On Thanksgiving day 26th November 1942, a cinematic legend was born. On that date the immortal Humphrey Bogart movie ’Casablanca’ received its world premiere at the Hollywood Theater in New York City .It was a particularly auspicous occasion, for the film’s premiere occured just eighteen days after the allied invasion of North Africa, and the capture of Casablanca itself.Film makers Warners Brothers must have been elated, for this was the kind of publicity that money simply could not buy. When the movie went on general release on January 23rd 1943, it also took advantage of the ‘Casablanca Conference’ (attended by President Roosevelt and British Prime minister Winston Churchill) in New York City. Seldom do I use the adjective ‘awesome’ in my writing, but in this case it seems an entirely appropriate description for a movie which has infused our culture like no other has done before or since.The accolades which ‘Casablanca’ has received over the years are as prestigious as they have been considerable; in 1989 the movie was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, and in 1999 it was named as the second GREATEST AMERICAN FILM ever made by the American Film Institute (‘Citizen Kane’ came top). In 2005 ‘Casablanca’ was named one of the 100 greatest films of the last eighty years by ‘Time’, and in 2006 the Writers Guild Of America voted the movie’s screenplay as the BEST of all time in its list of ‘101 Greatest Screenplays’. The film was nominated for eight Oscars and won three.It made stars out of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, whilst its script contained lines that have become a part of our cultural lexicon. But perhaps the film’s biggest achievement is the enduring charm and spell it has cast over the public consciousness for the past 64 years.
‘Casablanca’ was based on the (then) unproduced play ‘Everybody Comes To Rick’s’ written by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison.A story editor named Irene Diamond persuaded Producer Hal Wallis to buy the film rights for Warner Brothers at a cost of $20,000.Subsequently the title was changed to ‘Casablanca’ for the movie, and shooting began on May 25th 1942, and was finished on August 3rd. Humphrey Bogart starred as Rick Blaine, an American expatriate who runs an upmarket club and gambling den in the Moroccan city of Casablanca called ‘Rick’s Café Américain’. Since the war began, Casablanca has become a hotbed for political intrigue and shadey individuals.The city is rife with Vichy French, Nazis, refugees from the war and thieves, all of whom patronise Rick’s establishment. Although Rick is a bitter and cynical man (for reasons that will soon become apparent) who claims neutrality in terms of the war, he clearly dislikes his facist customers (later on we learn that he had supplied arms to the government of Haile Selassie 1st of Ethiopia to combat the 1935 Italian invasion, and that he fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War). The movie’s plot takes off when a petty crook named Guillermo Ugarte (Peter Lorre) arrives at Rick’s with ‘letters of transit’ which he has obtained by killing two German couriers.These papers allow the bearer unrestricted passage throughout German controlled Europe, including to the neutral city of Lisbon in Portugal, from where it is possible to travel to the United States.As such the papers are priceless, and with a never-ending que of refugees stranded and desperate to get out of Casblanca, he plans to sell them on to the highest bidder – who he is due to meet at Rick’s club later that evening.Ugarte leaves the letters with Rick for safekeeping, but before the exchange can take place, he is arrested by the Vichy police headed by Rick’s friend Captain Renault (Claude Rains), a corrupt official who caters to the Germans.
Enter the source of Rick’s bitterness – his ex-lover Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) and her husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) a reknowned Czech freedom fighter who has escaped from a Nazi concentration camp.With a high bounty on his head, Laszlo has come to Rick’s to purchase the papers from Ugarte so that he can flea to America with Ilsa and continue his work. It transpires that when Ilsa first met and fell in love with Rick in Paris, she believed that Victor had been killed whilst in captivity.When she learns that he is still alive, she leaves Rick abruptly and without explanation just as Paris falls and they are all bidding a hasty retreat. After her frosty re-union with Rick at the club, Ilsa returns after hours to try and explain what had happened, but he is too drunk and too bitter to listen. Laszlo suspects that Rick has the letters of transit in his posession, and approaches him at the club about obtaining them.Their conversation is interrupted by a noisy group of German officers headed by Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) who launch into a rambunctious version of ‘Die Wacht am Rhein’. With Rick’s permission, a furious Laszlo orders the house band to play ‘La Marseillaise’ in reply. The crowd join Laszlo’s singing with an unprecedented patriotic fervour, drowning out the Germans in the process. As a result, Strasser orders Renault to close the club.Later that evening Ilsa confronts Rick at the deserted club, and begs him to give her the letters of transit.He refuses, even when she pulls a gun on him.Unable to shoot, she confesses to Rick that she still loves him.Rick declares that he will help Laszlo to escape, leading Ilsa to believe that she will remain with him in Casablanca when Laszlo leaves.
