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Casablanca

You wonít find very many movies better than the Oscar winner for best picture from 1943, Casablanca. Itís the story of a love triangle set against the backdrop of WWII North Africa. In Casablanca, there could not have been a better setting. The city becomes a hub of political intrigue, black market commerce, and illicit activity. And the center of the universe is Rickís.

Humphrey Bogart plays Rick, the saloon owner who is very guarded about his past. We do learn that he ran guns to Ethiopia and fought in the Spanish Civil War, both times fighting on the side of the underdog. This is a very telling little detail. Rick was once the guy who rushed into danger to fight for whatís right. However when we meet him, there is none of that left. He sticks his neck out for no one.

Eventually we find out why he turned his back on fighting the good fight. Her name is Ilsa. She and Rick were in love in Paris before the Germans marched in, and they were planning on escaping together, but instead of Ilsa showing up at the train station, a note arrives explaining why she cannot go with him. Then, 18 months later, she walks into Rickís with her husband, needing Rickís help to escape the Germans. Her husband, Victor, is an underground leader who knows the heads of every underground movement in every major city in Europe.

Part of what makes the movie so fascinating is the tenuous status of the city at the time. Morocco was a French colony at the time, but the Germans had invaded France and there was only the Vichy puppet government left. But since the German army hadnít reached Casablanca, they had little authority there either. What was left was something very close to anarchy, and that, even more than the terrific performances from top to bottom, makes this movie unlike any other.

One thing Iím not too fond of is the somewhat confused relationship between Rick and Sam. When Ilsa returns and Rick is drinking himself into a stupor, Sam is the one who sticks around. This would indicate that the too are good friends, but Sam calls Rick "boss" and Rick basically sells Sam to Ferrari along with everything else. I wonder if they were always meant to be friends, and the pre-civil rights sentiments wouldnít along that sort of thing, or if they were always meant to have a boss-employee relationship and the writers at one point just needed Rick to have a friend of any kind.

Interesting fact: when we are first introduced to Rick, he signs a bill dated December 2, 1941, a few days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. So the German officer asking Rick if he could imagine the German army in New York takes place before the US was even in the war. And another interesting aspect of that date. From Here to Eternity, the 1953 best picture winner, takes place the same week.

Other nominees that year included For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Ox-Bow Incident. Decent movies, but simply not in the same class as Casablanca. Not many movies nominated in any year are in the same class as Casablanca.


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