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Casablanca (1942) - Michael Curtiz

Casablanca (1942) - Michael Curtiz

Casablanca (film)

Casablanca is a 1942 movie set during World War II in the Vichy-controlled Moroccan city of Casablanca. The film was directed by Michael Curtiz, and stars Humphrey Bogart as Rick and Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa. It focuses on Rick's conflict between, in the words of one character, love and virtue: he must choose between his love for Ilsa and his need to do the right thing by helping her husband, Resistance hero Victor Laszlo, escape from Casablanca and continue his fight against the Nazis.

The film was an immediate hit, and it has remained consistently popular ever since. Critics have praised the charismatic performances of Bogart and Bergman, the chemistry between the two leads, the depth of characterisation, the taut direction, the witty screenplay and the emotional impact of the work as a whole. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casablanca_%28movie%29 [Apr 2005]

Cult Movie? [...]

Peter Brooker's [and Umberto Eco's] example of a 'cult' movie is Casablanca, which is surely a terrible example; Cult films are ones which a minority of people love very enthusiastically, whereas Casablanca is loved -- in a less passionate way -- by a huge majority. --David Gauntlett, theory.org.uk

This huge majority is illustrated by Casablanca's salesrank on Amazon.com, which is 81. --jahsonic, Jan 2004

Like David Gauntlett, I do not consider Casablanca to be a cult movie, but rather an icon of popular culture.

Popular for Six Decades

Popular for nearly six decades, Casablanca has reverberated throughout American culture. Aside from numerous songs, book titles, comedy routines, commercials, and magazine advertisements that have made reference to the film over the years, in 1972, Woody Allen made his own tribute to Casablanca, entitled Play it Again Sam, in which he wore a trenchcoat like Rick Blaine and repeated the famous "Here's looking at you, kid" speech in the context of a narrative about sexual difficulties and masculinity. In this scenario, Casablanca was recreated as a cult object which references Bogart and his style of masculinity. Bogart's character is said to have sparked an onslaught on trench coat sales, and the image of him in the coat in the original Warner Brothers poster purportedly launched the movie poster business. In the late 1940s and 1950s, Casablanca was an important film on college campuses as cinema began to be viewed as a serious art form. In the 1970s, a string of Rick Blaine-styled bars and cafes began to appear in a variety of cities in the United States with names like Play It Again Sam (Las Vegas), Rick's Café Americain (Chicago), and Rick's Place (Cambridge, Massachusetts).

St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, 2002 Gale Group.

Umberto Eco [...]

Umberto Eco was one of the first academics to write about the cult movie phenomenon, employing Casablanca as an example. Personally, I do not consider Casablanca to be a cult movie, but rather an icon of popular culture.

Casablanca (Furniture)

Casablanca cabinet (1981)
Designer/manufacturer - Ettore Sottsass/Memphis Wood
230 x 50 x 125cm

This cabinet was designed by the Austrian architect Ettore Sottsass. After the Second World War he worked in Milan on the reconstruction of the city. Sottsass is an excellent product designer and he also worked for Olivetti, the typewriter company, at this time. After visiting India during the 1960s, he became interested in 'Pop' culture and was influenced by symbolic design and Indian mysticism. In 1981, Sottsass led several Milan based designers to form the group known as Memphis.

Casablanca (record label) [...]

What Makes a Cult Film?

