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Casablanca Casablanca
Reviewer: Richard Tara
Director: Michael Curtiz
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrand Veidt

Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) an expatriate American owns a night club in Casablanca, Morocco. Morocco was a French Colony. During World War II, France was quickly defeated and occupied by the Germans. However, the French overseas empire was still run by French colonial officials. German agents and secret police were given a free hand but were not really in charge of the colonies.

Casablanca, at that time, was full of European refugees on the run, hoping to get to the relative safety of Britain or the United States. To leave Casablanca, a refugee needed a “Transit Letter” from the Police.

Rick has an easy life and with the connivance of the crooked police chief, Captain Louise Renault, (Claude Raines) gambling flourishes in his establishment. Then his ex girlfriend Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) that had mysteriously disappeared on him years ago turns up unexpectedly.

Except, that she is not alone, she is accompanied by her friend, or maybe he is her husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) who is wanted by the Germans as a resistance leader. Captain Renault wants to keep his job and must hand Victor over to the Germans. Rick’s life is turning ugly by resurgent love on one hand and his call of conscience to try to help an innocent man (Victor Laszlo) from the clutches of the Nazis.

This is a wonderful example of how a “B” movie becomes a masterpiece. Several years ago, I saw an interview with the two surviving screen writers of Casablanca. They said that as contract writers, this was just another screen play that Warner Bros had told them to churn out. Strangely enough, even then during the interview, they did not think much of the work that they had done. I was really saddened. All those years, I had visualized some great author laboring over a great work of art. Instead, it was assembly line work for a couple of mediocre writers! Even the director, Michael Curtiz, was never considered a great Hollywood talent. The movie was completed in a rush to meet budgetary requirements. As for actors, it was wartime and actors who did not volunteer for military service or were too old or had failed their medical or were foreign born became the bread and butter of Hollywood movies. Look at the credits; Claude Raines, Sydney Greenstreet, Conrad Veidt, Peter Lorre, S.Z Sakall, Paul Henreid and the director Michael Curtiz, all foreign born and most too old to fight. That only leaves Humphrey Bogart who, for some reason, was not drafted.

And yet, somehow, the story, the cast, the famous tune, the direction and the fact that it was made in 1942-1943 during the darkest hours of World War II made it into an everlasting great movie. It is not a sad story or a dark one. It even has rays of hope for future. Remember that that was a very scary period for people in Europe and the United States.

So, why was this movie so great? Well, there is a famous axiom that says “The whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.” And this was true in this case. It just worked!