Categories: 1942 films | AFI 100 Movies | AFI 100 Thrills | AFI 100 Passions | US National Film Registry
Casablanca is a 1942 movie set during World War II in the Vichy-controlled Moroccan city of Casablanca. The film was directed by Michael Curtiz, and stars Humphrey Bogart as Rick and Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa. It focuses on Rick's conflict between, in the words of one character, love and virtue: he must choose between his love for Ilsa and his need to do the right thing by helping her husband— Resistance hero Victor Laszlo— to escape from Casablanca and continue his fight against the Nazis.The film was an immediate hit, and it has remained consistently popular ever since. Critics have praised the charismatic performances of Bogart and Bergman, the chemistry between the two leads, the depth of characterisation, the taut direction, the witty screenplay and the emotional impact of the work as a whole.
Humphrey Bogart plays Rick Blaine, the owner of an upscale cafe/bar/gambling den in the Morocco city of Casablanca which attracts a mixed clientele of Vichy French and Nazi officials, refugees and thieves. Rick is a bitter and cynical man, but he still displays a clear dislike for the fascist part of his clientele.
The plot begins when a petty crook, Ugarte (Peter Lorre), arrives in Rick's club with "letters of transit". The papers are signed by a high-ranking Vichy official, and allow the bearer to travel at will around Nazi-controlled Europe, including to neutral Portugal, whereupon one may catch a clipper to the United States. These papers are almost priceless to any of the continual stream of refugees attempting to escape the occupied French possession, and Ugarte plans on making his fortune by selling them to the highest bidder, who was due to arrive at the club that night, then buying his way out of Casablanca. However, he murdered their German carriers to get them, and is captured and killed by the local police, under the order of the corrupt Chief of Police, Captain Renault (Claude Rains), who is nonetheless ambivalent towards the Nazi presence in Casablanca. Unbeknowst to Renault or the Nazi command, Ugarte had secretly left the letters with Rick for safe-keeping.
In walks the reason for Rick's bitterness, his ex-lover Ilsa Lund (Bergman), who arrives in the club after being told the papers are available for sale. Her husband, Victor Laszlo (Henreid), is an important Resistance leader from Czechoslovakia with a massive price on his head, and he needs the letters to escape.
One of the most famous and moving scenes begins when a group of German officers around the piano sing the Wacht am Rhein, a German patriotic song from the nineteenth century (the producers wanted to use the Nazi Horst Wessel Lied, but it was copyrighted by a German publisher). Laszlo, incensed, tells the house band to play La Marseillaise. The customers join in and drown out the Germans, who then order the club to be closed.
Rick eventually chooses to help the couple leave in the end, his moral code is strong enough to allow him to do the right thing, regardless of his own feelings for Ilsa, with whom he earlier reconciles. Captain Renault is complicit in their escape, and suggests they both join the Free French.
The film was based on Murray Burnett and Joan Alison 's unproduced play Everybody Comes to Rick's. The story analyst at Warner Brothers who read the play called it (approvingly) "sophisticated hokum", and it was agreed to buy the rights for $20,000. The project was renamed Casablanca, apparently in imitation of the 1938 hit Algiers . Shooting began on May 25, 1942 and was completed on August 3, 1942. The entire film was shot in the studio, except for the sequence showing the arrival of Major Strasser (filmed at Van Nuys Airport). The street used for the exterior shots had recently been built for another film, The Desert Song, and was redecorated and used again in Casablanca for the Paris flashbacks. It remained on the Warners backlot until the 1960s. The set for Rick's cafe was built in three unconnected parts, so the internal geography of the building is indeterminate, and in a number of scenes the camera looks through a wall from the cafe area into Rick's office. The final scene includes midget extras as aircraft personnel walking around a model cardboard plane, because of budgetary constraints. The fog in the scene was there to mask the unconvincing appearance of the plane. Bergman's height caused some problems: she was somewhat taller than Bogart, so in their scenes together he sometimes had to be put on boxes or cushions.
The film cost a total of $950,000, which was slightly over budget but an average cost for a film of the time. Bogart was called in a month after shooting was finished to dub in the final line ("Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.") Later, there were plans for a further scene to be shot (featuring Renault, Rick and a detachment of Free French fighters on a ship), but these were abandoned.
The original play was inspired by a 1938 trip to Europe by Murray Burnett, during which he visited Vienna and the French south coast, both of which had uneasily coexisting populations of Nazis and refugees. In the play, the Ilsa character was American, and did not meet Laszlo until after her relationship with Rick in Paris had ended; Rick was a lawyer.
