As time goes by, we’ll always have ‘Casablanca’


If you’ve already seen “Casablanca,” here’s everything you need to know. The 1942 classic is screening at the Ambler Theater on July 10 at 4 and 7 p.m. Maybe I’ll see you there.

If you haven’t seen “Casablanca,” and actually admit it, I can imagine the looks of apoplectic disbelief;  the exclamations of  “What do you mean you haven’t seen “Casablanca?” 

Here at the Local, it’s a judgment free zone. It took a lot of guts to confess that you’ve yet to be spellbound by the romance of Ilsa and Rick. But hear me out and  read on. I’ll tell you why you should, in fact, watch “Casablanca.”

While “Casablanca” exists in the public imagination as a grand and sweeping melodrama, its true power is in small gestures and moments. The most triumphant moment of action in “Casablanca” isn’t a fight scene or a stirring monologue. It’s a sing-along.  Nazi officers have co-opted the piano in Rick’s Cafe Americain and are loudly singing an anthem, to the discomfort of the refugees displaced by Nazi occupation who frequent  Rick’s. Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), a freedom fighter firmly in the Nazi crosshairs approaches the cafe band and demands they play “La Marseillaise.” With the slightest nod of approval from cafe owner Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), the band begins, and the singing refugees drown out the Nazis. It makes me cry every time I watch it.

While it’s remembered for its biggest moments, “Casablanca” unfolds through small ones. The camera lingers on Ingrid Bergman’s face for 26 seconds as Sam (Dooley Wilson) plays “As Time Goes By,” and her longing, guilt and nostalgia are communicated by a turn of the head and the tears shimmering at the corner of her eyes. Later in the film, in a flashback, we hear the same song, see the same expression, and the viewer knows that her plan to meet Rick the next day at the train station is not going to go as planned. The film is driven by things unsaid and big actions disguised as small ones. 

These small, but revelatory acts are key to Casablanca’s enduring legacy. While it’s firmly set in the early days of the US’s involvement in World War II, it speaks to something much more universal. “Casablanca” suggests that heroism can be defined by small actions as well as big ones, that it’s not too late to overcome pain and cynicism, that we can inspire each other to live more nobly through our actions. “Casablanca” is essential because it takes the best of classic Hollywood filmmaking and uses it to create something that feels vital and enduring 80 years on. It’s common, when talking about classic cinema, to toss around the phrase “They don’t make them like that anymore.” “Casablanca” stands apart because they never made anything like it before or since.