Over the history of cinema, the term “classic” has become almost synonymous with the black and white films of the 1930’s and ‘40’s. This is not simply because they are old; many of them are just good movies. The reason for this probably rests with the fact that the studio system of production combined with filmmakers fully grasping what the art form was capable of. It’s no wonder that a film from this era, like Casablanca, can endure in a special way. Nostalgia plays an integral part in the love story in Casablanca, and in the lasting appeal the film continues to enjoy.
Based on an unproduced play called Everybody Comes to Rick’s, the plot of Casablanca centers on Rick Blaine (played by Humphrey Bogart), an expatriate American running a bar in the title city in French Morocco during the early years of the Second World War. Many refugees pass through Casablanca trying to get to America, and one day, Rick’s old love Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) and her famous freedom-fighter husband, Victor Laszlo, arrive. The feelings between Rick and Ilsa conflict with how Victor will continue his work and fight to bring down the Nazis.
The power of the memory of their romance for Rick and Ilsa is well-established early in the film. The first time the audience sees Ilsa, she walks into Rick’s bar with Victor and then she asks Sam (Dooley Wilson), the piano player, to come play by her. She asks him to play “As Time Goes By,” which has special significance for Rick and Ilsa, as the viewer will come to see. The lyrics include the line “you must remember this”– a comment on the story itself, perhaps? Drawn by the song, Rick angrily tells Sam, “I told you not to play tha—” and then he sees Ilsa, accompanied by a dramatic chord on the score. Clearly, there are strong memories between these two. Shortly after this, Rick recounts the last time he and Ilsa saw each other, on the day the Nazis occupied Paris, and he recalls the color of the dress she wore: “I remember every detail. The Germans wore grey, you wore blue.”
The core sequence of the film follows closely after this moment. Rick is drowning his sorrows about seeing Ilsa again with alcohol. There are a long series of scenes depicting their Paris love affair. It ends with Ilsa telling Rick by note that she cannot leave the city with him or see him again, though she loves him. Obviously, the vivid memories they created together are the kind that will never fade. The nostalgia they feel about their time together is an emotion that overshadows everything they will do now. Rick finds out Ilsa secretly married Victor before they even met, and during their time in Paris, she mistakenly believed Victor was dead. The pull of reminiscence is strong in every direction for these characters, but the greater good wins out in the end. “We’ll always have Paris,” Rick tells Ilsa at the end, because they will always have the memories.
Movie lovers feel an intense fondness for this film which is similar. First of all, critics love it. It won Best Picture for 1943. The American Film Institute named it second on their list of 100 best films of the 20th century (with Citizen Kane,another ‘40s film, coming in at number one). This is just one of many “Best Of” lists to feature Casablanca. Also, reading one of many websites where fans can post reviews of films will show how beloved this film is. Other films and television shows have referenced and parodied it countless times.
Casablanca is one of the most highly regarded films of all time by both critics and audiences, and a remembrance for “classic” Hollywood definitely plays into that. The same sense of nostalgia is a significant layer of the emotional motivations of the characters in the love story of the film itself. When people look back and think of how good an experience was, be it a piece of entertainment or a romance, that pleasure can be a powerful thing. As the song says, “The fundamental things apply, as time goes by.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rachel Sexton lives in Ohio with her dog Lily. Her favorite things are movies and books, and her hobby is editing fan videos.