Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, has haunting songs, bittersweet emotion and excellent hats. Casablanca (1942) was directed by Michael Curtiz and based on Murray Burnett and Joan Alison's unproduced stage play Everybody Comes to Rick's. The film stars Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Dooley Wilson. Running time: 102 minutes.
In a dangerous Islamic city, on the fringes of a major war-zone, an American is staring down an axis of evil. Surrounded by sinister foreign plotters and malfeasants, should he stand by idly or intervene, committing murder to protect his beliefs?
There, in a nutshell, is the plot of any number of this autumn's self-important movies about the fight against terror, including Rendition, The Kingdom, Lions for Lambs and many more still to open here. None of them, alas, has been able to muster much of an audience. Yet this is also the story of one of the best-loved films in all of cinema.
Casablanca is set in December 1941, the month Pearl Harbour pitched the United States into the Second World War. It's also the moment Humphrey Bogart's cynical bar owner rediscovers his lost political ideals when Ingrid Bergman, the woman he loved, and loves, walks into his gin-joint with a legendary resistance hero.
It was an era of great moral certainty, when terrorists wore swastikas, America was fighting them alongside the world, and an act of individual courage might just change the course of history. It could hardly be further from the anxious confusion that drives the more recent films.
Casablanca's backdrop is equally dark and momentous. But it contains no suicide bombings, no scenes of explicit torture and no sententious liberal agonising. Its touch is featherlight and peerlessly entertaining. Any political message is delivered with a witty twist, like the bottle of Vichy water – an emblem of Marshal Pétain's collaborationist regime – that's scornfully tossed in the wastebin.
Casablanca is the quintessential studio-era production, where stock elements and unpromising source material (an unproduced stage play) mysteriously coalesced into a classic. It has haunting songs, bittersweet emotion and excellent hats; indeed, film romance has never been quite the same since people stopped wearing them.
There are some of the very finest character actors that Warner Brothers could muster and a rich, detailed screenplay studded with an indecent number of sparklingly quotable lines. It is a movie to play again, and again.