The first main writers to work on the script for Warners were the Epstein twins (Julius and Philip), who removed Rick's background and added more elements of comedy. The other credited writer, Howard Koch , joined later but continued to work in parallel with the Epsteins, despite their differing emphases (Koch highlighting the political and melodramatic elements). Important scenes were also added by the uncredited Casey Robinson , who contributed the series of meetings between Rick and Ilsa in the cafe. Curtiz seems to have favoured the romantic element, insisting on retaining the flashback Paris scenes. One of the most famous lines— "here's looking at you"— is not in the draft screenplays, and has been attributed to the poker lessons Bogart was giving Bergman in between takes. The final line of the film was written by the producer Hal Wallis after shooting had been completed, and Roger Ebert calls Wallis the "key creative force" for his attention to the details of production (down to insisting on a real parrot in the Blue Parrot bar).
Despite the many different writers, the film has what Ebert describes as a "wonderfully unified and consistent" script. Critic Andrew Sarris called it "the most decisive exception to the auteur theory". Koch later said that it was the tensions between his own approach and that of Curtiz which accounted for this: "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". Julius Epstein would later note that the screenplay contained "more corn than in the states of Kansas and Iowa combined. But when corn works, there's nothing better."
The film ran into some trouble from Joseph Breen of the Production Code Administration (the Hollywood self-censorship body), who opposed the suggestions that Captain Renault extorted sexual favours from his suppliants and that Rick and Ilsa had slept together in Paris. Both, however, are strongly implied in the finished version.
The director, Michael Curtiz, was a Hungarian emigre; he had come to the US in the 1920s, but some of his family were refugees from Nazi Europe. Roger Ebert has commented that in Casablanca "very few shots ... are memorable as shots", Curtiz being concerned to use images to tell the story rather than for their own sake. However, he had relatively little input into the development of the plot: Casey Robinson said that Curtiz "knew nothing whatever about story... he saw it in pictures, and you supplied the stories".
The second unit montages, such as that showing the invasion of France, were directed by Don Siegel.
The cinematographer was Arthur Edeson , a veteran who had previously shot The Maltese Falcon and Frankenstein. Particular attention was paid to photographing Bergman: she was shot mainly from her preferred left side, often with a softening gauze filter and with catch light s to make her eyes sparkle. The whole effect is to make her face "ineffably sad and tender and nostalgic" (Ebert). Ebert also highlights the use of bars of shadow across the characters and in the background, variously implying imprisonment, the crucifix, the Free French symbol and emotional turmoil. Dark film noir and expressionist lighting is used in several scenes, particularly towards the end of the picture.
The score was written by Max Steiner, who was best known for the musical score to Gone With the Wind. The song As Time Goes By had been part of the story from the original play; Steiner wanted to write his own song to replace it, but he had to abandon his plan because Bergman had already cut her hair short for her next role, and could not re-shoot the scenes which mentioned the song. Instead, Steiner based the entire score on it (and on the Marseillaise), transforming them to express the changing mood of the movie. Particularly notable is the "duel of the songs", in which the Marseillaise is played by a full orchestra rather than just the small band actually present in Rick's club.
Reaction to the film at previews before release was described as "beyond belief". It premiered at the Hollywood Theater in New York City on November 26, 1942. It was a substantial box-office hit, taking $3.7 million on its initial US release, and went on to win three Oscars, while As Time Goes By spent 21 weeks on the hit parade. As Koch later said, "it was a picture the audiences needed... there were values... worth making sacrifices for. And it said it in a very entertaining way".
The film has maintained its popularity: Murray Burnett has called it "true yesterday, true today, true tomorrow". During the 1950s, the Brattle Theater of Cambridge, Massachusetts began a long-running tradition of screening Casablanca during the week of final exams at Harvard University. This tradition continues to the present day, and it is emulated by many colleges across the United States. It is also credited with helping the movie remain popular while other famous films of the 1940s have faded away.
The film was parodied in two later movies: the 1946 Marx Brothers film A Night in Casablanca and Woody Allen's 1972 pastiche, Play It Again, Sam (a line which first occurred in the Marx Brothers film). The movie was also taken off by Warner Brothers themselves in the 1995 Bugs Bunny cartoon Carrotblanca .
A radio adaptation of the film was broadcast on April 26 1943, again starring Bogart, Bergman and Henreid, while a second version of January 24 1944 featured Hedy Lamarr as Ilsa. There was a short television series of Casablanca in 1955 (with Marcel Dalio , who played Emil the croupier in the movie, as Renault). Another series in 1983 starred David Soul as Rick and included Ray Liotta as Sacha.