What Makes a Cult Film? Once a cult is established, it can often sustain itself by means of its own inertia. After becoming a camp item in the 1960s, Casablanca attained the status of a classic by an alternative system of canon- building. Usually, a work of art finds its validation in the academy. Even though popular film is currently an accepted subject of university study, films like Casablanca need not establish their importance by impressing faculty committees as masterpieces. Although it existed briefly as a television series during the 1955-56 season,[50] Casablanca did not become a fetish object until the Rick/ Bogie poster became popular and Woody Allen subsequently wrote the play (and movie) Play It Again, Sam.[51] During the weeks in which this paper was written, allusions to the film have twice appeared in popular TV shows: a full-dress, five-minute parody of Casablanca was the dream of Bert Viola (Curtis Armstrong) in an episode of Moonlighting; and on Miami Vice, a lovable crook attempted to corrupt Detective Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) by telling him that a suitcase full of contraband was their "letters of transit," but Crockett replied, "this is not the beginning of a beautiful friendship." Now that it has been canonized, Casablanca is sure to continue as a universal signifier of romantic love, doing the right thing, and painful sacrifice.[52] As for the qualities that made Casablanca a cult film and have made its appeal "never out of date," we can point to all the psychologically resonant aspects of the film discussed in this paper. Probably the most crucial ingredients in the film's success are (1) the star presence of Bogie and Bergman[53]; (2) the subliminal but nostalgically potent music, both diegetic and extradiegetic; (3) the satisfyingly resolved Oedipal material; and (4) the reassuring message that the American outlaw hero (and by extension, all Americans) can be true to his instincts even in a world war. This last message may seem specific to the 1943 audience, but movies have been quite successful in keeping old myths alive, and when reconfigured for the Era of Reagan and Bush, these myths can be more vital than ever. Star Wars was the first in a cycle of "disguised Westerns" that has achieved extraordinary popularity by reviving the outlaw hero/official hero plot. Since then, Beverly Hills Cop I and II, Top Gun, Rambo III, and Lethal Weapon I and II have recycled the same basic myth with enormous success. As for the audience today, Casablanca has an extra level of appeal, offering a sense of control to repeat viewers. Just as "As Time Goes By" eased the 1943 viewer into a nostalgic imaginary, the film itself now grants the viewer benign regression to a lost moment when right and wrong were clear cut and going off to war could be a deeply romantic gesture. --Kin Grabbard, Glen Grabbard via http://www.vincasa.com/indexsigmund1.html [2004]

What makes a cult classic a classic?

by Elizabeth A. Allen (with help from Umberto Eco), http://oddpla.net/frplace/theater/eco.html

Umberto Eco provides an interesting thesis for the appeal of the cult work of art. In "Casablanca: Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage," an essay that comes from his anthology Faith in Fakes: Travels in Hyperreality, Eco talks specifically about Casablanca, but his ideas can extended to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, as well as all other cult media. To succeed as a cult artwork, The Rocky Horror Picture Show has to have the following characteristics.

  1. "It must provide a completely furnished world so that its fans can quote characters and episodes as if they were aspects of the fan's private sectarian world, a world about which one can make up quizzes and play trivia games so that the adepts of the sect recognize through each other a shared experience." In other words, The Rocky Horror Picture Show charges ordinary phrases with almost magical meanings to be deciphered only by the initiates. For example, it can turn an innocent statement of expectation -- "I'm shivering with antici...pation!" -- into an inside joke of sexual innuendo if the speaker and the listener know Frank's lascivious context for it.

  2. "It should not display one central idea but many. It should not reveal a coherent philosophy of composition. It must live on, and because of, its glorious ricketiness. .... [I]t must display certain textual features, in the sense that, outside the conscious control of its creators, it becomes a sort of textual syllabus, a living example of living textuality." This means that it should be messy in an exuberant and enjoyable way, which the film certainly is. Eco even comments on the improvisational production values of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in his essay, but those are part of what makes it fun. (I get the sense that the producers said to each other, "Hey! No one's danced around in a funny outfit for ten minutes! Let's have a costume change and a chorus!") As for the film's being an example of "living textuality," this is shown most dramatically by the whole concept of audience participation, which is, in effect, a parallel script or re-write of the entire thing.

  3. It's got to have so many cliches in it that it transcends banality. This is difficult to conceive of, but Eco explains: "Two cliches make us laugh but a hundred cliches move us because we sense dimly that the cliches are talking among themselves, celebrating a reunion. Just as the extreme of pain meets sensual pleasure [give yourself over to it!], and the extreme of perversion borders on mystical energy, so too the extreme of Banality allows us to catch a glimpse of the Sublime." So because the movie has the archetypical ingenue (Janet), the archetypical ineffectual dweeb (Brad), the archetypical rock-'n'-roll renegade (Eddie), the requisite debauching of the innocents, the requisite alien invasion, the requisite creation of life by mad scientist, as well as many other debts to other films (best accentuated by the opening number "Science Fiction Double Feature," a bunch of allusions to famous B movies), it's a work of great genius! As much as I do like the film, I'm not sure that I agree with that statement. But I must admit that it's a creative and amusing parody.

