In the days of my youth I merely thought CASABLANCA was a wonderful movie -- exciting, hopelessly romantic and very satisfying. Humphrey Bogart was the man who more than any other I wanted to be and who, in occasional fantasies, I imagined I was. Ingrid Bergman was the woman I wanted to love and protect from all dangers. At first, Paul Henreid did not really fit into my calculations. The idea of the noble sacrifice was quite new to me then, but I caught on quickly and, having toyed with the idea that Henreid instead of Bogart should have gone off to Brazzaville with Claude Rains, I realized that things had to work out as they did, and I felt better for accepting the fact.

A half-century later, I love CASABLANCA not a whit less, probably even more because, like all the movies we loved in our youth, it now carries a rich frosting of personal associations and a sweet melancholy, born of the intimations of mortality -- the viewer's own, confirmed as it were by the passage of the film's wondrous stars.

And, after a half-century, I can see CASABLANCA, at least a little more objectively, as the apotheosis of the Hollywood romantic melodrama, a kind of fearless and perfected make-believe that you probably couldn't get away with today. Singing the Marseillaise in the face of the snarling Gestapo men! As I am frequently told (as if it were somehow my fault), they don't make movies like that any more. It's true, they don't, and I explain sadly that it's because they don't make the world the way they used to, either. Romantic idealism doesn't come as easily as once it did. Information, and rather too much of it, has led us toward being, in Oscar Wilde's formulation, cynics who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. We can't play make-believe the way we used to, and the loss is ours. Out of wartime reality, Howard Koch and the Epstein brothers, Philip and Julius, constructed a beautiful, tragic, heroic dream and no small part of its appeal now is that it arose and reflected the world in which things seemed to be simpler and clearer. (Whether they were or not is irrevelant.)

Thirty viewings later (at least), I still can't watch only a little of CASABLANCA; I have to stay aboard until Brazzaville. And I can't watch any of it without a tightening of the throat and a hint of moisture in the eyes, sighing for the kind of immortality the movies provide their stars and the savor they lend to our more transient lives.