MasterSnee Theater: Why ‘Casablanca?’

Chugs is busy moving into his new swingin’ pad, so Rick is filling in for this week’s “MasterChugs Theater.”

What is it with movie reviewers and Casablanca? Anytime they review a movie that concerns war, love, smoking, corrupt police or film, this move gets brought up. In fact, I’d wager Chug’s left testicle that Casablanca is brought up more often than The Godfather and Citizen Kane in regards to American classics.

So, while Chugs gets cleaned up for extraction, I’m going to explore that 60-year-old question: of all the movies in all the genres in all the world, why did she pick Casablanca?

It ain’t ‘Citizen Kane’ … but it’s close enough

In order to have some street cred when you’re reviewing movies, you have to have a list of favorites. But this is no ordinary list for reviewers; no, this is more like us normal people’s Facebook movie lists.

They have to pick films that you know are important. These films also have to catch the widest audience, so offensive films are out. And since this is America, we have no patience for the reviewer that expects us to know about foreign cinema.

These films also have to be old. Contemporary classics are only as good as until they’re remade. But after a certain date, there are some films that can’t be touched anymore. For the sake of argument, we’ll say that date is 1960.

They must be of a certain length. Good movies come in two lengths: long and epic, but epic films are their own category. Good long films must be over 90 minutes, but not exceed two and a half hours. (Epic films begin at three hours because 2.75 hours implies there was no editor for that long movie.)

Finally, they must be black and white. You know how your prom pictures looked better that way? Same goes for movies.

So, you have two movies that fit this bill for number one: Citizen Kane and Casablanca. We know each one is considered important. Citizen Kane dates back to 1941, Casablanca to 1942. Citizen Kane is 119 minutes long, Casablanca: 102. Oh, and they’re both black and white.

Casablanca has the advantege because it’s leaner than Kane, and also because it doesn’t end up being about a boyhood sled named Rosebud. (Spoiler alert.)

It’s about World War II

War films are an important genre for any film reviewer. Many of your best reputation films come from war: Apocalypse Now, Dr. Strangelove, Gone with the Wind, Universal Soldier, The Great Santini.

But Casablanca doesn’t just have any war as it’s theme: it has World War II. The big one. The only recent war your favorite college professor will admit was justified (just don’t bring up Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

But, out of the myriad of WWII movies out there, Casablanca is one of the few that doesn’t focus on an outright battle. This war is waged in back alleys and saloons with songs, roulette and cocktails. There are few gunshots, and most of these only occur when talking won’t work anymore.

So the Casablanca World War II is one of words, and this is where the critic really gets to show his or her Stuff (TM): is it propaganda? It was released in 1942, and the main character is an American who has profited off of both sides until forced to choose between his friends or the Nazis that have left him alone … so far.

So, yeah, of course it’s propaganda. But it’s the only World War II propaganda film that features a solid romance story, so it makes the movie reviewers look Very Serious.

It’s the only sexist film women love

This movie proves why date rape works. All of the male characters seduce women with booze and blackmail and it works every single time:

  • Vichy Captain Louis Rennault grants exit visas to women who sleep with him or pay him very well, including one newlywed.
  • Rick loves ’em, leaves ’em, cuts them off at the bar and sends them home with his Russian bartender. And if he really loves you, then he’ll hold an exit visa over your head, turn you down and then tell your husband about the whole thing later. (“Thanks for the heads-up, Rick. I’ll keep her pregnant when we get to the States.”)

Let’s face it, the Nazis look bad in this film, but it’s nowhere near as bad as the dames get it. At best, they’re indecisive (Ilsa). At their worst, they’ll sleep with Nazis (Yvonne).

They’re the reason why the men drink, certain songs are forbidden and why everyone hates the French. If it weren’t for the women, Sam could get a day off from playing the piano and babysitting his drunken boss.

And yet, women love this.

It is very quotable

The best part about Casablanca is that, unlike Citizen Kane, you don’t even have to watch it. You can figure out the whole film from the lines that everyone quotes.

In fact, here’s the entire film in quotes you already knew:

“Play it once, Sam. For old times’ sake.”

“Sam, I thought I told you never to play-… ”

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”

“If she can stand it, I can! Play it!”

“Kiss me. Kiss me as if it were the last time.”

“And remember, this gun is pointed right at your heart.”
“That is my least vulnerable spot.”

“We’ll always have Paris.”

“And you never will. But I’ve got a job to do, too. Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of. Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that. Now, now … Here’s looking at you kid.”

“Louie, this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

That’s pretty much it.

It features the bar game we’ve always wanted to play

At some point, anyone who has seen this movie wants to go to a bar, divide it in half and reenact this:

That won’t happen, of course, because that means one side will have to sing the Nazi Germany national anthem. That, and the crowds of drunks will eventually lose focus and start singing “Louie, Louie” all together.

If you’re not convinced that’s a reason, then you don’t know film reviewers. We’re all drunks and, until Cheers, this was the only story that never ventured outside of a bar. Even when Rick leaves the bar, it’s to go to another bar.

Or to the airport, which also houses a bar.

2 thoughts on “MasterSnee Theater: Why ‘Casablanca?’”

  1. “Here’s looking at you, kid” is in the big speech he gives Ilsa to tell her to get on the plane with Laszlo.

    I didn’t really think of “Round up the usual suspects” as a line automatically associated with Casablanca, but you’re right. That line has been used in countless movies since.

    Perhaps I’ll include it next time I write a movie review. A “Casablanca” reference will show the audience why I’m qualified to pan “Mirrors.”

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