Monday, August 29, 2011

CASABLANCA (Michael Curtiz, 1942)

*****
USA
A masterclass in atmosphere, dialogue and character colour. In popular culture and most people's memories this famously flukey classic of Warner Bros. backlot intrigue chiefly endures for its breathless love story. You remember vague talk of 'rounding up the usual suspects' and 'shock - shock! that gambling goes on in this casino'. But generally when someone says 'Casablanca' the first images that come to mind are Bogart anaesthetising a broken heart with only a searchlight for company and Bergman melting into his arms to the tune of "As Time Goes By".

So it's always a wonderful surprise to rediscover the film’s self-conscious but thoroughly beguiling aura of 'wordliness', not to mention its disarming balance of blunt cynicism and clear-eyed idealism. Yes, it's fundamentally a romance with blinding star wattage but it has brain too. The ratio of soft-focus swooning to delicious cleverness is not quite as you remember.

In any case you still have to catch your breath when a downtrodden crowd thunders the Marseillaise, when Rick delivers his farewell speech at the airport and every time the camera frames Ingrid Bergman in close-up.

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