    I'd also like to add one more reason, the most important, which has made The Rocky Horror Picture Show such a well-loved favorite, something Eco did not address:

  4. . SEX! As Frank says, "A mental mind fuck can be nice!"

Quotes by Eco on Casablanca

Quotes from Casablanca: Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage, Eco (1984)


"Works are created by works, texts are created by texts, all together they speak to each other independently of the intention of their authors" 447

"A cult movie is the proof that, as literature comes from literature, cinema comes from cinema" 447

common frames: data-structures for representing stereotyped situations such as dining in a restaurant or going to the railway station; in other words, a sequence of actions more or less coded by our normal experience" 448

intertextual frames: "stereotyped situations derived from preceding textual tradition . . . such as, for example, the standard duel between the sheriff and the bad guy" 448

"Magic" Frames
"Let me define as 'magic' those frames that, when they appear in a movie and can be separated from the whole, transform this movie into a cult object" 448

"I will call [these] 'intertextual archetypes'" 448

"The term 'archetype' does not claim to have any particular psychoanalytic or mythic connotation, but serves only to indicate a preestablished and frequently reappearing narrative sitauation" 448

"Every story involves one or more archetypes."

"To make a good story a single archetype is usually enough."

"But Casablanca is not satisfied with that. It uses them all" 449

Casablanca's Success
"Casablanca became a cult movie because it is not one movie. It is 'movies.' And this is the reason it works, in defiance of any aesthetic theory" 453

"it stages the powers of Narrativity in its natural state, before art intervenes to tame it" 453

"When all the archetypes burst out shamelessly, we plumb Homeric profundity" 453

"Postmodern" Movies
"What Casablanca does unconsciously, other movies will do with extreme intertextual awareness, assuming also that the addressee is equally aware of their purposes."

"These are 'postmodern' movies, where the quotation of the topos is recognized as the only way to cope with the burden of our filmic encyclopedic expertise" 454

