Because it's one of those films that you have to watch once before you die.
The Blue Parrot, the hill of beans, the model aircraft… so many elements of this 1942 outing have since become iconic that it's tough to really come to it fresh now.
And yet, within the first few minutes, I have to admit that it had a certain compelling tone to it. The various strategic and political goings-on at Rick's Bar hooked me in straight away with unusual ease. I'm often very critical of the breakneck pacing of today's movies, yet to find the same brevity of exchanges in this classic just swept the whole thriller along.
Well, for the first half hour anyway. As soon as it's revealed that Rick and Ilsa have a past, the film takes a left turn into a cul-de-sac.
Rick's hung-up over a woman who appears to be both a liar and a cheat, the eventual explanation for which might make us take pity on her, if only it checked out. Victor just happened to escape from concentration camp on the same day that the Nazis invaded? Were the guards short-staffed because of said invasion, or was that in itself just a happy by-product of them all going out chasing after him? Ilsa justifies her secrecy on the topic to Rick the previous night by saying "The Rick I knew in Paris, I could tell him. He'd understand." Except that in Paris she didn't tell him either. Hrrm, I'm not convinced. If we're talking fundamentals, I think trust comes ahead of the kisses and sighs.
Anyway, that uneasy central dynamic is pretty much my only problem here.
The production standards are unusually below average, so it's a credit that the cast and script overcome them with such conviction, much like in a theatre. In fact, that it's stagily set pretty much in the one location explains pop-culture's affection for that bar where Sam is always playing the piano. So much of the movie happens here.
I don't think this film deserves to be a classic, but it certainly has an intensity that hooked me throughout, and I'm curious now to look-up again that episode of The Simpsons when they watch an alternate ending to it.
Whatever minor quibbles I might have about the first 101 minutes, much like Rick, in the end this classic knows exactly the moment at which to let go.
I wouldn't change a thing.