In the meantime, Strasser has his eye on detaining Laszlo, as he considers him too dangerous as a free man. He arranges with Renault to have Laszlo jailed on a minor charge, but Rick intervenes and persuades Renault to release him – promising to set him up for the far more serious crime: possession of the letters of transit. Rick in fact double crosses Renault, and forces him at gunpoint to help with Ilsa and Laszlo’s escape.At the very last minute, and in the most poignant scene of the movie, Rick makes Ilsa get on the plane with Laszlo, telling her that if she doesn’t go with him she will regret it : “Maybe not today.Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.” He also tells her: “We’ll always have Paris.” Just as the plane is due to take off, Major Strasser drives up, but he is shot by Rick when he tries to prevent the escape.As the police arrive, Renault saves Rick’s life by telling them to “Round up the usual suspects.”Renault then suggests that he and Rick should both leave Casablanca, and as they stroll off into the airport fog, Rick utters one of the most memorable exit lines in movie history: “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship!”
‘Casablanca’ was shot entirely on the Warner Brothers lot (apart from the scene of Major Strasser’s arrival, which was filmed at Van Nuys airport) and came in at a budget of just over $950,000 – an average amount for the time.The film was directed by the legendary Michael Curtiz, a Hungarian Jewish émigré who had come to the United States in the 1920’s, whilst the second unit which filmed the opening sequence of the refugee trail and also the invasion of France was directed by Don Siegel. Curtiz had previously worked with Errol Flynn on ‘The Adventures Of Robin Hood’ and Joan Crawford on ‘Mildred Pierce’. Hal Wallis had originally wanted William Wyler for the job, but he was unavailable.Curtiz’s method of filming was to use images to tell the story rather than for their own sake.He had no part in developing the film’s plot or storyline. Casey Robinson, an uncredited scriptwriter on ‘Casablanca’ (who in fact wrote the series of meetings between Ilsa and Rick in the café) commented: “Curtiz knew nothing whatever about the story… he saw it in pictures, and you supplied the stories.” In his study of Curtiz’s work, Sidney Rosenweig saw the film as a typical example of Curtiz’s highlighting of moral dilemmas. The Epstein twins – Julius and Philip were the first writers to work on the script for Warner Brothers. They altered several details from the original play’s storyline, and also added a comedic touch.Later on Howard Koch joined the writing team and worked in tandem with the Epsteins, even though their styles and approach differed, with Koch’s writing focusing on the political and melodramatic aspects of the story. Michael Curtiz favoured the romantic element, and insisted on keeping the Paris flashback sequence in the completed movie when cuts needed to be made.
One of the film’s most famous lines “Here’s looking at you kid” was apparently not included in the draft screenplay.Instead, it is said to have come from the poker lessons Bogart was giving Bergman in between takes. Rick Blaine’s equally famous last line: “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” was actually written by Hal Wallis, and dubbed by Bogart a month after the final shooting was finished.Interestingly there had been plans for a further scene in the movie showing Rick, Renault and a detachment of Free French soldiers onboard a ship (to incorporate the Allies 1942 invasion of North Africa).Fortunately this ending was abandoned in favour of the bitter sweet one we all know and love, after David O Selznick himself judged that it would be “a terrible mistake” to alter it. Although there were a number of different writers involved in the final script of ‘Casablanca’, the overall result was one of consistency. Koch in particular had come into tension with Curtiz with regard to their differing approach to the story; however, he later remarked: “Surprisingly, these disparate approaches somehow meshed, and perhaps it was partly this tug of war between Curtiz and me that gave the film a certain balance”.It was also remarkable how Bogart and Bergman brought dignity and artistry to lines that otherwise would have been dismissed as pure corn, for example: (Ilsa to Rick) “Was that cannon fire, or is it my heart pounding?” As Julius Epstein noted, the screenplay contained: “more corn than in the states of Kansas and Iowa combined, but when corn works, there’s nothing better.” The only other problem in the writing department came from Joseph Breen and the Production Code Administration.They were not happy with the implication that Captain Renault extorted sexual favours from his supplicants, and that Rick and Ilsa had slept together in Paris.Thankfully common sense prevailed; and whatever the moral climate of the day, both these implications remained in the finished movie.
