Andreas Mogensen reviews the classic, 'Casablanca'

13 October 2007

A film attains classic status, so the cliché goes, when people wish they had seen it, but don’t particularly want to. You should see or have seen Casablanca: it is an essential reference point of pop culture, often quoted (often incorrectly), and an indelible top seed on those puzzling, ubiquitous lists of all-time greatest films. Mankind being crooked timber, however, the list of things one ought to do is often as unappealing as it is long. Is there reason to see Casablanca beyond the call of cultural Bildung?

There is. Of the regular high-flyers on those puzzling lists (Kane, Vertigo, 8½, etc.), Casablanca is surely the least profound; what it may lack in profundity, however, it makes up for plentifully in enjoyment. We get seedy night-clubs; Nazis; a Resistance leader on the run (Paul Henreid); improbably witty repartee; a jaded, eternally cool (anti-)hero (Humphrey Bogart); a Swedish starlet with twinkling eyes (Ingrid Bergman); and, naturally, the tale of their doomed romance – a charming marriage of love-story, comedy, and political thriller.

The romance between Bogart and Bergman, like many an iconic asset of the film, is dated by virtue of having become classic and consequently cliché, but such is the nature of cultural history, and one shouldn’t be too proud to enjoy something hokey every fortnight or so. The film’s first half, up until the Nazis close that seedy night-club owned by Bogart, is a marvel of well-made drama and fluid cinematography, so dashingly executed that ending the film at this point would have produced a nearly untouchable cinematic fragment.

But, of course, the story goes on – right until that immortal climax, which you undoubtedly know, whether you have seen the film or not. If you know but have not seen, you should see, and if you have already seen, you ought to know as well as I that Casablanca is worth re-viewing.