Green, Gary. "The Happiest of Happy Accidents"? A Reevaluation of "Casablanca" Smithsonian Studies in American Art, Vol. 1, No. 2. (Autumn, 1987), pp. 2-13.
While many have called Casablanca a “happy accident” or suggested that the film serendipitously arose from a series of problems and random mistakes, Gary Green suggests a reevaluation of the film looking at it as a product of its director, Michael Curtiz. He says that the distinct ties between the visual and narrative aspects of the film are what make it most enduring and that Curtiz is chiefly responsible.
The main visual and narrative motif that is carried out in the movie is the triangle. Rick is part of two distinct triangles: the romantic triangle between him, Ilsa and Lazlo, and the political triangle with him, Strasser, and Renault. Visually Curtiz explores these two triangles by positioning the actors within the frame to represent their ties and connections. Through positioning Rick at the same spot at the table at the initial meetings of both triangles, he makes a connection between them. He uses two shots and close ups in the climactic last scene to show the breaking up of the triangles. In the end Ilsa is visually and narratively paired with Lazlo, while Rick is paired with Renault.
The other style that Curtiz lends to the film is the look of the films of the film noir period. Following in the footsteps of German Expressionists, his dark style with harsh painted on shadows help the audience become closer tied to Rick’s inner feelings. As the film goes on the style becomes darker as we become more and more involved in Rick. Even the stylistically light flashback sequence ends with a darker more sinister scene when they part with the train leaving. The end of the film is particularly dark visually with the airport almost lost in darkness. These stylistic elements that bring us closer into the film are the main reason for the film’s lasting ability, and the reason why it has become regarded as a masterpiece. Green wants to make sure that in our reevaluation of the film, we give credit where it’s due: to Michael Curtiz.