A “Casablanca” Character Guide for Newcomers

There are a lot of specific things about “Casablanca” that is worth spending time on. So many perfect ingredients made the film the motion picture classic that it is today. When speaking of the film to those who haven’t seen it I always start by talking about the characters. Few movies can boast of a richer and more entertaining cast of characters. “Casablanca” has given us truly memorable people who brim with personality and life. In light of that, consider this a new viewers guide to this brilliant assortment of characters that help make “Casablanca” so superb.

Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart)

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When talking about the characters of “Casablanca” you obviously must start with Rick Blaine. Rick has settled in Casablanca where he runs a fiery club called Rick’s Café Américain. Rick is a seemingly cold and distant proprietor who only looks out for himself. He is an American expatriate who we learn is no longer allowed back in the United States. He has a sketchy past and some of his current club dealings are a bit shady. But we get glimpses that he isn’t the self-centered and uncaring soul he pretends to be. Rick is the centerpiece of the film and it is his relationships with every other character that shapes and forms the entire story.

Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman)

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Ilsa was a beautiful Norwegian who managed to completely change Rick’s life not once, but twice. We first meet her when she arrives at Rick’s Café Américain with her husband Victor Lazlo. Her meeting with Rick lets us know that there is more history between the two than we may think. Ilsa had a difficult and challenging life especially after the onset of World War II. She lived for a while thinking her husband had been killed in a concentration camp. Her life was complicated even more when she first met Rick and fell in love only to find later that her husband was still alive. It’s that history that makes her second meeting with Rick a bit contentious.

Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid)

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Victor Lazlo is a well know anti-Nazi underground hero. His reputation grew after he escaped from a concentration camp and later eluded the grasp of Hitler’s Third Reich. But this Czech Resistance leader enters “neutral” Casablanca as a fugitive along with his wife Ilsa. With the Nazi’s breathing down his neck, Lazlo arranges a meeting in Casablanca where he hopes to acquire exit visas for he and his wife. Lazlo is a bold and courageous man who will sacrifice all to stop the ruthless Nazi aggression. He’s also a man who loves Ilsa deeply which adds an interesting flavor to their visit to Rick’s place.

Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains)

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He’s perhaps the most complex character in the entire film. Captain Renault is the head of the Vichy controlled police in Casablanca. He is unashamedly corrupt and never pretends to be otherwise. Whether he is accepting gambling bribes from Rick or signing exit visas for favors from the prettiest of applicants, Renault rarely shows any sign of a conscience. But he is also in a tight spot. Lazlo’s arrival in Casablanca also brings a stronger Nazi presence and Renault’s hint of control hinges on the Nazis allowing it. Considering his lack of scruples, the question is how far will he go to protect his control and his own hide.

Major Heinrich Strasser (Conrad Veidt)

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Leading the search for Victor Lazlo is Major Strasser. The arrogant and overconfident Third Reich leader is determined to make sure Lazlo doesn’t leave Casablanca. Renault may appear to be the man in charge, but on numerous occasions Strasser proves that it is he and the Nazi regime that pulls the strings. Strasser is deceptive in that he always maintains a coolness about him. But simply listening to his words lets us know that he believes in Nazi supremacy and he will make sure it ultimately comes to pass.

Signor Ugarte (Peter Lorre)

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Ugarte is a small-time crook who has recently “acquired” letters of transit. How did he get them? He killed two German couriers. The Nazi’s are hot on his trail so he comes to Rick’s place in hopes of stashing them. Ugarte’s reputation precedes him and even Rick keeps his distance. But Ugarte soon realizes he is in way over his head and Rick may not be the best person to look to for help.

Sam (Dooley Wilson)

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Rick’s place wouldn’t be the same without piano player Sam. Rick’s relationship with Sam is more than professional. In fact it could be said that Sam in Rick’s one true friend and Sam clearly knows Rick better than anyone else on earth. Sam was in Paris when Rick and Ilsa first met. He knows the scars Rick has as a result of it and he knows the trouble that could come from her return. Sam is always loyal to his friend and even though other opportunities have come (for example a generous offer from Ferrari to work at a rival club), Sam will never leave Rick’s side.

Signor Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet)

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Ferrari is the owner of a rival club called The Blue Parrot. Ferrari has an undeniable corrupt side to him, but he still maintains a friendly relationship with Rick. He is always looking for a way to make more money whether it’s buying Rick’s club, hiring away Sam or by more dubious means such a smuggling people from hear to there. Ferrari always seems to pop up whenever there is potential profit to be made, but he could also be a good person to have on your side in times of need.

Carl, the Waiter (S. K. Sakall)

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Carl is another great piece that makes Rick’s Café Américain such a great place to visit. Carl is a friendly and passionate fellow whose loyalty to Rick is shown numerous times. We learn that Rick trusts Carl implicitly and he cares for him to the point of making sure he is taken care of even when he club looks to be in jeopardy.

