When Warner Brothers’ movie Casablanca was released nationally on January 23, 1943, to coincide with a war-time meeting of President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the same city, New York Times critic Bosley Crowther wrote that “The Warners...have a picture that makes the spine tingle and the heart take a leap.” After 80 years, the iconic film remains a masterpiece and, in my totally subjective estimation, simply the greatest movie ever made.
I can still remember when I was in law school the Vogue Theater in St. Matthews showing Casablanca like it was a first-run movie. The packed house, as in earlier generations, was held spellbound by this compelling, World War II-era good-versus-evil saga with dozens of unforgettable characters and with a red-hot romance as an extra “added attraction.” People around me sang out loud the soaring “Le Marseilles,” spontaneously begun on screen by Resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) to drown out the Germans’ ”Die Wacht am Rhein” after the Nazis had commandeered a piano at Rick’s Café Americain. If you’re not moved by perhaps the most riveting single scene in any American film, well, you might need to go see a good cardiologist.
Casablanca won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1943, along with Oscars for Best Director (Michael Curtiz) and Best Screenplay (Julius and Philip Epstein and Howard Koch). That nominees Humphrey Bogart (“Rick”) and Claude Rains (“Captain Renault”) didn’t win Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively, is still shockingly unfathomable.
To celebrate this crown jewel of American film history, here are my Reverse Top Ten favorite lines from this timeless classic, not including “Play it again, Sam,” since that was never actually said in the movie.
10. “Your cash is good at the bar.” (Rick to an angry, self-important big shot who wanted Rick to approve his credit to gamble at the club’s back-room casino.)
9. “I was informed that you are the most beautiful woman ever to visit Casablanca — that was a gross understatement.” (Captain Renault to Ilse Lund [Ingrid Bergman.]) I once tried this line on my then-girlfriend (later wife), Cindy, telling her that she “was the most beautiful woman ever to visit the Rib Tavern in Buechel.”
8. “I’m a drunkard.” (Rick to Nazi Major Heinrich Strasser [Conrad Veidt] who had inquired about Rick’s nationality.
7. “He’s just like any other man, only more so.” (Rick describing Captain Renault to a young woman who is unaware that Renault trades precious exit visas for sexual favors — a part of the plot handled very obliquely by the 1940’s-era studios.)
6. “I was misinformed.” (Rick to Captain Renault after Renault ridicules Rick’s stated reason for coming to Casablanca “for the waters.” “What waters?! We’re in a desert!”)
5. “I’m shocked, SHOCKED that there’s gambling going on in here!” (Captain Renault’s reason for closing down Rick’s nightclub, whereupon the croupier rushes up to hand the embarrassed gendarme a sheaf of bills — “Your winnings, sir.”)
4. “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” (A miserable Rick bemoaning the unexpected reappearance of his former lover, Ilse Lund.)
3. “Round up the usual suspects.” (Said twice in the movie, the second time near the end — to sustained applause by the audience — Renault gives this order to his arriving officers despite [spoiler alert] having witnessed who shot and killed Major Strasser — Rick.)
2. “Here’s looking at you, kid.” (Rick to Ilse, earlier in their lives, offering a toast to his clearly enchanted lady with champagne and flowers in a lovely Paris hotel room.)
1. “And what if you track down these men and kill them? What if you murdered all of us? From every corner of Europe, hundreds, thousands would rise to take our places. Even Nazis can’t kill that fast.” (The handsome, charismatic Victor Laszlo, roused to his full if subdued fury, rejecting Strasser’s offer of safe passage if he [Laszlo] identifies Resistance leaders for the Gestapo.)
And so it will always be in civilization’s permanent struggle to vanquish all tyranny because “...the fundamental things apply, as time goes by,” the last line of the signature song of the best movie of all — Casablanca.
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