Casablanca could have been a B picture.
After George Raft turned down the lead role (- he also turned down the Maltese Falcon ) Warner Brothers thought of Ronald Reagan. But no Casablanca became Humphrey Bogart’s film, under the direction of Michael Curtiz. (The Adventures of Robin Hood, Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Sea Wolf) In fact Curtiz was the third director to be considered.
Ann Sheridan and Hedy Lamarr had been in consideration for the part given to Ingrid Bergman. “As Time Goes By”, beautifully rendered by Dooley Wilson, might have been sung by Ella Fitzgerald or Lena Horne. Max Steiner, who composed the film’s score, asked the studio to leave the song out of the movie. Throughout these other changes, the script, based on the as yet unstaged play Everyone Comes to Ricks, was being redrafted continuously.
If I remember correctly scenes were shot, with action and characters in ubiquitous shadows owing to budget constraints but as luck would have it but much of the atmospherics hang thereby.
Good luck trailed the finished movie. It opened on Thanksgiving Day, 1942 , not long after the Allies had landed at Casablanca. Two months later Roosevelt and Churchill met in Casablanca to plan joint strategy for the rest of World War II, effectively giving the film free worldwide publicity.
So, from inauspicious beginnings and many false starts came the most quoted, most revived, most homaged and very possibly the best film ever produced by the Hollywood studio system.
The final version of the plot has American Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), a world-weary nightclub owner in Casablanca, taking care of some stolen letters of transit for the thief and possible murderer Ugarte (Peter Lorre).
I stick my neck out for nobody.
At this stage of the war, Casablanca is neutral and still policed by the free French, headed by the Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains).
I’m only a poor corrupt official.
The city has become a transit stop for refugees from the German advance into Europe. The refugees all hope to get passage to the free city of Lisbon and from there to America, hence the high value placed on letters of transit.
Rick finds out that his ex-lover, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), who jilted him 18 months before, has arrived in Casablanca with her husband, the resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid).
Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.
Rick remembers how he and Ilsa parted in Paris, just before the Germans marched in.
Kiss me. Kiss me as if it were the last time.
Sam has a history of anti-fascist activities, he must leave Paris. She does not make their date at the train station but sends a cryptic note instead.
Now in Casablanca, the Nazis, in the person of Major Heirich Strasser (Conrad Veidt), are on Victor’s case. Ilsa comes to Rick to plead for the letters of transit that will get her and her husband out of Casablanca so Victor can continue his struggle against the fascists. Rick is bitter at first.
Tell me, who was it you left me for? Was it Laszlo or were there others in between? Or aren’t you the kind that tells?
The old flame is rekindled and Rick realises he can use the papers for Ilsa and himself.
Here’s looking at you kid.
Casablanca is loved for many reasons – the chemistry between Bogart and Bergman; a great script, multi-layered with subtext; vivid characters and background; subtle acting from the whole cast; a memorable song, memorably sung; romance thwarted by duty; great dialogue and much quoted/misquoted one-liners. Nobody ever actually says, “Play it again Sam”.
Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By.’
Interestingly, Dooley Wilson, who played Sam, could not in fact play the piano.
At the airport, the triangle is complete. Rick, Ilsa and Victor are all in time to catch the Lisbon flight. But there are still only papers for two.
Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, 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.
At this point the Nazis intervene again. It’s up to Renault, the prefect of police, to sort out the ensuing mess.
Major Strasse has been shot. [long pause] Round up the usual suspects
So Rick can now have Ilsa, but will he? Together,
We’ll always have Paris.
The ending was frequently rewritten and ultimately avoided the obvious. “Happy ever after” was not the mood of the free world in 1942. Yet the ending still reverberates down the years, even through times of peace and prosperity. Secretly, we all want to be as in love, and as noble, as Rick and Ilsa.
Here is two cents worth of destiny in the affairs of men and women. Had Regan played the part it might have changed the course of both cinema and world history. Politics would have been the last thing on the film actor in B-movies. Of course, ‘Casablanca’ means ‘White House’ – creepy. US of A might never have had Star Wars (the military programme, not the movie).
Nuts and bolts of the production:
Director: Michael Curtiz
Rick Blaine: Humphrey Bogart
Ilsa Laszlo: Ingrid Bergman
Victor Laszlo: Paul Hereid
Captain Louis Renault: Claude Rains
Senor Ferrari: Sydney Greenstreet
Major Heirich Strasser: Conrad Veidt
Sam: Dooley Wilson
* Best Picture
* Best Director
* Best Screenplay
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