The cast is notable for its internationalism: only three of the credited actors were born in the US. The three top-billed actors were:
- Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine. Bogart became a star with Casablanca. Earlier in his career he had been typecast as a gangster, playing characters called Bugs, Rocks, Turkey, Whip, Chips, Gloves and two Dukes. High Sierra (1941) had allowed him to play a character with some warmth, but Rick was his first truly romantic role.
- Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund. Bergman's official website calls Ilsa her "most famous and enduring role". After a well-received Hollywood debut in Intermezzo , her subsequent films had not been major successes— until Casablanca. Ebert calls her "luminous", and comments on the chemistry between her and Bogart: "she paints his face with her eyes".
- Paul Henreid as Victor Laszlo. Henreid, an Austrian actor who had fled Nazi Germany in 1935, was reportedly reluctant to take this unrewarding role (it "cast him as a stiff forever", according to Pauline Kael), until he was promised top-billing with Bogart and Bergman.
The second-billed actors were:
- Claude Rains as Captain Louis Renault. Rains was an English actor, born in London.
- Sydney Greenstreet as Signor Ferrari. Another Englishman, Greenstreet had made his film debut with Lorre and Bogart in The Maltese Falcon.
- Peter Lorre as Signor Ugarte. Lorre was an Austro-Hungarian actor who left Germany in 1933.
- Conrad Veidt as Major Strasser of the SS. He was a German actor who had appeared in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) before fleeing from the Nazis and ending his career playing Nazis in US films.
Also credited were:
- Dooley Wilson as Sam. He was a rare American member of the cast. A drummer, he could not play the piano. Hal Wallis considered also replacing his voice on the songs, but changed his mind.
- Joy Page (Annina Brandel, the Bulgarian refugee), the other credited American, was studio head Jack Warner's step-daughter.
- Madeleine LeBeau (Yvonne), a French actress, was Marcel Dalio's wife until their divorce in 1942.
- S.Z. (or S. K.) "Cuddles" Sakall (Carl, the waiter) was a Hungarian actor who fled from Germany in 1939.
- Curt Bois (the pickpocket) was a German Jewish actor and another refugee. He could claim the longest film career of any actor, making his first appearance in 1907 and his last in 1987.
- John Qualen (Berger) was born in Canada, but grew up in America. He appeared in many of John Ford's movies.
- Leonid Kinskey (Sascha) was born in Russia.
Notable uncredited actors were:
- Marcel Dalio (the croupier). He had been a star in French cinema, appearing in Jean Renoir's La Grande Illusion and La Regle de Jeu, but after he fled the Nazi invasion of France he was reduced to bit-parts in Hollywood.
- Helmut Dantine (Jan Brandel), another Austrian, had spent time in a concentration camp after the Anschluss.
Finally, part of the emotional impact of the film has been attributed to the large proportion of European exiles and refugees among the extras and in the minor roles. Ebert quotes a witness to the filming of the "duel of the songs" sequence as saying, "half of the extras had real tears in their eyes... most of these people were singing out of their own experience as refugees from Nazi Germany".
Several myths have grown up around the film, one being that Ronald Reagan was originally chosen to play Rick. This originates in a press release issued by the studio early on in the film's development, but by that time the studio already knew that he was due to go into the army, and he was never seriously considered.
The other most famous myth is that the actors did not know until the last day of shooting how the film was to end. The original play (set entirely in the cafe) had ended with Rick sending Ilsa and Victor to the airport. During scriptwriting, the possiblity was discussed of Laszlo being killed in Casablanca, allowing Rick and Ilsa to leave together, but as Behlmer points out, "there was only one dramatically viable real possibility: Ilsa and Laszlo take the plane". It was certainly impossible that Ilsa would leave Laszlo for Rick, as the production code forbade showing a woman leaving her husband for another man. The confusion was most likely caused by Bergman's later statement that she didn't know which man she was meant to be in love with. However, Aljean Harmetz ' examination of the scripts has shown that many of the key scenes were shot after Bergman knew how the film would end: any confusion was, in Ebert's words, "emotional", not "factual".
