The following is an abridged version of Roger Ebert's review. The full article is available here.
"It is about a man and a woman who are in love, and who sacrifice love for a higher purpose. This is immensely appealing; the viewer is not only able to imagine winning the love of Humphrey Bogart or Ingrid Bergman, but unselfishly renouncing it, as a contribution to the great cause of defeating the Nazis.
No one making “Casablanca” thought they were making a great movie. It was simply another Warner Bros. release. It was made on a tight budget and released with small expectations. Everyone involved in the film had been, and would be, in dozens of other films made under similar circumstances, and the greatness of “Casablanca” was largely the result of happy chance.
Seeing the film over and over again, year after year, I find it never grows over-familiar. It plays like a favorite musical album; the more I know it, the more I like it. The black-and-white cinematography has not aged as color would. The dialogue is so spare and cynical it has not grown old-fashioned. Much of the emotional effect of “Casablanca” is achieved by indirection; as we leave the theater, we are absolutely convinced that the only thing keeping the world from going crazy is that the problems of three little people do after all amount to more than a hill of beans."
- Roger Ebert, 1996
This is a movie I hesitate to even write about. Not because it doesn’t deserve it. On the contrary, I think it’s the greatest film of all time. It just seems so obvious though. Yes, it is a perfect film. There’s not one millisecond you could take away or add or change to make it any better. But when people ask me, ‘what’s your favorite movie?’ I feel like if I say Casablanca, I’m sort of cheating. So I usually say, Notorious (1946).
The truth is however, Casablanca is my favorite film without a doubt. How could it not be? You have LEGENDS in their prime. Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman (...Ingrid Bergman, oh my god!), Claude Rains, Paul Henreid, Peter Lorre and others. Everyone was born to play their role. This is a film that the universe conspired to make.
Casablanca unleashed my obsession with the 1940’s and a bit of an unhealthy fascination with Ingrid Bergman. It is the rare kind of film that somehow manages to get better every time. When you watch it, it's as if all those characters are still at Rick's Cafe, Sam is on the piano and you sit down for a visit with old friends.