‘Casablanca’ boasted an international cast; only three of the credited actors were Americans.Top billing went to Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid. Although Bogart had appeared in many roles prior to ‘Casablanca’ including ‘High Sierra’ (1941) they were usually gangster parts, and none of them had brought him the huge stardom he would enjoy as a result of his playing Rick Blaine. ’Casablanca’ was his first romantic role, and he was able to emote and exhibit a warmth as Rick which he had not been able to display in previous roles. Ingrid Bergman was a native of Sweden, and had made her Hollywood debut in ‘Intermezzo’ which had been well received, but nothing compared to the rapturous reviews she would receive for her role as ‘Ilsa’ in ‘Casablanca’.She was not the standard Hollywood style actress, but this uniqueness and her electrifying chemistry with Bogart helped to make the movie what it is.Bergman won the part of Ilsa over Ann Sheridan, Hedy Lamarr and Michélle Morgan.She was contracted to David O. Selznick, at the time, but he loaned her out at Hal Wallis’s request in exchange for Olivia de Havilland. Bergman’s height did present some problems – she was one and a half inches taller than Bogart. In their scenes together he would often have to stand on boxes or sit on cushions. The part of ‘Ilsa’ is her most famous and enduring role.
Paul Henreid was an Austrian actor who had fled Nazi Germany in 1935.He had appeared as Bette Davis’ love interest Jeremiah D. Durrance in ‘Now, Voyager’ (1942). He was reluctant to take the part of Victor Laszlo until he was promised top billing alongside Bogart and Bergman. He did not appear to get along with his fellow players; commenting that he thought Bogart “ a mediocre actor”.Bergman later said that Henreid was a “prima donna”.The English actor Claude Rains turned in a stellar performance as Captain Louis Renault.He had previously worked with Michael Curtiz on ‘The Adventures Of Robin Hood’ in which he played The Sheriff Of Nottingham, and had appeared with Bette Davis and Paul Henreid in ‘Now Voyager’. His performance in ‘Casablanca’ was so superb that he was nominated for the best supporting actor Oscar. In every scene he shone, whilst always conceding the spotlight to the star leads. The Hungarian actor Peter Lorre was suitably creepy as the ‘cut-rate parasite’ Ugarte.His wide eyed stare and distinctive nasal voice made him the perfect subject for parody.As Ugarte he is the catalyst for the dramatic action which fuels the movie, and also has one of the greatest lines: “You know, Rick, I have many a friend in Casablanca, but somehow, just because you despise me, you are the only one I trust.” Sydney Greenstreet (who played Signor Ferrari, the rival club owner) was another English actor.He had made his film debut with Bogart and Lorre in ‘The Maltese Falcon’ (1941). Conrad Veidt (Major Strasser) was a German actor who had appeared in the 1920 version of ‘The Cabinet Of Dr. Calgari’.Ironically, he had fled the Nazis and moved to the United States only to end his career playing Nazis in American movies.The unforgettable Dooley Wilson who enacted Sam the piano player (and Rick’s loyal aide and confidante) was one of the few Americans in the cast.Wilson was in fact a drummer in real life, and couldn’t play a note on the piano. Earlier on in the movie’s development, Hal Wallis had considered changing the role of Sam to a female one (Ella Fitzgerald and Hazel Scott were in the running) – but thankfully Dooley Wilson remained, although even after the shooting had wrapped, Wallis considered dubbing his singing voice.
The remarkable cinematography for ‘Casablanca’ was shot by Arthur Edeson who had also filmed ‘The Maltese Falcon’ and ‘Frankenstein’.He used dark Film Noir and Expressionist lighting in several scenes to evoke mood, such as bars of shade and strips of light to evoke the feeling of imprisonment and emotional turmoil.In particular, Edeson did a marvellous job of photographing Ingrid Bergman.He always shot her from her preferred left side, often with a gauze filter and with catch lights to make her eyes sparkle.The resulting effect was enchanting – her character came across as sad, tender, nostalgic and beautiful.Max Steiner composed the score for ‘Casablanca’.He had previously worked on ‘Gone With The Wind’.Herman Hupfeld’s classic ‘As Time Goes By’ had been part of the story from the original play.Steiner wanted to replace the song with his own version, but Ingrid Bergman had already had her hair cut very short for her next movie ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls, and could not re-shoot the scenes which utilised the new song. As a consequence, Steiner based the entire movie score around ‘As Time Goes By’ and ‘La Marseillaise’ to evoke and reflect the changing moods of the storyline. ‘As Time Goes By’ became a much loved standard in the great American songbook.It spent 21 weeks on the hit parade after the film had been released.
