Casablanca is a 1942 American romantic drama film directed by Michael Curtiz based on Murray Burnett and Joan Alison's unproduced stage play 'Everybody Comes to Rick's'. The film stars Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid; it also features Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Dooley Wilson. Set during contemporary World War II, it focuses on an American expatriate who must choose between his love for a woman and helping her and her husband, a Czech Resistance leader, escape from the Vichy-controlled city of Casablanca to continue his fight against the Nazis.
Story editor Irene Diamond convinced producer Hal B. Wallis to purchase the film rights to the play in January 1942. Brothers Julius and Philip G. Epstein were initially assigned to write the script. However, despite studio resistance, they left to work on Frank Capra's Why We Fight series early in 1942. Howard E. Koch was assigned to the screenplay until the Epsteins returned a month later. Principal photography began on 25th May 1942, ending on 3rd August. The film was shot entirely at Warner Bros Studios in Burbank, California with the exception of one sequence at Van Nuys Airport in Van Nuys, Los Angeles.
Although Casablanca was an A-list film with established stars and first-rate writers, no one involved with its production expected it to be anything out of the ordinary, just one of the hundreds of pictures produced by Hollywood every year. Casablanca was rushed into release to take advantage of the publicity from the Allied invasion of North Africa a few weeks earlier. It had its world premiere on 26th November 1942, in New York City, and was released nationally in the United States on 23rd January 1943. The film was a solid if unspectacular success in its initial run.
Exceeding expectations, Casablanca went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, while Curtiz was selected as Best Director and the Epsteins and Koch were honoured for writing the Best Adapted Screenplay – and gradually its reputation grew. Its lead characters, memorable lines and pervasive theme song have all become iconic, and the film consistently ranks near the top of lists of the greatest films in history.
The film was based on Murray Burnett and Joan Alison's then-unproduced play Everybody Comes to Rick's. The Warner Bros story analyst who read the play, Stephen Karnot, called it (approvingly) "sophisticated hokum", and story editor Irene Diamond, who had discovered the unproduced play on a trip to New York in 1941, convinced producer Hal Wallis to buy the rights in January 1942 for $20,000, the most anyone in Hollywood had ever paid for an unproduced play. The project was renamed Casablanca, apparently in imitation of the 1938 hit, Algiers. Although an initial filming date was selected for 10th April 1942, delays led to a start of production on 25th May. Filming was completed on 3rd August, and the production cost $1,039,000 ($75,000 over budget), above average for the time. Unusually, the film was shot in sequence, mainly because only the first half of the script was ready when filming began.
The entire picture was shot in the studio, except for the sequence showing Major Strasser's arrival, which was filmed at Van Nuys Airport, and a few short clips of stock footage views of Paris. The street used for the exterior shots had recently been built for another film, The Desert Song, and redressed for the Paris flashbacks.
The background of the final scene, which shows a Lockheed Model 12 Electra Junior airplane with personnel walking around it, was staged using little person extras and a proportionate cardboard plane. Fog was used to mask the model's unconvincing appearance. Nevertheless, the Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park in Orlando, Florida purchased a Lockheed 12A for its Great Movie Ride attraction, and initially claimed that it was the actual plane used in the film.
Film critic Roger Ebert called Hal 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.
The difference between Bergman's and Bogart's height caused some problems. She was two inches (5 cm) taller than Bogart, and claimed Curtiz had Bogart stand on blocks or sit on cushions in their scenes together.
Later, there were plans for a further scene, showing Rick, Renault and
a detachment of Free French soldiers on a ship, to incorporate the Allies'
1942 invasion of North Africa. It proved too difficult to get Claude Rains
for the shoot, and the scene was finally abandoned after David O. Selznick
judged "it would be a terrible mistake to change the ending."
Although an initial release date was anticipated for early 1943, the film premiered at the Hollywood Theater in New York City on 26th November 1942, to coincide with the Allied invasion of North Africa and the capture of Casablanca. It went into general release on 23rd January 1943, to take advantage of the Casablanca Conference, a high-level meeting in the city between British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Office of War Information prevented screening of the film to troops in North Africa, believing it would cause resentment among Vichy supporters in the region.
Casablanca received consistently good reviews. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote, "The Warners ... have a picture which makes the spine tingle and the heart take a leap." He applauded the combination of "sentiment, humor and pathos with taut melodrama and bristling intrigue". Crowther noted its "devious convolutions of the plot", and praised the screenplay quality as "of the best" and the cast's performances as "all of the first order".
The trade paper Variety commended the film's "combination of fine performances, engrossing story and neat direction" and the "variety of moods, action, suspense, comedy and drama that makes Casablanca an A-1 entry at the box office. The film is splendid anti-Axis propaganda, particularly inasmuch as the propaganda is strictly a by-product of the principal action and contributes to it instead of getting in the way." The review also applauded the performances of Bergman and Henreid, and noted that "Bogart, as might be expected, is more at ease as the bitter and cynical operator of a joint than as a lover, but handles both assignments with superb finesse."
In the 1,500-seat Hollywood Theater, the film grossed $255,000 over ten
weeks. In its initial U.S. release, it was a substantial but not spectacular
box-office success, taking in $3.7 million, making it the seventh highest-grossing
film of 1943.
Because of its November 1942 release, the New York Film Critics decided to include the film in its 1942 award season for best picture. Casablanca lost to In Which We Serve. However, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences stated that, since the film went into national release in the beginning of 1943, it would be included in that year's nominations. Casablanca was nominated for eight Academy Awards, and won three - Outstanding Motion Picture, Best Director and Best Writing & Screenplay. As Bogart stepped out of his car at the Academy Awards ceremony, "the crowd surged forward, almost engulfing him and his wife, Mayo Methot. It took 12 police officers to rescue the two, and a red-faced, startled, yet smiling Bogart heard a chorus of cries of 'good luck' and 'here's looking at you, kid' as he was rushed into the theater."
