Against the electric background of a sleek cafe in a North African port, through which swirls a backwash of connivers, crooks, and fleeing European refugees, the Warner Brothers are telling a rich, suave, exciting and moving tale in their new film, "CASABLANCA," which came to the Hollywood yesterday. They are telling it in the high tradition of their hard-boiled romantic- adventure style. And to make it all the more tempting they have given it a top-notch thriller cast of Humphrey Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt and even Claude Rains, and have capped it magnificently with Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid and a Negro "find" named Dooley Wilson.
Yes, indeed, the Warners here have a picture which makes the spine tingle and the heart take a leap. For once more, as in the recent Bogart pictures, they have turned the incisive trick of draping a tender love story within the folds of a tight topical theme. They have used Mr. Bogart's personality, so well established in other brilliant films, to inject a cold point of tough resistance to evil forces afoot in Europe today. And they have so combined sentiment, humor and pathos with taut melodrama and bristling intrigue that the result is a highly entertaining and even aspiring film.
The story, as would be natural, has its devious convolutions of plot. But mainly it tells of a tough fellow named Rick who runs a Casablanca cafe and of what happens (or what happened last December) when there shows up in his joint one night a girl whom he had previously loved in Paris in company with a fugitive Czech patriot. The Nazis are trailing the young Czech; the Vichy officials offer only brief refuge -- and Rick holds the only two sure passports which will guarantee his and the girl's escape. But Rick loves the girl very dearly, she is now married to this other man -- and whenever his Negro pianist sits there in the dark and sings "As Time Goes By" that old, irresistible feeling consumes him in a choking, maddening wave.
Don't worry, we won't tell you how it all comes out. That would be rankest sabotage. But we will tell you that the urbane detail and the crackling dialogue which has been packed into this film by the screenwriters, the Epstein brothers and Howard Koch, is of the best. We will tell you that Michael Curtiz has directed for slow suspense and that his camera is always conveying grim tension and uncertainty. Some of the significant incidents, too, are affecting -- such as that in which the passionate Czech patriot rouses the customers in Rick's cafe to drown out a chorus of Nazis by singing the Marseillaise, or any moment in which Dooley Wilson is remembering past popular songs in a hushed room.
We will tell you also that the performances of the actors are all of the first order, but especially those of Mr. Bogart and Miss Bergman in the leading roles. Mr. Bogart is, as usual, the cool, cynical, efficient and super-wise guy who operates his business strictly for profit but has a core of sentiment and idealism inside. Conflict becomes his inner character, and he handles it credibly. Miss Bergman is surpassingly lovely, crisp and natural as the girl and lights the romantic passages with a warm and genuine glow.
Mr. Rains is properly slippery and crafty as a minion of Vichy perfidy, and Mr. Veidt plays again a Nazi officer with cold and implacable resolve. Very little is demanded of Mr. Greenstreet as a shrewd black-market trader, but that is good, and Mr. Henreid is forthright and simple as the imperiled Czech patriot. Mr. Wilson's performance as Rick's devoted friend, though rather brief, is filled with the sweetness and compassion which lend a helpful mood to the whole film, and other small roles are played ably by S.Z. Sakall, Joy Page, Leonid Kinskey and Mr. Lorre.
In short, we will say that "CASABLANCA" is one of the year's most exciting and trenchant films. It certainly won't make Vichy happy -- but that's just another point for it.
Copyright © 1942 by The New York Times
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