Eco on Casablanca

By Tansy Couture
As our favorite hero rides off into the sunset with the fair maiden, we are left with a sense of completeness. What was supposed to happen happened. When movies don’t end the way we think they should, we are outraged! "Why didn’t she marry him?" or, "He wasn’t supposed to die!" has been uttered a few times from my own disappointment after a movie. Today, movies are trying to get away from the "Typical Hollywood Happy Ending," and are experimenting with the unusual endings. Why are they doing this? Maybe it is to grab the audience in at the end, or maybe they are just tired of using the same characters and plots over and over again. But those Same Olds, or archetypes as semiotician Umberto Eco would call them, are what make a movie a success. According to Eco, an archetype is a, ". . . preestablished and frequently reappearing narrative situation, cited or in some way recycled by innumerable other texts and provoking in the addressee a sort of intense emotion accompanied by the vague feeling of a déjà vu that everybody yearns to see again" (200). It is the typical character in the typical scene with the typical ending. Usually you don’t recognize that the character is the same from another movie that you have seen, because there are different variations of them, but the more you see a film, the more you see similarities from other films. Eco believes that it is because of these archetypes that Casablanca, a movie produced in 1941, was such a success. Countless movies have spun off of Casablanca, such as Sabrina, a movie involving two brothers caught between a beautiful woman (only in this film, the Rick-type character wins the girl), or Play it Again Sam, a Woody Allen play-off, but where the original ideas came from we may never know. I agree with Eco when he says that, "it is not one movie. It is ‘movies’" (208).
"Here’s looking at you kid," the words of Humphrey Bogart’s character, Rick, were ones that I had heard many times before ever finding out the source. To the people of my generation, Rick is the ultimate archetype, but, as Eco points out, we have seen his character several times before. Rick is the Fatal Adventurer ("I’m willing to shoot Captain Renault, and I’m willing to shoot you."), the Self-Made Businessman ("Your money is good at the bar."), the Tough Guy from a gangster movie ("I stick my neck out for nobody."), the Cynic ("Who was it that you left me for. . . or aren’t you the kind that tells?"), the Redeemed Drunkard (Rick’s nationality: "I’m a drunkard."), and the Disillusioned Lover ("Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine."). More recently he has become known as the Hemingwayan Hero ("You always happen to be fighting on the side of the underdog.") (205). Glen Gabbard, a psychoanalyst, believes that the Rick character was taken from Sophocles’ Oedipus. Like Oedipus, "Rick Blaine is an outcast from his own country" (Internet). There are endless possibilities.
Always dressed in white, Paul Henreid’s character, Victor Laszlo, plays the Uncontaminated Hero. He is Civilization fighting against Barbarism. He seems to be the perfect character, but since nobody can be perfect, they made him unknowledgeable of his wife’s involvement with Rick. Even when Laszlo suspects, he asks no questions; this raises our opinion of him. He is the Sir Gawain of the ‘40s: heroic, virtuous, understanding, and forgiving, seemingly without flaw. To some he is too perfect, unreal, creating the desire for Rick to win the girl. But in the end Laszlo wins her, and the audience realizes that the ending is the only one that would have been correct.
The beautiful Ilsa Lund, played by Ingrand Bergman, is the typical Maiden in Distress, the Enigmatic Woman, the Femme Fatale. She is confused and doesn’t know what to do: "You’ll have to do the thinking for both of us, for all of us." She is a follower, one who loves the one she’s with. With Rick, they are Romantic Lovers, nothing exists when they are together. With Laszlo she is his helpmate, his reason for resisting. The admiration you can see in her eyes for Laszlo during the Marseillaise scene is undeniable. To her, Laszlo is a father type figure. She is Beauty, the Nazis are the Beast, and Laszlo is the Hero who is there to save her. The love between Ilsa and the two men, mixed with the admiration the men have for each other creates an archetypical Love Triangle.
Conrad Veidt played several bad Nazis during his acting career, which helped him play the role of Major Strasser, the Evil Villain. The Bad Guy and his Thugs show up, and nobody really likes them. He is the Bully and when things don’t go his way he takes his frustration out on others, shown in the Marseillaise scene when he closes down Rick’s Cafe. But in the end the Villain never wins, and rarely continues living, so it is all too appropriate when Rick, the Fatal Adventurer, shoots him in a Western-type draw.

Being an Outlaw, Rick’s character can’t have friends, but he can have buddies that join him in his adventures. Every Desperado needs a Sidekick, and Sam fulfills that part. With Rick through thick and thin is Sam, played by Arthur "Dooley" Wilson. Sam is the Jim of Huckleberry Finn. He is a black man running from the law who meets up with a white boy doing the same. The similarities to Jim end there; besides that, they are complete opposites in every way, which is good, because if Sam was just like Rick than Ilsa would have the problem of trying to pick from a third man, and we would have trouble discerning why Rick and not Sam!
Every Outlaw also needs a Semi-Corrupt Law Official to help him escape, and Caption Renault is that character. Played by Claude Rains, Renault is almost as corrupt as those he apprehends. This Buddy-Buddy relationship becomes the "start of a beautiful friendship," but not a friendship as we would normally think of. They will be there for each other, but only to bail each other out in time of need.
There are many other little characters that assist in creating the minor archetypes throughout the movie. The Bulgarian couple help show how Rick is a Sentimentalist. The scene where Ugarte gets arrested gives the movie an Adventure archetype, while his character is the typical dark and unlawful character portrayed in Northern Africa, willing to do anything for money. The Dark European Pickpocket is a kind of comical foreshadower who shows us the true nature of what is really going on in Casablanca on a larger scale. It is true when he says that, "There are vultures, vultures, everywhere!"

