I'll admit, I wasn't expecting much from this film when I saw it. I checked it out because it reunites the core crew of Casablanca; Michael Curtiz back as director, Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre and Syndey Greenstreet all come back to a World War II movie that once again doesn't take place on any battlefields or any locations of infamy. The thing is, this movie is so great that you'll wonder for a moment if it can really be this good, if they could possibly re-create the magic of Casablanca, but do it in such a completely different, but altogether touching way.
They did. This movie is 5 movies all packed into one. The story of the french patriots and how they got put on Devil's Island, how they escaped to go fight for their country, their run-in and interaction with a french ship filled with military out to expose them and send them back, and their fight against the Germans. It's a mirror aimed at a mirror, because one story inevitably bleeds into another into another into another and the sheer courage of such complex screenwriting and confident directing is one of the many reasons to seek this out.
This movie also has heart. The story of Bogart's love affair with both France and his wife and son is just as powerful as the French struggle to fight the Germans and regain their homeland. From the first frame to the last, it's a film riddled with emotions and real characters with actual hearts and joy and sorrow and triumph. Plus, there is a ton of action, from machine-guns against airplanes to escaping from treacherous jungles to air-raids against the enemy.
Enough cannot be said about this extremely underrated classic. Bogart fans and Casablanca fans alike will be kicking themselves that they've gone so long without experiencing this almost essential companion piece to the film widely-regarded (and rightly so) as a classic of filmmaking and storytelling.