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`Casablanca,' as Time Goes By

`GOODBYE, Rick; God bless you."

"You'd better hurry, you'll miss that plane."

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This exchange marks one of the most famous ending scenes in American film: Richard Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) standing on the foggy airport tarmac in Casablanca helping Ilse Lund (Ingrid Bergman), the woman he loves, escape with her husband, a Free French resistance leader who will carry on the fight against Nazism.

Bogart then guns down a German officer to ice the escape, and the Vichy police chief (Claude Rains) utters a line that still brings audience cheers: "Major Strasser's been shot! [Cataclysmic pause] Round up the usual suspects."

This is the 50th year for "Casablanca" - a film that may have more memorable lines than any other made in Hollywood: "Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship," "Here's looking at you, kid," to name a couple.

This 50th comes on the heels of the golden anniversary of "Citizen Kane," a work of rare cinematic genius. But brilliant as Orson Welles's story of corrupting power is, it hasn't had the same hold on audiences worldwide as "Casablanca" and its "tale of love and glory ... a case of do or die."

How did a picture with so much chaos in the making become a classic? Scriptwriters left; the ending was written at the last minute.

Yet what emerges is a story pitting private dreams and desires against the old struggle of good and evil. Rick's Cafe Americain is a microcosm of the world; everyone goes there: Nazis, refugees, radicals and appeasers, heroes and villains.

It is a story of being heroic but not making an issue of it. Bogart is shrewdly self-interested, but in the end he sacrifices both love and safety, fully aware of what he is doing.

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As in 1942 one asks: "What is right to do?" "Casablanca" is a film of simple but tough moral choices under complex circumstances. Today, it's still the same old story.

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