The Emotion of Dialogue as Communicated in Casablanca

In Michael Curtiz’s 1942 film Casablanca, a heavy emphasis is placed on the emotions of interaction between characters, especially Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman).  This is carried out largely through the shot/reverse-shot pattern, wherein the shot is cut back and forth in tandem with the flow of dialogue to show the characters as they speak.  In his article “For the Sake of Conversation:  On shot reverse shot,” (http://www.aotg.com/index.php?page=shotreverseshot) Mott emphasizes the significance a character’s reaction to their counterpart’s words can have in producing a desired emotional response.  Rather than simply shifting directly between the faces of the speakers, a shot can linger on one character to show the audience how they react to what they hear and see.  This can be seen in the final moments of the film (clip shown below), as shots follow Ilsa’s speaking and listening to Rick.

As their goodbye builds to its iconic finale, the shot transitions from a close-up showing the temporary lovers in the frame together to a shot/reverse-shot sequence (1:07).  The scene is meant to emphasize Ilsa’s response to Rick’s goodbye, and this transition allows the shot to remain heavily focused on her face as she comes to realize the finality of his words.  Interestingly, the transition also has the effect of isolating them from one another as a visual representation of their approaching reality.  Through this and other such stylistic decisions, the dialogue editing in Casablanca effectively emphasizes the words spoken between its characters and the emotions that motivate them, which may help explain its position as one of the most referenced screenplays in American cinema.

Continuity Editing and the Flashback Technique in Casablanca

As we learned in The Film Experience, continuity editing is a system of cutting used in film to maintain continuous narrative action. The idea of this technique is to create a seamless stream of events that flows effortlessly for the viewer.

This style of editing is used consistently throughout Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca. Below, I have found a short sequence that utilizes continuity editing in our first introduction to Rick’s cafe. I think the author of this clip does a great job of explaining how the style of editing allows the viewer to take in the atmosphere of the cafe and introduces the viewer to Rick’s clientele.

One of my favorite scenes in Casablanca was the Memories of Paris montage sequence. I thought the fade in that Curtiz used was very effective in creating a flashback effect, especially with the fade being white, creating a dreamy vibe, reminiscent of better times for Rick (although the end of the montage does end in his heartbreak). Below, I have posted a clip of the montage, which begins around 1:10.

I found an article by Scott Myers that explains why this flashback sequence is so effective. Here is the link to the article: https://gointothestory.blcklst.com/studies-in-flashbacks-casablanca-7e154431d19c.

An important point that Myers brings up in this article is the fact that flashbacks seem to be a “no-no” in the current Hollywood world. They can often be viewed as extremely cheesy by the audience. Why is this the case? Also, why is it that one of the most cherished films of all time utilizes this supposedly “cheesy” editing mechanism? Myers says that the answer lies in excellent execution, something that is not typically achieved in many of today’s films.

Myers says Casablanca’s montage works for two primary reasons. The first being its structure- there is a clear beginning, middle, and end. The second reason is that it gives us background on Rick and Ilsa’s relationship, which is central to the story in Casablanca.

I would like to know what others thought about the flashback sequence in this film. Did you think it was effective or did you think it came off as cheesy?