Other memorable songs in the movie were Gus Khan’s ‘It had to be you’ and ‘Knock On Wood’ by M K Jerome and Jack Scholl.’Casablanca’ is one of those rare movies where all of the creative elements – writing, direction, cast, lighting, and music came together as a beautiful and unique whole. Even before the film was released, audiences at previews rated it a hit of epic proportions.In fact, their ecstatic reaction was described as ‘beyond belief’. Amongst the universally great reviews the film received, Bosley Crowther wrote in the New York Times on November 27th 1942 about the cast: “We will tell you also that the performances of the actors are all of the first order, but especially those of Mr. Bogart and Miss Bergman in the leading roles. Mr. Bogart is, as usual, the cool, cynical, efficient and super-wise guy who operates his business strictly for profit but has a core of sentiment and idealism inside. Conflict becomes his inner character, and he handles it credibly. Miss Bergman is surpassingly lovely, crisp and natural as the girl and lights the romantic passages with a warm and genuine glow. “
At the 1944 Oscars the film won three academy awards, including ‘Best Adapted Screenplay’, ‘Best Director’ and ‘Best Picture’.Jack Warner himself collected the latter award rather than Hal Wallis.This led to a big falling out between the two, and Wallis severed all ties with Warner Brothers in April of that year.By 1955 alone, ‘Casablanca’ had made 6.8 million dollars.The film was so popular that the Brattle Theater of Cambridge, Massachusetts began a tradition in 1957 (which continues To this day) of screening the movie during the final exams week at Harvard University – a tradition which many colleges across the United States followed. Todd Gitlin, a professor of sociology, attended one such screening himself, and described it as “the acting out of my own personal rite of passage.” This tradition helped to keep the movie popular and in the public eye whilst others of the same era faded away. By 1977, ‘Casablanca’ was the most frequently broadcast film on American television. Roger Ebert has stated that ‘Casablanca’ is probably on more ‘greatest films of all-time’ lists than any other, and that whilst ‘Citizen Kane’ may be greater, ‘Casablanca’ is more loved.‘Casablanca’ has influenced many other movies and spawned a host of imitators. ‘Passage To Marseilles’ (1944) reunited Bogart, Rains, Greenstreet, Lorre and Curtiz, whilst Bogart’s later movie ‘Sirocco’ contained many similarities to ‘Casablanca’. Parodies have included the Marx Brothers’ ‘A Night In Casablanca’ (1946) Woody Allen’s ‘Play It Again Sam’ (1972) Neil Simon’s ‘The Cheap Detective’ (1978) and ‘Barb Wire’ (1996).’Casablanca’ also provided the title for 1995’s ‘The Usual Suspects’, whilst Bugs Bunny got a piece of the parody with ‘Carrotblanca’ from the same year.Recently, Steven Soderbergh paid homage to ‘Casablanca’ with ‘The Good German’ – a post World War 11 murder mystery set in Berlin starring George Clooney, Cate Blanchet and Tobey Maguire, which utilised film technology from the era in which ‘Casablanca’ was made.
Aside from’Casablanca’ being one of the most influential American movies of all time, it is also one of the most treasured. Since the film’s release in 1943, more words have been written about it than any other movie, and certainly in more depth than I can cover here. People the world over have watched and become enchanted with the film and its characters; indeed, the characters are one of the major reasons the film has endured – people care about them and their fate. Rick and Ilsa’s dilemma in the movie connected with lovers and romantics the world over. Bogart and Bergman were so perfectly cast that it is hard to imagine anyone else playing their parts, although at one point Ronald Regan and Ann Sheridan were contenders. Bogart excelled in ‘Casablanca’ – his tough outer cynicism hiding an inner broken heart beneath a fractured layer of sarcasm.Every word he utters, every gesture he makes is loaded with pain and regret, yet he posesses the fortitude to continue on the path he has chosen, and see things through to their inevitable conclusion.The part of Rick was so complex that it demanded Bogart’s full range of acting, and he pulled it off superlatively.