T.S. Eliot believed that the reason Shakespeare’s Hamlet was so fascinating and successful wasn’t because it was a good story. T.S. Eliot didn’t really like the story, but liked the idea that it was a combination of several other unsuccessful Hamlets, thus creating a complicated, yet integrated plot. In a way, the same thing happened with Casablanca. Improvising as they went along, they were trying anything that had made a successful movie before(Eco, 201-202). All of the characters were already firmly planted in the writers’ minds because they had all been done before, enabling the writers to create such a wonderful film in such a short amount of time.
Hollywood films have constituted a never-ending reunion of archetypes. Casablanca is not much different from most other films created there. It represents the culture of the West with all of our archetypes. Screenwriters do not spend quite as much time thinking about and creating characters and plots as others do analyzing and criticizing them. I do not think that they consciously plan out where they are taking their ideas for characters and plots from. I agree with Mark Twain when he says in a notice at the beginning of his story Huckleberry Finn: "Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot" (vii). Maybe screenwriters and authors won’t agree to this to such a great extent, but I think that the reason films are made is for enjoyment, not for complete analytical break-downs. When you spend so much time trying to find things in the film that weren’t meant to be found it takes away from the magic of the film.

Works Cited

Casablanca. Dir. Michael Curtiz. Perf. Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid. Warner Brothers. 1942.

Eco, Umberto. "Casablanca: Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage." Travels in Hyperreality. London: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1986.

Gabbard, Glen. "Play it again, Sigmund: Psychoanalysis and the Classical Hollywood Text.

--Tansy Couture, http://www.geocities.com/CollegePark/Union/9836/casablanca.html

From: "Casablanca, or The Cliches Are Having a Ball"
by Umberto Eco

From Signs of Life in the USA: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers,
Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon, eds. (Boston: Bedford Books, 1994, pp. 260-264).

When people in their fifties sit down before their television sets for a rerun of Casablanca, it is an ordinary matter of nostalgia. However, when the film is shown in American universities, the boys and girls greet each scene and canonical line of dialogue ("Round up the usual suspects," "Was that cannon fire, or is it my heart pounding?" -- or even every time that Bogey says "kid") with ovations usually reserved for football games. And I have seen the youthful audience in an Italian art cinema react in the same way. What then is the fascination of Casablanca?

The question is a legitimate one, for aesthetically speaking (or by any strict critical standards) Casablanca is a very mediocre film. It is a comic strip, a hotch-potch, low on psychological credibility, and with little continuity in its dramatic effects. And we know the reason for this: The film was made up as the shooting went along, and it was not until the last moment that the director and script writer knew whether Ilsa would leave with Victor or with Rick. So all those moments of inspired direction that wring bursts of applause for their unexpected boldness actually represent decisions taken out of desperation. What then accounts for the success of this chain of accidents, a film that even today, seen for a second, third, or fourth time, draws forth the applause reserved for the operatic aria we love to hear repeated, or the enthusiasm we accord to an exciting discovery? There is a cast of formidable hams. But that is not enough.

Here are the romantic lovers--he bitter, she tender--but both have been seen to better advantage. And Casablanca is not Stagecoach, another film periodically revived. Stagecoach is a masterpiece in every respect. Every element is in its proper place, the characters are consistent from one moment to the next, and the plot (this too is important) comes from Maupassant--at least the first part of it. And so? So one is tempted to read Casablanca the way T. S. Eliot reread Hamlet. He attributed its fascination not to its being a successful work (actually he considered it one of Shakespeare's less fortunate plays) but to something quite the opposite: Hamlet was the result of an unsuccessful fusion of several earlier Hamlets, one in which the theme was revenge (with madness as only a stratagem), and another whose theme was the crisis brought on by the mother's sin, with the consequent discrepancy between Hamlet's nervous excitation and the vagueness and implausibility of Gertrude's crime. So critics and public alike find Hamlet beautiful because it is interesting, and believe it to be interesting because it is beautiful.

On a smaller scale, the same thing happened to Casablanca. Forced to improvise a plot, the authors mixed in a little of everything, and everything they chose came from a repertoire of the tried and true. When the choice of the tried and true is limited, the result is a trite or mass-produced film, or simply kitsch. But when the tried and true repertoire is used wholesale, the result is an architecture like Gaudí's Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. There is a sense of dizziness, a stroke of brilliance.

