I’ll be using none other than Roger Ebert’s review as a foundation with which to expand.

If we identify strongly with the characters in some movies, then it is no mystery that Casablanca is one of the most popular films ever made.

One of the biggest praises of this film seems to be the characters. As Ebert, and other critics have said, the characters, and the actors who play them, are very real and appealing. My biggest problem is that I didn’t feel the same way. To me, the characters were nothing that special; they were just run-of-the-mill, standard characters. Each was well defined and well developed, for example Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), is the neutral bar owner who is key in negotiating who gets the coveted exit visas, but there wasn’t much there to make them memorable (unlike F. Murray Abraham or Tom Hulce as Salieri and Mozart in Amadeus.) A friend mentioned to me today that Casablanca was probably the first time characters like these appeared and therefore would be the start of these “run-of-the-mill” traits. I can understand and appreciate that, but at the same time, I honestly didn’t get invested in these characters and that could be for a couple different reasons, ones which I’ll cover in my concluding thoughts.

As for the writing, Ebert says:

What must have helped is that the characters were firmly established in the minds of the writers, and they were characters so close to the screen personas of the actors that it was hard to write dialogue in the wrong tone.

The writing, both the story and the dialogue, I did like a little better. But again, it’s not because it fit “characters so close to the screen personas of [their] actors” (maybe that’s true subconsciously but that’s not my main reason). I happened to like the writing because it just worked. The best example, and one of my favorite parts of the film, is when Captain Renault (Claude Rains) is shutting down Rick’s Café Américan because there’s illegal gambling going on, and as people are evacuating, someone hands the Captain a wad of cash of his own winnings. It is extremely clever and I thought very funny. A few more similar situations are present throughout Casablanca which kept me watching, but there weren’t enough to have me infatuated with the film.

When it comes to films, people can have wildly different opinions on what they think is good and bad. Now you may think this is just common sense, and it is in a way, but having watched a film a day for almost seven months now, I’ve learned quite a few interesting things, mostly about myself and how I view movies. There are a lot of factors that go into what I think of the movie. In addition to the traditional things like the acting, writing, and visual look of the film, there’s also many other important categories like hype, context, and mood. Casablanca is one of those classic films that everyone has heard about even if they haven’t seen it. Many fans and critics alike enjoy the film which is why it’s consistently listed among the best of the best. But due to a combination of hype (knowing how popular it is going into the film), context (all the films I’ve seen before watching Casablanca) and how that applies to the acting (decent, but nothing extraordinary) and the writing (some moments of greatness) had me wanting more. Despite being disappointed though, I am glad I watched Casablanca and would recommend that you do as well. At the very least you’ll have credibility when you quote the film now (“Here’s looking at you kid,” and “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”) and at the most you can find moderate to extreme enjoyment.

I’ll leave you with one more quote from Ebert’s review as advice for you, and a piece of hope for myself:

Seeing the film over and over again, year after year, I find it never grows over-familiar. It plays like a favorite musical album; the more I know it, the more I like it.

RATING: 3 out of 5