Casablanca is considered, by and large, to be the greatest screenplay ever written. On a superficial level it’s endless quotability may have something to do with the writing community’s preference, but it’s more likely touted as the screenplay because it is so effortlessly entertaining, sharp and moving that it’s probably (excluding children’s films, which people have a strange sort of patience for) the easiest entrant into old Hollywood that there is. Enviable work from co-writers: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch.
For this reason, there is a truly endless supply of film scholarship on Casablanca, but as with anything truly great, there is always more to learn, and no bad place to start. Here are two quickfire videos, on a Macro- and Micro-level, that help give an idea of the fundamentals at work in Casablanca, which demonstrate that the film is one of the most beloved of all time not because it holds brilliant secrets unattainable to other writers, but because it is near perfect in form.
‘Scriptsleuth’, who set out to analyze all one hundred and one of the scripts featured in the Writers Guild of America’s Greatest Screenplays, started with the number one pick. No points for guessing which movie holds the spot. He breaks down five of the film’s “Screenwriting Secrets” to gleam from this classic (really 5 elements of film writing present in Casablanca, and on top form).
They involve: Exposition (characters who exposit are motivated by their wants to announce information necessary for the audience to absorb), Secondary Characters (the story is enriched by having its many secondary
characters, whether comic relief or vessels to deliver emotional gut-punches to the audience, advance the story and/or have an emotional impact on the main characters), Character Arcs (not just to include the all-
important internal character growth, but to telegraph where the character is on their emotional journey for the audience along the way, and extend such arcs beyond just the protagonist for maximum effect), Musical Scenes (how each of the film’s surprisingly plentiful musical sequences does not halt the story’s progression, rather serving to set new developments in motion, or communicate themes or tone to the audience), and Creating A Likeable Hero (the indirect ways by which the film establishes Rick’s
underlying better nature and integrity, even as he fights to insist he “sticks his neck out for nobody”, so that the film may redeem him in the climax).
Maybe you’re tired of lessons about the big picture. You’re well aware that you need arcs, themes, exposition, etc., but what makes a film great on a moment-by-moment basis? How do these elements of storytelling function in a simple scene? ‘Storytellers’ has you covered. He unpacks a seemingly lowkey scene between Rick and Ilsa, were the two verbally spar, and reveal each other’s pains, insecurities, needs and fears, all conversationally.
Hopefully these videos send you down a rabbit hole of Casablanca essays, or at the very least push you to rewatch the film. It never does a writer harm to revisit the classics.