But now let us forget how the film was made and see what it has to show us. It opens in a place already magical in itself -- Morocco, the Exotic -- and begins with a hint of Arab music that fades into "La Marseillaise." Then as we enter Rick's Place we hear Gershwin. Africa France, America. At once a tangle of Eternal Archetypes comes into play. These are situations that have presided over stories throughout the ages. But usually to make a good story a single archetypal situation is enough. More than enough. Unhappy Love, for example, or Flight. But Casablanca is not satisfied with that: It uses them all. The city is the setting for a Passage, the passage to the Promised Land (or a Northwest Passage if you like). But to make the passage one must submit to a test, the Wait ("they wait and wait and wait," says the off-screen voice at the beginning). The passage from the waiting room to the Promised Land requires a Magic Key, the visa. It is around the winning of this Key that passions are unleashed. Money (which appears at various points, usually in the form of the Fatal Game, roulette) would seem to be the means for obtaining the Key. But eventually we discover that the Key can be obtained only through a Gift--the gift of the visa, but also the gift Rick makes of his Desire by sacrificing himself For this is also the story of a round of Desires, only two of which are satisfied: that of Victor Laszlo, the purest of heroes, and that of the Bulgarian couple. All those whose passions are impure fail. Thus, we have another archetype: the Triumph of Purity. The impure do not reach the Promised Land; we lose sight of them before that. But they do achieve purity through sacrifice -- and this means Redemption. Rick is redeemed and so is the French police captain.

We come to realize that underneath it all there are two Promised Lands: One is America (though for many it is a false goal), and the other is the Resistance -- the Holy War. That is where Victor has come from, and that is where Rick and the captain are going, to join de Gaulle. And if the recurring symbol of the airplane seems every so often to emphasize the flight to America, the Cross of Lorraine, which appears only once, anticipates the other symbolic gesture of the captain, when at the end he throws away the bottle of Vichy water as the plane is leaving. On the other hand the myth of sacrifice runs through the whole film: Ilsa's sacrifice in Paris when she abandons the man she loves to return to the wounded hero, the Bulgarian bride's sacrifice when she is ready to yield herself to help her husband, Victor's sacrifice when he is prepared to let Ilsa go with Rick so long as she is saved.

Into this orgy of sacrificial archetypes (accompanied by the Faithful Servant theme in the relationship of Bogey and the black man Dooley Wilson) is inserted the theme of Unhappy Love: unhappy for Rick, who loves Ilsa and cannot have her; unhappy for Ilsa, who loves Rick and cannot leave with him; unhappy for Victor, who understands that he has not really kept Ilsa. The interplay of unhappy loves produces various twists and turns: In the beginning Rick is unhappy because he does not understand why Ilsa leaves him; then Victor is unhappy because he does not understand why Ilsa is attracted to Rick; finally Ilsa is unhappy because she does not understand why Rick makes her leave with her husband. These three unhappy (or Impossible) loves take the form of a Triangle. But in the archetypal love-triangle there is a Betrayed Husband and a Victorious Lover. Here instead both men are betrayed and suffer a loss, but, in this defeat (and over and above it) an additional element plays a part, so subtly that one is hardly aware of it. It is that, quite subliminally, a hint of male or Socratic love is established. Rick admires Victor, Victor is ambiguously attracted to Rick, and it almost seems at a certain point as if each of the two were playing out the duel of sacrifice in order to please the other. In any case, as in Rousseau's Confessions, the woman places herself as Intermediary between the two men. She herself is not a bearer of positive values; only the men are.

Against the background of these intertwined ambiguities, the characters are stock figures, either all good or all bad. Victor plays a double role, as an agent of ambiguity in the love story, and an agent of clarity in the political intrigue--he is Beauty against the Nazi Beast. This theme of Civilization against Barbarism becomes entangled with the others, and to the melancholy of an Odyssean Return is added the warlike daring of an Iliad on open ground.

Surrounding this dance of eternal myths, we see the historical myths, or rather the myths of the movies, duly served up again. Bogart himself embodies at least three: the Ambiguous Adventurer, compounded of cynicism and generosity; the Lovelorn Ascetic; and at the same time the Redeemed Drunkard (he has to be made a drunkard so that all of a sudden he can be redeemed, while he was already an ascetic, disappointed in love). Ingrid Bergman is the Enigmatic Woman, or Femme Fatale. Then such myths as: They're Playing Our Song; the Last Day in Paris; America, Africa, Lisbon as a Free Port; and the Border Station or Last Outpost on the Edge of the Desert. There is the Foreign Legion (each character has a different nationality and a different story to tell), and finally there is the Grand Hotel (people coming and going). Rick's Place is a magic circle where everything can (and does) happen: love, death, pursuit, espionage, games of chance, seductions, music, patriotism. (The theatrical origin of the plot, and its poverty of means, led to an admirable condensation of events in a single setting.) This place is Hong Kong, Macao, I'Enfer duJeu, an anticipation of Lisbon, and even Showboat.

