Half the world can repeat half the dialogue of Curtiz’s great wartime (anti-)romance, re-released in a new digital restoration for Valentine’s Day, and half of Hollywood’s scriptwriters worked on it. If Peter Bogdanovich is right to say the Bogart persona was generally defined by his work for Howard Hawks, his Rick, master of the incredibly ritzy Moroccan gin-joint into which old Paris flame Ingrid Bergman walks, just as importantly marked his transition from near-psychopathetic bad guy to idiosyncratic romantic hero.
Sixty-odd years on, the film still works beautifully: its complex propagandist subtexts and vision of a reluctantly martial America’s ‘stumbling’ morality still intrigue, just as Bogart’s cult reputation among younger viewers still obtains. Claude Rains is superb as the pragmatic French chief of police, himself a complex doppelgänger of Bogart; Paul Henreid is credible and self-effacing as the film’s nominal hero; Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre give great colour; and Bergman literally shines. Arguably, cinema’s greatest ‘accidental masterpiece’, it still amounts to some hill of beans.