Casablanca – A Contemporary Love Story Made in the 1940s

Casablanca (1942) is a romantic drama, directed by Hungarian actor and director, Michael Curtiz. The movie’s main cast includes Hollywood’s finest at the time: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid. Compared to the movie’s $878 000 budget, its success is undeniable. It became one of the studio’s biggest hits, earning $4.1 million. In addition, the movie received an Academy Award for best picture, and put Humphrey Bogart’s name back on the map in Hollywood.


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The movie is about a couple, Victor László and his wife, Ilsa Lund, who are hiding from the Nazi Party. During their escape, they wind up in Casablanca, a place for all the refugees to go to if they want to travel to America. There is a special place to go to in Casablanca if someone needs money, visa, or any kind of help, and that place is Rick’s. When Victor and his wife get to the bar, they meet some old friends, and that is when the action starts.




The movie was made in the war years (1942-1945), which gave a solid background to the plot, and provided a number of motivations for the characters. The mood that lingers throughout the whole movie is filled with tension, but just the right amount of humor helps to release this tension from time to time. The movie has two major themes which are intertwined in a way that makes it enjoyable for all viewers. On the one hand, there is the love story between Rick and Ilsa, while on the other hand, the movie deals with a much more serious topic, the effects of war on people’s everyday life, and one’s duty to its country and its people.

The love story is embedded in the happenings of World War II, yet it is difficult to decide which serves as a motivation for which. If it hadn’t been for the war, Rick and Ilsa would have never met, but then again, the war was the very same thing that tore them apart. The viewer gets to know their story and how they met in Paris through flashbacks, which makes it seem less real, especially in the light of recent events going on in Casablanca.


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In contrast, the war feels definitely real, with the arrival of Major Heinrich Strasser, that generates another conflict in the plot. Before the arrival of the Major, everything went smoothly in the city, with police officers being bribed and a thriving black market where everything was for sale, even visas and safe-conducts. Now, all of a sudden, actual criminals need to be caught, and verdicts need to be returned quickly.

One of the biggest positive aspects of the movie is that it is realistic. It is not just the setting of Casablanca during the War that provides authenticity for the story, but the exceptionally well written and delivered dialogues as well. They are completely ridden of any pathos and give something extra to the superb acting. The final scene, and with that the whole movie perfectly fits the genre’s expectation of Hollywood during that era, yet it keeps the viewer interested the whole time. Rick and Ilsa both sacrifice their love for a “greater good”, which symbolizes what was often expected of people during the war, and Hollywood also had to live up to those expectations. As far as the movie’s cinematography is concerned, director of photography, Arthur Edeson needs to be mentioned, especially for the way he portrayed Ingrid Bergman’s character, Ilsa Lund. In most of her scenes, a special filter was used to make her look like some ethereal phenomenon, which made viewers feel like she is out-of-reach not just for them, but for Rick as well.


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While the whole movie is based on the fight for social values and freedom, Curtiz still managed to find the perfect balance between the excitements of the love story and the often depressing reality of the war, the Nazi death camps and being a refugee. The movie also expresses its opinion about the topic with the fact that Rick and Ilsa both realize by the end that they must sacrifice their love for each other in order to stay alive and help many more people, not just themselves.


To fully understand the movie’s motifs and the duality of the story, it is worth to take


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a look at the various references to the opposing ideologies that meet in Casablanca. These references can be seen many times throughout the movie, for instance in the scene where Renault, the police prefect is greeted by a Nazi and a French soldier with different arm signals, who after then, continue to chat in a friendly manner. However, the complex nature of the movie is best noticeable in the scenes where Ilsa talks to either Victor, or to Rick. When she is talking to her husband, she never tells him how she feels about him, while she confesses her love to Rick in almost every scene that they share on-screen.



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Last, but not least, the movie’s soundtrack needs to be mentioned, especially the song “As Time Goes By”, written by Herman Hupfeld, which serves as a kind of theme song for Rick and Ilsa’s relationship. The music in the movie, however, also contributes to the duality, when the songs “Die Wacht am Rhein” and “La Marseillaise” are sung simultaneously as a sort of competition between the two ideologies.

In short, Casablanca is a must-watch, not just because it is a classic, but because it is entertaining, even if in today’s world it might be not as engaging for some people as it was when it was first released. However, the outstanding acting, the fascinating story with the catchy music and witty dialogues make it worth watching the 102 minutes of the movie.


Viktória Nagy



“Casablanca (1942) – Photo Gallery.” IMDb, Accessed 3 Dec. 2016.

Schatz, Thomas. Boom and Bust: The American Cinema in the 1940s (History of the American Cinema). Cengage Gale, 1997.


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