I hate to admit it, but it took several viewings of Casablanca for me to finally appreciate it. There obviously must have been something about it to keep drawing me back to it though, and I'm glad that I didn't just give up on it. Shoot, come to think of it, I've owned so many versions of this film. I've owned the first DVD, the special edition DVD, the HD-DVD, and now I have the crazy-big Blu-Ray collector's edition. (To be fair, one of those other versions I got for a few bucks, and another one was completely free.)
My first attempt to watch it, I was at a friend's house. They were showing it on TV. Remember when they'd show a movie on TV and you'd go out of your way to sit down and watch it? It would be like an event! Ahh, good, but much more inconvenient, times. Anyway, the plan was for me and several friends to sit down and watch it as it was a classic film that we all felt needed to be seen so we could find out what was so great about it. At least, that's what I thought the idea was. My friends were more interested in chatting about the same pointless crap we always chatted about, and they treated me like I was being a jerk when I said that I wanted to pay attention to the movie.
I don't really remember much about it, as I don't think that I was able to pay enough attention in order to get much out of it. I also don't remember when the next time I saw it was, but I think that I watched it about three or four times before I finally had my magical viewing of it. Don't get me wrong, I obviously liked it enough to buy and watch every so often, but I don't think that I could have honestly called it one of my favorites. The magical viewing came when I listened to Roger Ebert's commentary on the special edition DVD. He pointed out so many cool things about the movie that I guess that I was just too dense to pick up on myself. (How did I miss what a mac daddy Captain Renault is? He's kind of a pig, actually, but he's so charming that he gets away with it.)
Since then, I doubt that a year goes by without me watching it at least twice. It's a comfort-movie for me - a film that just makes me feel good every time I see it. I dig the characters and the dialogue and all the famous moments that everybody else loves. Unlike a lot of comfort movies though, this one is actually pretty good.
I was really happy to find out that a lot of my seniors had seen the movie. I was explaining the "rogue" archetype to them, and I used him as an example of how in a lot of American movies, the hero tends to be a rogue, as there's something about the American identity that relates to that sort of a character. Rick is really rough around the edges, and I think that even sometimes he believes that he doesn't care about anybody but himself. However, you just know that he's eventually going to crack.
What's amazing is that the ending wasn't decided on until pretty much the day before they started filming it, if I remember the story right. It actually could have ended in a much more conventional sort of a way. What a shame that would have been. Yeah, we all want to see Rick be reunited with Ilsa, but we also all know that from what the movie established, that would be the absolute wrong thing for them to do. They'd regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of their lives.
Rick's a true rogue. You wonder where his loyalties are - if he even has any, but push comes to shove, he goes and does something selfless. There's a very good reason why so many consider this to be one of the greatest films ever made.