Bergman’s Ilsa lights up the screen. Her beauty is there not only in the traditional sense, but in her vunerability and loyalty, and sense of right and wrong. One can easily understand why Rick had his heart broken by her, and equally why he would follow her to the ends of the earth if he were given half a chance. A major reason for Casablanca’s success is that it stayed true to itself, its story, and its characters – all of whom ultimately ‘do the right thing’. There was no crowd-pleasing happy ending to the story, and the movie is all the stronger for it. It is precisely for this reason that ‘Casablanca’ has become known as one of the greatest films of all-time.Its story of a love lost, then found again, then lost forever struck a resounding chord in all but the most cynical of hearts. For make no mistake, this is a movie which belongs in the HEART.’Casablanca’ has become a celluloid institution – a LEGEND.Although practically everybody associated with the film has since passed away, it has survived for well over half a century and will live on forever – for as long as the world welcomes lovers – as time goes by.
‘AS TIME GOES BY’
This day and age we’re living in
Gives cause for apprehension
With speed and new invention
And things like fourth dimension
Yet we get a trifle weary
With Mr. Einstein’s theory
So we must get down to earth at times
Relax, relieve the tension
And no matter what the progress
Or what may yet be proved
The simple facts of life are such
They cannot be removed…
You must remember this
A kiss is still a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by
And when two lovers woo
They still say, “I love you”
On that you can rely
No matter what the future brings
As time goes by
Moonlight and love songs
Never out of date
Hearts full of passion
Jealousy and hate
Woman needs man
And man must have his mate
That no one can deny
Well, it’s still the same old story
A fight for love and glory
A case of do or die
The world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by
Oh yes, the world will always welcome lovers
“AS TIME GOES BY”:
Lyrics and Music by Herman Hupfeld; © 1931 Warner Bros. Music Corp., ASCAP
UNFORGETTABLE LINES FROM THE LEGENDARY ‘CASABLANCA’ SCREENPLAY:
(Rick): “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”(Rick): “Here’s looking at you, kid.”(Ilsa Lund): “A franc for your thoughts.”(Rick): “In America they’d bring only a penny, and, huh, I guess that’s about all they’re worth.”(Ilsa): “Well, I’m willing to be overcharged. Tell me.”(Rick): “Well, I was wondering…”(Ilsa) : “Yes? (Rick): “Why I’m so lucky. Why I should find you waiting for me to come along.”(Ilsa): “Why there is no other man in my life?”(Rick): “Uh-huh.”(Ilsa): “That’s easy: there was. And he’s dead.”
(Ilsa): “Play it once, Sam. For old times’ sake.”(Sam): [lying] “I don’t know what you mean, Miss Elsa.”(Ilsa): “Play it, Sam. Play “As Time Goes By.”(Sam): [lying] “Oh, I can’t remember it, Miss Elsa. I’m a little rusty on it.”(Ilsa): “I’ll hum it for you. Da..dee..da..dee..da..dum, da..dee..da..dee..da..dum…”[Sam begins playing on the piano](Ilsa): “Sing it, Sam.”(Sam): [singing] “You must remember this / A kiss is still a kiss / A sigh is just a sigh / The fundamental things apply /As time goes by. / And when two lovers woo, / They still say, “I love you” / On that you can rely / No matter what the future brings…”(Rick): [rushing up] “Sam, I thought I told you never to play…”[Rick sees Ilsa. Sam closes the piano and rolls it away](Rick): “You know what I want to hear” (Sam): “No, I don’t.”(Rick): “You played it for her, you can play it for me!” (Sam): “Well, I don’t think I can remember…” (Rick):” If she can stand it, I can! Play it!”
‘Casablanca’ was the recipient of three academy awards: Academy Award for Best Picture — Warner Bros. (Hal B. Wallis, producer) Academy Award for Directing — Michael Curtiz, Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay — Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch.It was also nominated for another five Oscars: Academy Award for Best Actor — Humphrey Bogart, Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor — Claude Rains, Academy Award for Best Cinematography, black-and-white — Arthur Edeson, Academy Award for Film Editing — Owen Marks, Academy Award for Original Music Score — Max Steiner
‘YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS…. CASABLANCA’ ARTICLE TEXT ©copyright Gary Alston 2013.
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