Sascha, the Bartender (Leonid Kinskey)

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Manning the bar is the lovable Sascha. He is another of Rick’s loyal employees whose strong relationship with his boss proves itself numerous times. Sascha also doesn’t mind sharing his affection for one certain French woman named Yvonne. He is a fun-loving bartender but he also is dependable when things take more serious turns.

What’s a movie without great characters, right? Well “Casablanca” has some of the best and this is an introduction to ten of them. But there are even more scattered throughout this wonderful movie. Hopefully you’ll take time to meet them all. I promise that it is well worth it.

THE END

Your Voices: On “Casablanca”

Your Voices

Your Voices is a simple concept created to encourage conversation and opinions between movie lovers. It works like this: I throw out a certain topic and I’ll take time to make my case or share my opinions. Then it’s time for Your Voices. Head to the comments section and let fellow readers and moviegoers know your thoughts on the topic for that day!

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Bogart and Bergman – “Casablanca”

As regular readers have noticed, this is a week-long celebration of the 1942 classic “Casablanca”. Now many films have been granted the title of “classic” but they often times don’t deserve them. Some of these films have stood the test of time while others have seen their praise shrink and new criticisms surface. So how does “Casablanca” stand now that over 70 years have passed? Has it maintained the magic that once heralded it as a motion picture classic or has it faded like many of the Golden Age flowers?

For me the answer is simple. “Casablanca” is the greatest movie ever made (yes I know that is an impossible title to justify). “Casablanca” managed to capture the perfect mixture of ingredients that not only produced a phenomenal movie of its time, but it has only gotten better with age. The cinematic mastery both in front of and behind the camera is a true rarity. The simmering chemistry between Bogart and Bergman. The top-notch supporting cast featuring Henreid, Rains, Veidt, Lorre, Greenstreet, etc. Curtiz’s impeccable direction. The Epsteins (and Koch) flawless script. For me “Casablanca” is the perfect film and it is one of the few movies that I would categorize as timeless. But those are my thoughts. What about you?

YOUR VOICES: “Casablanca” – One of the best films ever made or just a good movie?

Now it’s time for Your Voices. So what do YOU think of “Casablanca”? Does it deserve the high praise it has received? Do you even like the film? Please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below. After all, this is all about Your Voices and I can’t wait to hear what you have to say.

REVIEW: “Casablanca”

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How is it that I have been movie blogging in some fashion for over three years yet I’ve never reviewed my favorite movie of all time? Well it’s time to remedy that. That opening line probably spoils any mystery about my final score, but that’s perfectly okay. To me “Casablanca” is a perfect film and I owe a lot to it for broadening my appreciation for classic cinema and for introducing me to my favorite actor of all time – Humphrey Bogart.

The world of cinema has long regarded “Casablanca” as a true classic. Often times I rebel against that kind of establishment recognition but in some cases they get it right. This is one of those instances. “Casablanca” is a classic in every sense of the word. Whether your talking about the flawless direction from Hungarian born Michael Curtiz, the brilliant screenplay brought together by a number of people including brothers Julius and Philip Epstein, Casey Robinson, and Howard Koch, or the spectacular cast led by the cool confident Bogart and the stunningly beautiful Ingrid Bergman. “Casablanca” not only has all of the ingredients for a true classic, but it doesn’t waste any of them.

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Warner Brothers didn’t have very high expectations for the film. In fact it was rushed through to its release in order to capitalize on the North African campaign of World War 2. The initial response was lukewarm but the film would quickly prove itself and ended up winning three Oscars including Best Picture. Over the years the appreciation for the film has only grown and with good reason. It truly is something special. Romance, patriotism, humor, suspense – “Casablanca” has it all.

Bogart leads the way as the complex Rick Blaine. He owns and runs Rick’s Café Américain, a popular nightclub in 1941 Vichy controlled Casablanca. He keeps his business flourishing during a tumultuous wartime by being neutral and “sticking his neck out for nobody”. He’s surrounded by a great assortment of supporting characters, many played by some of Hollywood’s best at the time. Claude Rains received an Oscar nomination for his turn as a corrupt Vichy Captain with a special interest in Rick. The great Sydney Greenstreet plays a rival club owner. Consummate character actor Peter Lorre plays a crook who is in way over his head. And there’s Dooley Wilson as Rick’s loyal friend and club piano player Sam. Fun fact – Dooley was a drummer and didn’t know how to play the piano at all. Yet his character’s singing and playing of “As Time Goes By” is unforgettable.

But Rick’s well controlled life takes a dramatic turn when the former love of his life Ilsa (Bergman) shows up at his club. Ilsa’s husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), a well known Czech resistance leader and fugitive from the Nazis, is with her. They seek Rick’s help to get out of the country before the Nazi Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) catches up to them. Rick is reluctant due to the bitterness of having his heart broken and his desire to maintain his establishment’s neutrality. Does he risk it all for the woman he once loved?