But precisely because all the archetypes are here, precisely because Casablanca cites countless other films, and each actor repeats a part played on other occasions, the resonance of intertextuality plays upon the spectator. Casablanca brings with it, like a trail of perfume, other situations that the viewer brings to bear on it quite readily, taking them without realizing it from films that only appeared later, such as To Have and Have Not, where Bogart actually plays a Hemingway hero, while here in Casablanca he already attracts Hemingwayesque connotations by the simple fact that Rick, so we are told, fought in Spain (and, like Malraux, helped the Chinese Revolution). Peter Lorre drags in reminiscences of Fritz Lang; Conrad Veidt envelops his German officer in a faint aroma of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari--he is not a ruthless, technological Nazi, but a nocturnal and diabolical Caesar.

Thus Casablanca is not just one film. It is many films, an anthology. Made haphazardly, it probably made itself, if not actually against the will of its authors and actors, then at least beyond their control. And this is the reason it works, in spite of aesthetic theories and theories of film making. For in it there unfolds with almost telluric force the power of Narrative in its natural state, without Art intervening to discipline it. And so we can accept it when characters change mood, morality, and psychology from one moment to the next, when conspirators cough to interrupt the conversation if a spy is approaching, when whores weep at the sound of "La Marseillaise." When all the archtypes burst in shamelessly, we reach Homeric depths. Two cliches make us laugh. A hundred cliches move us. For we sense dimly that the cliches are talking among themselves, and celebrating a reunion. Just as the height of pain may encounter sensual pleasure, and the height of perversion border on mystical energy, so too the height of banality allows us to catch a glimpse of the sublime. Something has spoken in place of the director. If nothing else, it is a phenomenon worthy of awe.


  1. Casablanca (1942) - Michael Curtiz [Amazon US]
    A truly perfect movie, the 1942 Casablanca still wows viewers today, and for good reason. Its unique story of a love triangle set against terribly high stakes in the war against a monster is sophisticated instead of outlandish, intriguing instead of garish. Humphrey Bogart plays the allegedly apolitical club owner in unoccupied French territory that is nevertheless crawling with Nazis; Ingrid Bergman is the lover who mysteriously deserted him in Paris; and Paul Heinreid is her heroic, slightly bewildered husband. Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Conrad Veidt are among what may be the best supporting cast in the history of Hollywood films. This is certainly among the most spirited and ennobling movies ever made. --Tom Keogh, amazon.com

  2. Play It Again, Sam (1972) - Herbert Ross [Amazon US]
    Written for the stage and coherently opened up for the screen by veteran director Herbert Ross, Play It Again, Sam is closer to a conventional comedy than Woody Allen's more self-contained films, but his smart script and archetypal hero-nebbish achieve a special charm aimed squarely at movie buffs. Allen is Allan Felix, a film critic on the rebound after his wife's desertion trying to brave the choppy waters of born-again bachelorhood and struggling to reconcile his celluloid obsessions with the hazards of real-world dating. His apartment is a shrine to Humphrey Bogart, and it's none other than Bogey himself who materializes at strategic moments to counsel Allan on romantic strategy. He gets more corporeal aid from his married friends, Linda (Diane Keaton) and Dick (Tony Roberts), who try to orchestrate prospective matches and reassure him when those chemistry experiments explode. When Allan finds himself falling in love with Linda, the dissonance between fantasy and reality proves both funny and poignant--a precursor to the deeper emotionalism missing from the star's earlier directorial efforts that was soon to inform Allen's most affecting '70s comedies. It's also the start of his onscreen relationship with Keaton, further underscoring Allen's evolution toward a more satisfying contemplation of the friction between head and heart. --Sam Sutherland, amazon.com

    Play It Again, Sam is a spoof on Casablanca

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