Casablanca, in case you're completely oblivious to cinematic history, is a wartime noir drama starring Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, and Conrad Veidt. It's probably one of the greatest movies ever made.
So: It's WWII, and the Nazis are kicking all kinds of French ass. Casablanca, in Northern Morocco, is not considered occupied France, and so folks from Europe trying to get the hell out and go to Lisbon or the US come through the city. But getting out is the tricky bit; there's just one plane that leaves every day, and getting papers is hard. The thoroughly corrupt police captain Renault (Rains) sells them for money and sex, while Signor Ferrari (Greenstreet) manages the black market. But the real draw is Rick's Cafe Americain, run by the displaced New Yorker Rick Blaine (Bogart). As Renault says, "Everybody comes to Rick's."
As the movie opens, a Czech freedom fighter named Victor Lazlo (Henreid) and his wife Isla (Bergman) arrive in Casablanca, followed by a Nazi captain (Veidt). A slimy scavenger named Ugarte (Lorre), having probably murdered two German couriers for traveling papers, entrusts them to Rick, and then is promptly arrested. That's all well and good - Renault suspects that Rick has the papers, but knows he won't sell them or use them - but it turns out Isla is Rick's lover from pre-occupation Paris, who left him standing in the rain at a train station. Rick holds something of a grudge.
The Nazis make no secret of their desire to arrest or kill Lazlo, and finally shut Rick's on a trumped-up charge so they can force Rick's hand and get Lazlo. Rick, after an emotional night with Ilsa, agrees to double-cross Lazlo and flee Casablanca with Ilsa, but then double-crosses Renault, puts Ilsa and Lazlo on the plane, shoots the Nazi captain because fuck that guy, and walks off with Renault, them both intent on joining the French resistance and taking a side.
This movie is really amazing. The performances are all spot-on, and the chemistry between Bogart and Bergman - but even moreso Bogart and Rains - is incredible. The dialog is snappy and clever (although both stars apparently hated it; shows what actors know), and I can only imagine what it was like for many of the folks in the famous "Marseilles" scene, as a lot of them had in fact escaped Nazi Germany. The movie is quotable (and mis-quotable; everyone says "Play it again, Sam," but the line is "Play it, Sam. Play 'As Time Goes By'") as heck, and the movie jumps to minor characters, showing the city as a living, breathing place, full of people who just want to get out and go somewhere they can call home. The sets, even, were largely recycled, as Warner Brothers was under the same wartime rationing as everyone else.
The movie is great on its own steam, but it's well worth remembering that it came out in 1942, when the events depicted were pretty much current.
My grade: A
Rewatch value: High
Next up: In Bruges