75 years ago, Hollywood made one of its greatest masterpieces. Casablanca, directed by Michael Curtiz, was simultaneously one of the best dramas, one of the best romances, and a suspenseful noir tale set in Morocco during World War II.
Casablanca was one of those films that I had heard about long before I finally watched it. It took a while for me to warm up to because I was a still a young superhero-movie-loving kid when I first saw it, and on paper this B&W war film should have been the most boring thing for me to watch. I was surprised at how well the film had pulled me in, but I definitely appreciate it way more as an adult.
In general, I’m not the biggest fan of Humphrey Bogart’s fast-talking, tough-guy routine that was common back then, but this role was well-suited for him. His attitude lends itself perfectly to Rick Blaine, a nightclub owner who is haunted by his past. His face says it all: “I’ve been through Hell.”
I’ll always remember the ending when Rick says goodbye to his old flame Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) and how unconventional it seemed to see Bogart and Bergman NOT get together at the end of the movie.
The rest of the cast works just as well. Paul Henreid as underground leader Victor Laszlo, Claude Rains as Captain Louis Renault, Conrad Veidt as Major Heinrich Strasser, Sydney Greenstrat as Signor Ferrari, and Peter Lorre as Signor Ugarte. All of the characters work.
The film was actually based on an unproduced play written by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison called Everybody Comes to Rick’s. Producer Hal B. Wallis paid the most anyone had ever paid for the rights to an adaptation with an unproduced source material: $20,000.
The film was being shot before the screenplay was even finished, which led to the rare case of a movie being shot in sequence. The screenplay is credited to Julius & Philip Epstein and Howard Koch because Koch had been hired to tweak the Epstein script.
Koch had emphasized the political elements in the script and director Curtiz emphasized the romantic elements, leading to a tug-of-war in styles that gave the film a constant shift in tones that ultimately worked well as a whole.
The film premiered in New York City at the Hollywood Theater on November 26, 1942, to coincide with the actual Allied invasion of North Africa and the capture of Casablanca. Remember, this movie was released a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor so the war was very much in the news and on everyone’s mind at the time of its release.
Reviews have been consistently positive. The New York Times liked it. Variety liked it. On the movie’s 50th anniversary, the Los Angeles Times called it a near-perfect balance of comedy, romance, and suspense.
Like all films, it had its detractors. The New Yorker called it tolerable, and some people have criticized the actions in the film as plot-driven rather than character-driven, but rarely has anyone ever called it a bad movie.
It won three Academy Awards for Best Screenplay, Best Direction, and Best Picture, has maintained its popularity through the decades on television, and has been included on almost every “Best Films of All Time” list. All of the most respected critics and organizations have sung its praises, including Time Magazine, the American Film Institute, the National Film Registry, who chose it as one of the first 25 films to be reserved due to cultural significance, Roger Ebert, who said Casablanca is probably included on more “Best” lists than Citizen Kane, and Leonard Maltin, who called Casablanca the best Hollywood movie of all time.
Here is the most interesting trivia I know about the film:
- Ingrid Bergman was two inches taller than Humphrey Bogart so according to Bergman, Curtiz had Bogart stand on blocks and sit on cushions to appear taller.
- An additional scene incorporating the Allies’ 1942 invasion of North Africa was scrapped when film producer David O. Selznick (Gone with the Wind) judged it would be a mistake to change the ending.
- Producer Hal Wallis added the line at the end of the movie, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” after shooting ended so Bogart dubbed it in a month later.
- “Here’s looking at you, kid” wasn’t written in the script but was attributed to a comment Bogart made to Bergman when teaching her how to play poker between takes.
- “Knock on Wood” by M.K. Jerome (music) and Jack Scholl (lyrics) was the only original song written especially for the film.
All this talk about Casablanca is making me want to watch it again. Talk to you later.