Casablanca: It’s Still the Same Old (Wonderful) Story

By Paris Kim, Marjorie Magazine Staff

If there’s ever an old film to watch on the big screen, let it be the behemoth that is Casablanca.

The sweeping war and romance film has been considered one of the greatest masterpieces of Hollywood since it first premiered in 1942, even back then a film that emerged as one of the many released by Warner Brothers in the studio contract era, under contract obligations to produce a certain number of movies in a year. For the 20+ films that came out for 1942, Casablanca was just another solution to a good story, good entertainment to keep the morale of the West fueled against the Axis at the time. And even when the war was won, the film left its mark on every cinephile who longed for its quotes, suspense, lavish sets, and yes, the bittersweet but fitting romantic ending.

Occasionally, you might happen upon Casablanca being shown at your local independent theater or part of a special film festival, but when you do, it’s a great treat on which you won’t want to miss out. Perhaps you’re seeing it on your own, as is tradition every Valentine’s whether single or take, or if you’ve been lucky in love the past 3 years you’ve seen it twice now with your own Bogart (or Bergman). Take a middle or back seat, away from other spectators– if the theater is a local, there might not be a full house. Bonus is if the theater sets the mood for the evening’s feature by a live performance on their in-house organ, and usually if this is true they’re bound to play “As Time Goes By” all the way through. The last note is hit hard, the crowd claps, and then the lights fade. A globe turns across the screen as it brightens, soon followed by the opening title that ushers you into the next hour and a half back into 1942, back into Casablanca, back into the best seat at Rick’s watching Sam sing lively numbers on his piano against the rhythm of the big band.

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You might have seen Casablanca before. After all, you know it’s spectacular, and it’s the only reason you know why it’s worth seeing in theaters. Some might have began in a theater just like tonight’s, from a Blockbuster rental with family, or in your case: a free trial on Netflix back in 2012. Admittedly, it wasn’t a film you liked right away– but like a fine wine it worked its way into your mind and left an impression you couldn’t quite explain, but you had to watch it again. And then, you’re in love. It’s your private Paris, or at least that feeling is; lost, and only again like Bogart and Bergman to be found in Casablanca. You’re lucky now to be able to watch it again in such a spectacular old place, rich in history and beloved by those who flock each weeknight to see whatever it is that plays on its single screen.

Lack of color makes for a calming scene, no matter how despairing or comical. Those smooth voices that move the story along, and the music pulls it all together. “As Time Goes By” comes and goes on screen and finally fades away before the climatic ending of the film. And every time you hear it afterwards, you’re called back to this moment in the dark, the film flickering above and all faces in that room shrouded in shadows, except for the light from Casablanca shining back on the face of your beloved in the seat next to you. We know the film is great, it’s why we’re here, and why we won’t go into details. But the moment is the magic– the way cinema and these films of the 30’s and 40’s were meant to be enjoyed, the only way in fact. For the few hours you dwell in this theater it’s as if time has gone back and you’re somewhere in 1942.

When the film ends, there is a buzz of talk and joy about this magnificent classic.  Your soda is empty and you can see the butter stain on your skirt from the popcorn you spilled but couldn’t find in the dark.  All the faces you see as the lights turn on are decades older than you, glasses and heirloom brooches and gray hair and bundled up against the January air they’re about to step into as they still chatter about the film with their husbands. You’re back in 2019, and you’ve just seen a movie that’s existed longer than you. It certainly will outshine you, live on after your small life. But it’s inspiring you in the moment.

This is why we keep those local theaters around. There may not be a multitude of movies to choose from, but from the one screen they have they sure choose the right film. The right one makes you feel something. It’s hidden like a forgotten memory coming back to make you smile again. When you talk about the local theater and seeing a classic film, it starts up a wonderful discussion among friends and strangers. No one’s ever been to Casablanca. You certainly did not live through World War II. You’ll never meet Bergman or Bogart or hear Dooley Wilson perform “As Time Goes By” live in a nightclub called Rick’s. But you’re all still talking about it. It’s a shared memory, the magic of cinema. It’s the only memory that we can all agree on saying when we talk of classic films in the dark, “It was a wonderful time.”

So here’s looking at you, Casablanca, and to the new memories you shall inspire for those who flock to see you on the silver screen, no matter the decade.

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