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“Casablanca” captures and utilizes so many things well. There’s a high level of suspense. There’s a small touch of humor. There is a great realization of wartime tensions. And right in the middle of it all is what may be the best romance in cinema history. Bogie and Bergman have a sizzling chemistry and the looming threats and high stakes all around them adds such a pop to their relationship. Bogie is a hurt man hiding behind a convincing facade of tough coolness. Bergman is brave but torn and she was never more beautiful than in “Casablanca”. It’s impossible not to be completely absorbed in these two and the intense circumstances surrounding them.

There isn’t a bad performance in “Casablanca”. There isn’t a wasted line or wasted shot. There’s never a down moment. It’s pacing its absolutely perfect. The camera work and stage design is impeccable. The romance simmers. The story is smart and fluid. I could go on and on. As I said, “Casablanca” is rightly called a classic. It accomplishes so much that modern movies with their massive budgets and greater technologies seldom lay hold of. It’s beautiful storytelling with one memorable line after another and a Bogart performance that forever etched his name in film history. It’s my favorite movie and I can never see it enough.

VERDICT – 5 STARS

5 STARSs

5STAR K&M

5 PHENOMENAL MOVIE ROMANCES

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Well this is the week where millions and millions of dollars will be spent on fresh roses, boxes of rich chocolates, sparkling diamond jewelry, and expensive fancy dinners all in the name of undying love. Ok, let me reword that. This Thursday is Valentines Day – a day where we guys had better have our wives or girlfriends something nice or the following few weeks will not be very pleasant! In the spirit of this wallet-crushing holiday I thought it would be good to focus this week’s Phenomenal 5 on love. So today I’m listing 5 Phenomenal Movie Romances. These are classic onscreen romances that are equally memorable and romantic. Now with so many big screen romances gracing cinema for all these years I would be a real goof to call this the definitive list. But I have no problems calling these five movie romances absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – Jack and Rose (“Titanic”)

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While the first half of James Cameron’s epic sized blockbuster “Titanic” wasn’t nearly as good as the second half, it did set in motion a romance that gave the tearjerker finale some huge emotional pop. Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a poor drifter and Rose (Kate Winslet) is a member of the high society upper class. The two cross paths on the maiden voyage of the British luxury liner Titanic. Obviously they come from opposite ends of the social order but you know the old saying – “opposites attract” yadda yadda yadda. A deep and forbidden love develops between them and Rose’s family are none too happy about it. But all of that takes a back seat when the Titanic strikes an iceberg and begins to sink. At no time does their love shine brighter than in their struggle to survive and you can’t help but be moved by it.

#4 – Jesse and Celine (“Before Sunrise” & “Before Sunset”)

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No list like this would be complete without including Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy). These two young lovers first met on a train from Budapest to Vienna in “Before Sunrise”. Jesse convinces Celine to skip her connecting train to Paris and spend the night walking around Vienna with him. A romantic spark is lit and the two seem like true soul mates but at the end of the film they head their separate ways. They cross paths 10 years later in Paris in “Before Sunset” and their lives have taken on many new changes. But as they spend the day walking and talking we quickly learn that spark never went out. It’s such a wonderful but complicated romance and we’ll get to see them 10 years later in this year’s “Before Midnight”. I can’t wait.

#3 – Nathaniel and Cora (“The Last of the Mohicans”)

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Underneath the surface of frontier violence and costly war lies an incredible romance that plays a big part in “The Last of the Mohicans”. Cora (Madelenie Stowe) is an English woman who has arrived in the States during The French and Indian War. She’s rescued by Nathaniel (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his adopted father and brother after a Huron war party tries to kill her. Through Nathaniel she learns a different perspective of the war and how it effects the locals. Even more important to the story, the two develop a love for one another that carries them through blood, battlefields, and tragedy. The way this love story is told through this dangerous and violent environment is beautiful and “The Last of the Mohicans” remains one of my all time favorite films.

#2 – Scarlett and Rhett (“Gone with the Wind”)

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There may not be a more difficult and sometimes volatile relationship in film than the one shared between Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable). Their fascinating romance takes place during the outbreak of the Civil War. Scarlett is a fiery but spoiled daughter of a plantation owner and Rhett is just the one to tame her…or is he? Rhett is a confident and brash fellow who makes a play for Scarlett. But he’s not her puppet which often times infuriates her. But through their on again/off again relationship there is evidence of a truly passionate love between them. These two take us on a roller coaster ride that’s anything but a soft and tender love story. But it’s without a doubt one of the most mesmerizing romances to ever grace the movies.

