Setting: wartime Casablanca
Rick Blaine - Humphrey Bogart
Sam - Dooley Wilson
Ilsa Lund - Ingrid Bergman
Victor Laszlo - Paul Henreid
Captain Louis Renault - Claude Rains
Major Heinrich Strasser - Conrad Veidt
Premise: Rick's Café Americain attracts a wide mix of clientele from refugees desperately trying to escape to the US, to corrupt bystanders hoping to cash in on the desperation, and Vichy France and German government officials. Rick manages to remain neutral and stay out of it (at least publicly) until the day that Czech Resistance leader Victor Laszlo and Isla Lund arrive in Casablanca.
My Thoughts: I almost didn't add this one because Casablanca is such an obvious Classic Movie Essential it kind of went without saying. However, this is one of those movies that I have watched probably dozens of times and each time I notice something new or the impact of a particular scene resonates just a little bit stronger so I really couldn't resist talking about it.
This is a classic Humphrey Bogart role. He's cynical and keeping himself distant from the human drama that surrounds him but only on the surface. There's a scene that I just love where he blatantly helps a young couple who need money to escape to US all the while declaring that he stays out of it all. This is a character he plays over and over with different levels of intensity and yet always makes it feel fresh, unique and totally novel. The cast is so incredible and so absolutely perfect. No one could have played Sam but Dooley Wilson and he adds so much emotion and loyalty and personality into a role that honestly is pretty small. Ingrid Bergman is stunning and Paul Henreid is wonderful but my absolute favorite is Claude Rains. His version of Captain Louis Renault is funny and crooked and unpredictable and I adore him even when he's being terrible.
One thing I didn't realize about the movie was just how many of the cast were refugees. From actors who were playing refugees, to the bartender, even the actor playing the head German officer had all fled their homes to escape the Nazis - a few had even spent time in concentration camps. This makes the famous "dueling anthem" scene all the more emotional and it is a scene that never failed to bring tears to my eyes.
What Makes This Movie Essential: This may just be the most quotable movie ever made. From "Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world. She walks into mine" to "We'll always have Paris" and "Louie this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." it's crammed full of memorable lines and the scenes that contain the lines have all the promised impact.
Read Alike? Honestly, I can't quite think of one. The closest I can come up with is the World War II storyline in the dual timeline book Iris and Ruby by Rosie Thomas. It has a similar feel though is very different.