Sometimes, I don’t need to over-think the romantic film recommendation thing. Sometime, the right selection is clear. And this week, I’m going with the obvious choice: Casablanca, Michael Curtiz’s 1942 masterpiece starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, and Claude Rains.
If you haven’t seen it, you really should stop whatever you’re doing and track this film down. Like immediately. No, I’m not kidding.
But if you need more convincing, our setting is Morocco in the early days of World War II. Refugees are streaming out Europe only to end up trapped in purgatory-like Casablanca, unable to get out of the Vichy French-occupied (and thus German-aligned) territory without visas. Two such refugees are Bergman and Henreid. He’s a resistance leader and she’s his wife, a woman whose past with the bar-owner and hard-boiled cynic Bogart is at the center of the film.
Whether Casablanca is a romance or the true film equivalent of romance novel — meaning a courtship-focused narrative with a happily ever after — is an interesting question. (SPOILER ALERT) It ends happily from Henreid’s point-of-view and with the start of “beautiful friendship” for Bogart and Rains. It also gave Bogart and Bergman closure. So the ending is ambiguous at worse and positive at best. (END SPOILERS) But even if the ending is atypical, it’s deeply romantic, often funny, and always smart.
I don’t believe that the cream rises to the top. The films that endure often stay around through a weird combination of marketing, nostalgia, academic interest, and serendipity. But in Casablanca’s case, the reputation and endurance is earned. I’ll be watching it tonight with some North African food and sangria.