Tuesday, March 13, 2012


CASABLANCA has taken on mythic proportions since its original release in 1942. It was lucky to have been born at the right time, with the right cast, the right sentiments and story, and the wartime patriotism of all involved.
It began life on the Warner Bros. lot as just another of their hundreds of films produced each year. It wasn't considered anything special, and certainly no one involved in the film ever expected it to become one of the greatest iconic films of all time. The plot, now a familiar one, focused on the cynical American expatriate Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) living in Morocco and running his famous café. The chic café attracted all sorts, from society dames to refugees trying to leave the country. Even a few Nazis stopped in upon occasion.
The most valuable documents were "letters of transit," which allowed anyone to travel freely. Possessed by the sleazy petty crook Ugarte    ( a wonderful Peter Lorre), he gives them to Rick for safe keeping. Almost everybody in Ricks' wants the letters and will do anything to get them. Rick, naturally, denies to the police Captain ( a more delicious Claude Rains there never was) as well as to the Nazi Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) that he has them. Along comes Rick's old love from Paris, the beautiful Norwegian Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman at her sexiest) and her Czech resistance-fighting husband Victor Laszlo (the elegant Paul Henried). Ilsa's appearance brings up old romantic wounds for Rick, and he is torn about getting the valuable letters of transit to Ilsa and her husband so they can flee to America. "We'll always have Paris," Rick says to Ilsa, recalling their wartime romance.
The film was based on Murray Burnett's and Joan Allison's play Everybody Comes to Rick's. Burnett had traveled through Europe in 1938 and personally observed what had happened to Austria after the Nazi Anschluss, or annexation. When the rights were bought by  producer Hal Wallis for $20,000 after story editor Irene Diamond insisted he acquire the play, Warners assigned the twin writing brothers Julius and Philip Epstein. Although Howard Koch is also associated with the writing of the script, it is said he contributed very little, mostly the political aspects. However, all three writers collected the Oscar® when the screenplay won at the 16th Academy Awards® ceremony. Uncredited writer Casey Robinson assisted with several weeks of re-writes.
The film consists of the greatest number of real war refugees than in any other Hollywood movie. People such as resistance leader Paul Henreid, thief Peter Lorre and waiter S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall made it to stardom in Hollywood. Henried was Austrian and fled in 1935 to America, Lorre left Germany in 1933, and Sakall was a Hungarian Jew who left Germany in 1939. Other actors such as Marcel Dalio (the croupier) left France after it fell to Germany, roulette player Helmut Dantine (The Picture of Dorian Gray ) had spent time in a concentration camp after the annexation of Austria. Other international actors such as bartender Leonid Kinsky (Russian), Dutch banker Torben Meyer Danish) and pickpocket Curt Bois (German Jew) lent authenticity to the scenes filled with refugees in Rick's bar.
Ever mindful of costs, studio head Jack Warner considered Casablanca just another one of the sausages cranked out by the studio. He insisted it be filmed right on the lot on sound stages where other famous Warner films had been shot. The only location shot was at the Van Nuys airport, and then not much at that. The airplane sequences at the airport were actually shot using a small model plane and then placing "little people" around it to make it look large. The special effects people created the fog that obscured the plane in the dark reaches of sound stage 1. In a film filled with memorable lines, Wallis is said to have written the final line spoken by Humphrey Bogart to Claude Rains on the runway: " Luis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." It was added after the final shot in the movie was filmed.
Casablanca is considered one of the great romantic films of all-time. After 70 years of growing in stature, the film often ranks near the top of the list of The Greatest Films Ever Made.
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