One of the greatest films ever made, Casablanca holds a favored place in the hearts of all classic movie fans.
This 1942 Best Picture Oscar winner continues to enthrall movie audiences year after year for many reasons. First and foremost the cast is exceptional. Despite the many speculations of who was to have starred and who could have starred in the iconic representation of the Studio System at its best, it is now impossible to imagine anyone replacing a single actor in any of the roles.
From Humphrey Bogart in his signature role, to the smallest bit player of a Croupier who hands over some winnings to Captain Renault (in the “I’m shocked, shocked to find gambling going on here” scene) all casting seems to have been inevitable. Everyone involved is at their absolute best. Claude Rains has never been more charmingly lecherous, nor Ingrid Bergman more lovely. Conrad Veidt positively set forevermore the type for “menacing German official”, and Peter Lorre is the epitome of the tragic racketeer. And then there’s Sydney Greenstreet, Paul Henreid, S.Z. Sakall, Dooley Wilson, and oh so many more. With such a wealth of talent it’s impossible not to enjoy each and every scene where characters are embellished with the artful nuances required of fully realized and memorable personalities.
The credit for such an accomplishment is justifiably shared between the Oscar winning director, Michael Curtiz and Oscar winning Screenwriters, Julius and Philip Epstein (the only time twins have earned Oscars). Curtiz of course managed the hectic and challenging responsibility of the day to day chores of bringing the characters and story to life on the screen. But it was the Epstein brothers that reshaped (by all accounts) a horribly ill-conceived play into the most revered, beloved and honored film of all time. Not to mention the most quoted movie in history (“Here’s looking at you kid”, “Of all the gin joints in all the towns...”, “This looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship”, “Round up the usual suspects” and so on).
You could say it was fortunate timing (having been produced on the cusp of America’s involvement in WWII) , or even dumb luck that made Casablanca what it is, but that would be under valuing the true nature of one of cinema’s greatest achievements. The truth is that all collaborative art forms experience a renaissance, or perfect storm. And although the movie industry achieved the bulk of its renewal in 1939 after a long and difficult birth through the silent era and then an awkward adolescents with the first talkies, Casablanca is undoubtedly the creme de la creme of the entertainment industry’s finest hours.