The letters of transit remain a subject of some confusion. It is difficult to discern whether Ugarte tells Rick that the letters are signed by "General de Gaulle" or "General Weygand". The former would be most illogical, since he was the leader of the anti-Vichy Free French Forces. The latter makes more sense, as he collaborated with the Germans, and appears in early drafts of the script, but would be little known to contemporary American audiences. To add to the confusion the official DVD English subtitles say "de Gaulle", but the official French subtitles say "Weygand". In either case, the idea that letters signed by any French general would be considered legally binding by Germans in North Africa is quite ludicrous.
The film has several apparent logical flaws, foremost being the two "letters of transit" which enable anyone to leave for abroad. A classic MacGuffin, the letters were invented by Joan Allison for the original play and never questioned. Even within the film, Rick suggests to Renault that the letters would not be enough for Ilsa to escape, let alone Laszlo: "people have been held in Casablanca in spite of their legal rights". Even before Laszlo tries to leave, "it makes no sense that he could walk around freely" in Casablanca, as Ebert points out: "he would be arrested on sight".
Other difficulties are the airport searchlight which is pointed at the cafe rather than into the sky; a continuity error at the station in Paris (Rick's wet coat becomes dry when he gets on the train); the supposedly Czech Laszlo's Hungarian name; and Renault's claim that "I was with [the Americans] when they blundered into Berlin in 1918." Curtiz's attitude to these issues was clear, however: "I make it go so fast, nobody notices".
For more errors, see Casablancas page at Moviemistakes.com.
Ebert has claimed that the film is "probably on more lists of the greatest films of all time than any other single title, including Citizen Kane", because of its wider appeal; while Citizen Kane is "greater", Casablanca is more loved. Behlmer also emphasises the variety in the picture: "itís a blend of drama, melodrama, comedy [and] intrigue". Ebert says that he has never heard of a negative review of the film, even though individual elements can be criticised (he cites the unrealistic special effects and the stiff character/portrayal of Laszlo).
Ebert has also said that the film is popular because "the people in it are all so good". As the Resistance hero, Laszlo is ostensibly the most good, although Ebert comments that he is so stiff that he is hard to like. The other characters, in Rudy Behlmer 's words, are "not cut and dried": they come into their goodness in the course of the film. Renault begins the film as a collaborator with the Nazis, who extorts sexual favours from refugees and has Ugarte killed in custody. Rick, according to Behlmer, is "not a hero, ... not a bad guy": he does what is necessary to get along with the authorities and "sticks his neck out for nobody". Even Ilsa, the least active of the main characters, is "caught in the emotional struggle" over which man she really loves. By the end of the film, however, "everybody is sacrificing".
A dissenting note comes from Umberto Eco, who wrote that "by any strict critical standards... Casablanca is a very mediocre film". He sees the changes the characters undergo as inconsistency rather than complexity: "It is a comic strip, a hotch-potch, low on psychological credibility, and with little continuity in its dramatic effects". However, he argues that it is this inconsistency which accounts for the film's popularity by allowing it to include a whole series of archetypes: unhappy love, flight, passage, waiting, desire, the triumph of purity, the faithful servant, the love triangle, beauty and the beast, the enigmatic woman, the ambiguous adventurer and the redeemed drunkard. Central is the idea of sacrifice: "the myth of sacrifice runs through the whole film".
Casablanca won three Oscars:
- Academy Award for Best Picture — 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
In 1989 the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, while in 1998 it was ranked by the American Film Institute as the second greatest American film (after Citizen Kane).
The (mis)quote "Play it again Sam" originates with Casablanca. The closest lines are as follows:
At one point, Ilsa says to piano player Sam, "Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By." Later, Rick requests an encore by saying, "You played it for her, you can play it for me... If she can stand it, I can! Play it!"
This film does have many genuine memorable quotes. Some of the best known ones are uttered by Rick:
- "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine."
- "You'll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life."
- "But it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that. Now, now... Here's looking at you kid."
- "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
Other quotes can be found on the Internet Movie Database or on Wikiquote.
- Abbreviated Casablanca Movie Script
- Casablanca (Two-Disc Special Edition DVD) (1942) (with audio commentaries by Roger Ebert and Rudy Behlmer and documentary You Must Remember This).
- Eco, Umberto (1994). Signs of Life in the USA: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers (Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon, eds.) Bedford Books. ISBN 0312259255.
- Harmetz, Aljean (1993). Round Up the Usual Suspects: The Making of Casablanca. Warner Books Inc. ISBN 1562827618.
- Ingrid Bergman Official Site
- Internet Movie Database entry
- Vincent's Casablanca Homepage
- The German Hollywood Connection
Categories: 1942 films | AFI 100 Movies | AFI 100 Thrills | AFI 100 Passions | US National Film Registry