#1 – Rick and Ilsa (“Casablanca”)

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My favorite movie of all time also happens to feature what I think is the greatest romance in movie history. Humphrey Bogart plays Rick, a club owner in Casablanca during World War 2. His world is turned upside down when Ilsa (played by the stunningly beautiful Ingrid Bergman) reenters his life. We learn the two fell madly in love after first meeting in Paris but circumstances tore them apart. From the first moment their eyes meet again, we know that neither’s feelings have changed. But there are several obstacles keeping them from being together and watching what seems to be an ill-fated romance is simply great cinema. Bogart and Bergman have incredible chemistry and you never doubt their character’s love for each other. This is the quintessential romance in what’s a truly flawless movie.

So those are my five phenomenal movie romances. Now I want to hear your thoughts. What did I miss or where did I go wrong. Take time to comment and share you favorite movie romance.

5 PHENOMENAL MOVIE SCENES SET IN PARIS

Well, before I walk out of the door for our trip to Paris, France, I thought it would be cool to make my final pre-trip post tie in to our vacation. So how about we look at 5 phenomenal movie scenes set in Paris this week. Now there are some really great scenes that I left out but for good reason. I really wanted there to be variety in this list and I certainly think there is. I almost cheated simply because there are some scenes I HATE to leave out. But after much deliberating, here they are. Of course, as always this isn’t the definitive list. But there’s no denying that these 5 movie scenes set in Paris are absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – THE RUDE WAITER (“National Lampoon’s European Vacation”)

Ok, I freely admit that this isn’t a great film. In fact, a good argument could be made that the ending derails the entire picture. But I have to admit that I laughed a lot as the Griswold’s stumble their way through England, France, and Germany. But for me, the funniest moment is at a cafe near the Eiffel Tower where they encounter a rude but hilarious waiter. Clark’s horrible French mixed with the waiter’s condescending mockery is laugh out loud funny. This will never be considered a classic movie, but I do love this goofy scene.

#4 – CLOUSEAU’S STREET PATROL (“The Return of the Pink Panther”)

Sticking with comedies, how can you not love Peter Sellers as Jacques Clouseau in Blake Edwards’ Pink Panther movies. I swear these are the rare comedies that I can watch anytime and still laugh even though I know the gags by heart. In this particular scene, Clouseau’s incompetence has resulted in his demotion to a beat cop. But always dedicated (and always the buffoon) he comes up on a blind accordion player playing on the street as his monkey collects money from pedestrians. A hilarious conversation follows as Clouseau pesters the man for not having the proper license. Meanwhile a real crime happens right behind him which, of course, he’s oblivious to. It’s vintage Sellers and a truly funny scene.

#3 – THE CAFE DREAM SCENE (“Inception”)

One of my favorite movies of the last several years is Christopher Nolan’s “Inception”. This particular scene is set in a quite neighborhood in Paris at a small corner cafe. Actually, to be perfectly honest, it’s not. It’s all a dream as Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) gives Ariadne (Ellen Page) her first lesson in shared dreaming. The scene starts as a cozy conversation set in an even cozier corner of Paris. But Ariadne begins to panic giving us one of the coolest special effects sequences of the entire movie. Shot on location in south Paris, the scene is visually stunning and beautifully crafted. It’s definitely not your traditional pick for a Paris movie scene but I love it.

#2 – THE OPENING MONTAGE (“Midnight in Paris”)

Many of my movie friends know that I LOVE “Midnight in Paris”. Originally I had several scenes from the film that could have made this list. It was incredibly hard to narrow it down to one scene from such a fantastic movie about a fantastic city. But after thinking about the film and thinking about Paris, how could I not choose the opening 4 minute montage? The opening introduces Paris as a major character by showing it’s history, charm, and beauty. We see the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the cafes, and more. It starts in the morning, takes us through an afternoon rain shower, before showing us the city of lights at night all as “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere” plays in the background. Could you find a better introduction to such a magnificent city.

#1 – WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE PARIS (“Casablanca”)

It’s fitting that the best Paris movie scene is also the most romantic movie scene of all time from my favorite movie of all time. Throughout the early parts of “Casablanca” it’s clear that Bogart’s Rick is a tough cookie. But his tough guy persona takes a big hit when he crosses paths with his old love Ilsa played by the gorgeous Ingrid Bergman. After the encounter, Rick drowns his sorrows while reflecting on memories of their romantic getaway to Paris. In the flashback we see the couple taking a drive down the Champs-Élysées. We see them enjoying a cruise on the Seine River. Then there’s the romantic night on the town topped by dancing and a kiss. It’s the perfect scene that not only gives us a look at their past relationship, but it also presents Paris as the link that will always connect them. I have no reservations about calling this the best movie scene set in Paris. “Here’s looking at you kid”.

And there they are? What are your thoughts on my picks. I know there are other great scenes that take place in the City of Lights. As my wife and I travel down the Seine River, please leave your comments and share your top 5 Paris movie scenes!