This was our fourth film in the series that would come to be known as the “we’ve seen all the good movies” streak and it’s hard to argue with this one. The Flower hadn’t seen it; The Boy and I had watched it on TV back in 2015, before we found all the in-theater revivals. I’ve seen it more times than I can count. Even so, it’s easy to forget how great it is.
The Flower made this observation afterwards (being unsure, she said, if she was going to like it, up front), that there were so many quotable lines. And it’s true: It’s basically wall-to-wall quotable goodness.
The cast is iconic, of course. Norma Varden, murdered in our #2 film, Witness for the Prosecution, is the wife of the poor dumb tourist who is pickpocketed by Curt Bois (who would go back to Germany in the ’60s and close his career out with a role in Wings of Desire). And who could forget the great French actor Marcel Dalio as Emile the croupier, and his wife Madeline LeBeau as Yvonne? Or the ever-present Herbert Evans and his dubious look when the roulette suspiciously picks out the same number twice?
I’m kidding, but not all that much. The cast is a who’s-who-wait-who? of character actors sometimes uttering iconic lines, and the IMDB listing shows almost a hundred uncredited “credits” because as much as nobody wanted to make the film at the time (except perhaps director Michael Curtiz and the brothers Warner), success has a bazillion hangers on. (Herbert Evans, intriguingly, has over 200 IMDB credits, the vast majority of which are listed as “uncredited”).
A lot of this is probably due to the write-it-as-you-go script (based on a play but altered heavily from same, obviously) and Curtiz’ ambition to create a sense of a living community in every shot. It actually reminds me of the numerous extras in Guys and Dolls, minus the dancing of course, but with the same sense of there being a million stories in the city. (And that’s a lot of stories when you consider Casablanca in 1942 had a population of around 10,000.) But everyone has their own little drama to play out, and every moment on screen, no matter how trivial, supports that idea.
Brilliant, really. A reluctant Ingrid Bergman (pining to do For Whom The Bell Tolls) cries in that beautiful Hollywood way, while Bogart (who I’d heard felt this was a step down from High Sierra), but I can’t back that up) glowers with the sort of anger that only a suspicious wife can provide when hubby is smooching the Swedish blonde all day. (I can only imagine what Mrs. Bogart was like on the set of To Have and Have Not). Paul Heinreid, fresh from not getting the girl in Now, Voyager wasn’t keen on being second fiddle here, too, while Claude Rains (also fresh from Now, Voyager)—well, I don’t know if he wanted the role or not. But he wasn’t French! (That was an issue.)
Conrad Veidt, as well as a lot of the cast, really, really hated the Nazis. The aforementioned Dalio and LeBeau fled Europe because LeBeau was Jewish, and by this time in Hollywood history, the dangers of the Nazi party were understood by many. (Though not everyone, as Chuck Jones noted when relating how Fred Quimby wanted Tex Avery to tone down the anti-Nazi rhetoric in his cartoons.)
Well, what can you say? It’s fallen out of a favor as The Greatest Film Of All Time, ranking only #36 on the IMDB top 250, but this is probably because people are awful and have awful taste. The Flower saw that it was coming up again and November and wants to see it again, because she is not awful and has good taste. The Boy and His Girl were also enthusiastic.