When the award for Best Picture was announced, producer Hal B. Wallis got up to accept, but studio head Jack L. Warner rushed up to the stage "with a broad, flashing smile and a look of great self-satisfaction," Wallis later recalled. "I couldn't believe it was happening. Casablanca had been my creation; Jack had absolutely nothing to do with it. As the audience gasped, I tried to get out of the row of seats and into the aisle, but the entire Warner family sat blocking me. I had no alternative but to sit down again, humiliated and furious ... Almost forty years later, I still haven't recovered from the shock." This incident would lead Wallis to leave Warner Bros in April.
In 1989, the film was one of the first 25 films selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In 2005, it was named one of the 100 greatest films of the last 80 years by Time magazine (the selected films were not ranked). Screenwriting teacher Robert McKee maintains that the script is "the greatest screenplay of all time". In 2006, the Writers Guild of America West agreed, voting it the best ever in its list of the 101 greatest screenplays. The film has been selected by the American Film Institute for many of their lists of important American films
The play's cast consisted of 16 speaking parts and several extras; the film script enlarged it to 22 speaking parts and hundreds of extras.
The cast is notably international: only three of the credited actors were born in the United States (Bogart, Dooley Wilson, and Joy Page). The top-billed actors are:
- Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine. Rick was Bogart's first truly romantic role.
- Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund. Bergman's official website calls lsa her "most famous and enduring role". The Swedish actress 's Hollywood debut in Intermezzo had been well received, but her subsequent films were not major successes until Casablanca. Film critic Roger Ebert called her "luminous", and commented on the chemistry between her and Bogart: "she paints his face with her eyes". Other actresses considered for the role of Ilsa included Ann Sheridan, Hedy Lamarr, Luise Rainer and Michèle Morgan. Producer Hal Wallis obtained the services of Bergman, who was contracted to David O. Selznick, by lending Olivia de Havilland in exchange.
- Paul Henreid as Victor Laszlo. Henreid, an Austrian actor who had emigrated in 1935, was reluctant to take the role (it "set [him] as a stiff forever", according to Pauline Kael), until he was promised top billing along with Bogart and Bergman. Henreid did not get on well with his fellow actors; he considered Bogart "a mediocre actor." Bergman called Henreid a "prima donna".
The second-billed actors are:
- Claude Rains as Captain Louis Renault. Rains was an English actor born in London. He had previously worked with Michael Curtiz on The Adventures of Robin Hood. He later played the villain in Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious, reteaming with Ingrid Bergman.
- Conrad Veidt as Major Heinrich Strasser. He was a refugee German actor who had appeared in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. He fled the Nazis, but was frequently cast as a Nazi in American films. A major star in German cinema before the Nazi era, he was the highest paid member of the cast despite his second billing.
- Sydney Greenstreet as Signor Ferrari. Another Englishman, Greenstreet had previously starred with Lorre and Bogart in his film debut in The Maltese Falcon.
- Peter Lorre as Signor Ugarte. Born in Austria-Hungary, Lorre fled Nazi Germany in 1933 after starring in Fritz Lang's first sound movie, M (1931). Greenstreet and Lorre appeared in several films together over the next few years, although they did not share a scene in Casablanca.
Wallis's first choice for director was William Wyler, but he was unavailable, so Wallis turned to his close friend Michael Curtiz. Curtiz was a Hungarian Jewish émigré; he had come to the U.S. in 1926, but some of his family were refugees from Nazi Europe.
Roger Ebert has commented that in Casablanca "very few shots ... are memorable as shots," as Curtiz wanted images to express the story rather than to stand alone. He contributed relatively little to development of the plot. Casey Robinson said Curtiz "knew nothing whatever about story ... he saw it in pictures, and you supplied the stories."
The second unit montages, such as the opening sequence of the refugee
trail and 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 lights to make her eyes sparkle; the whole effect was designed to make her face seem "ineffably sad and tender and nostalgic".
Bars of shadow across the characters and in the background variously imply imprisonment, the crucifix, the symbol of the Free French Forces and emotional turmoil. Dark film noir and expressionist lighting was used in several scenes, particularly towards the end of the picture. It is considered that these shadow and lighting effects are classic elements of the Curtiz style, along with the fluid camera work and the use of the environment as a framing device.
The music was written by Max Steiner, who was best known for the score for Gone with the Wind.
The song "As Time Goes By" by Herman Hupfeld had been part of the story from the original play; Steiner wanted to write his own composition to replace it, but Bergman had already cut her hair short for her next role (María in For Whom the Bell Tolls) and could not re-shoot the scenes which incorporated the song, so Steiner based the entire score on it and "La Marseillaise", the French national anthem, transforming them as leitmotifs to reflect changing moods. Even though Steiner did not like "As Time Goes By", he admitted in a 1943 interview that it "must have had something to attract so much attention."
Particularly memorable is the "duel of the songs" between Strasser and Laszlo at Rick's cafe. In the soundtrack, "La Marseillaise" is played by a full orchestra. Originally, the opposing piece for this iconic sequence was to be the "Horst Wessel Lied", a Nazi anthem, but this was still under international copyright in non-Allied countries. Instead "Die Wacht am Rhein" was used. The "Deutschlandlied", the national anthem of Germany, features in the final scene, in which it gives way to "La Marseillaise" after Strasser is shot.