Casablanca (film)

Casablanca is a 1942 American romantic drama film directed by Michael Curtiz, starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid, and featuring Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. Set during World War II, it focuses on a man torn between, in the words of one character, love and virtue. He must choose between his love for a woman and helping her and her Czech Resistance leader husband escape from the Vichy-controlled Moroccan city of Casablanca to continue his fight against the Nazis.

Although it was an A-list film, with established stars and first-rate writers—Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch received credit for the screenplay—no one involved with its production expected Casablanca to be anything out of the ordinary;[1] it was just one of dozens of pictures produced by Hollywood every year. The film was a solid, if unspectacular, success in its initial run, rushed into release to take advantage of the publicity from the Allied invasion of North Africa a few weeks earlier.[2] Despite a changing assortment of screenwriters frantically adapting an unstaged play and barely keeping ahead of production, and Bogart attempting his first romantic lead role, Casablanca won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Its characters, dialogue, and music have become iconic, and Casablanca has grown in popularity to the point that it now consistently ranks near the top of lists of the greatest films of all time.

Plot

Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is a cynical American expatriate living in Casablanca in early December 1941. He owns and runs "Rick's Café Américain", an upscale nightclub and gambling den that attracts a mixed clientèle: Vichy French, Italian, and Nazi officials; refugees desperately seeking to reach the United States, as yet uninvolved in the war; and those who prey on them. Although Rick professes to be neutral in all matters, it is later revealed he ran guns to Ethiopia to combat the 1935 Italian invasion and fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War.

Ugarte (Peter Lorre), a petty criminal, arrives in Rick's club with "letters of transit" obtained through the murder of two German couriers. The papers allow the bearer to travel freely around German-controlled Europe and to neutral Portugal, and from there to America. The letters are almost priceless to the continual stream of refugees who end up stranded in Casablanca. Ugarte plans to sell them to the highest bidder, who is due to arrive at the club later that night. Before the exchange can take place, Ugarte is arrested by the local police under the command of Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains), a self-admitted corrupt opportunist. Ugarte dies in police custody without revealing that he had entrusted the letters to Rick.

At this point, the reason for Rick's bitterness re-enters his life. His ex-lover, Norwegian Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), walks into his establishment. Upon seeing the house pianist, Sam, Ilsa asks him to play "As Time Goes By". When Rick storms over, furious that Sam has disobeyed his order never to perform that song, he is shocked to see Ilsa. She is accompanied by her husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), a fugitive Czech Resistance leader who has escaped from a Nazi concentration camp. The couple need the letters to leave for America to continue his work. German Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) arrives in Casablanca to see to it that Laszlo does not succeed.

When Laszlo makes inquiries with Signor Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet), a major figure in the criminal underworld and Rick's friendly business rival, Ferrari divulges his suspicion that Rick has the letters. Laszlo meets with Rick privately, but Rick refuses to part with the documents, telling Laszlo to ask his wife for the reason. They are interrupted when Strasser leads a group of officers in singing "Die Wacht am Rhein". In response, Laszlo orders the house band to play "La Marseillaise". When the band looks to Rick for guidance, he nods his head. Laszlo starts singing, alone at first, then patriotic fervor grips the crowd and everyone joins in, drowning out the Germans. In retaliation, Strasser has Renault close the club.

That night, Ilsa confronts Rick in the deserted café. When he refuses to give her the letters, she threatens him with a gun, but then confesses that she still loves him. She explains that when they first met and fell in love in Paris, she believed that her husband had been killed attempting to escape from the concentration camp. Later, while preparing to flee with Rick from the imminent fall of the city to the German army, she learned that Laszlo was in fact alive and in hiding. She left Rick without explanation to tend to her ill husband.

With the revelation, the lovers are reconciled. Rick agrees to help, leading her to believe that she will stay behind with him when Laszlo leaves. When Laszlo unexpectedly shows up, having narrowly escaped a police raid on a Resistance meeting, Rick has waiter Carl (S. K. Sakall) secretly take Ilsa back to the hotel while the two men talk.

Laszlo reveals he is aware of Rick's love for Ilsa and tries to persuade him to use the letters to take her to safety. When the police arrest Laszlo on a minor, trumped-up charge, Rick convinces Renault to release him by promising to set him up for a much more serious crime: possession of the letters of transit. To allay Renault's suspicions, Rick explains he and Ilsa will be leaving for America.

When Renault tries to arrest Laszlo as arranged, Rick forces him at gunpoint to assist in their escape. At the last moment, Rick makes Ilsa board the plane to Lisbon with her husband, telling her she would regret it if she stayed, "Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life."

Major Strasser, tipped off by Renault, drives up alone. Rick shoots him when he tries to intervene. When his men arrive, Renault pauses, then tells them to "Round up the usual suspects." Once they are alone, Renault suggests to Rick they join the Free French at Brazzaville. They walk off into the fog with one of the most memorable exit lines in movie history: "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Cast

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.[3] The cast is notable for its internationalism: only three of the credited actors were born in the U.S. The top-billed actors were:

  • Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine. Earlier in his career, he had been typecast as a gangster. 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".[4] The Swedish actress's Hollywood debut in Intermezzo had been well received, but her subsequent films were not major successes—until Casablanca. Ebert calls her "luminous", and comments on the chemistry between her and Bogart: "she paints his face with her eyes".[5] Other actresses considered for the role of Ilsa included Ann Sheridan, Hedy Lamarr and Michèle Morgan. Wallis obtained the services of Bergman, who was contracted to David O. Selznick, by loaning Olivia de Havilland in exchange.[6]
  • Paul Henreid as Victor Laszlo. Henreid, an Austrian actor who emigrated in 1935, was reluctant to take the role (it "set [him] as a stiff forever", according to Pauline Kael[7]), 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", while Bergman called Henreid a "prima donna".[8]

The second-billed actors were:

  • 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 appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious with Ingrid Bergman.
  • Conrad Veidt as Major Heinrich Strasser. He was a German actor who had appeared in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari before fleeing from the Nazis and ironically was best-known for playing Nazis in U.S. films.
  • Sydney Greenstreet as Signor Ferrari, a rival nightclub owner. Another Englishman, Greenstreet had previously starred with Lorre and Bogart in his film debut in The Maltese Falcon.
  • Peter Lorre as Signor Ugarte. Lorre was an Austrian character actor who had left Germany in 1933.

Also credited were:

  • Dooley Wilson as Sam. He was one of the few American members of the cast. A drummer, he could not play the piano. Hal Wallis had considered changing Sam to a female character (Hazel Scott and Ella Fitzgerald were candidates), and even after shooting had been completed, Wallis considered dubbing over Wilson's voice for the songs.[9][10]
  • Joy Page as Annina Brandel, the young Bulgarian refugee. The third credited American, she was studio head Jack Warner's stepdaughter.
  • Madeleine LeBeau as Yvonne, Rick's soon-discarded girlfriend. The French actress was Marcel Dalio's wife until their divorce in 1942.
  • S. Z. Sakall (credited as S. K. Sakall) as Carl, the waiter. He was a Hungarian actor who fled from Germany in 1939. His three sisters later died in a concentration camp.
  • Curt Bois as the pickpocket. Bois was a German Jewish actor and another refugee. He had one of the longest careers in film, making his first appearance in 1907 and his last in 1987.
  • John Qualen as Berger, Laszlo's Resistance contact. He was born in Canada, but grew up in America. He appeared in many of John Ford's movies.
  • Leonid Kinskey as Sascha, the Russian bartender infatuated with Yvonne. He was actually born in Russia.

Notable uncredited actors were:

  • Marcel Dalio as Emil 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 fall of France, he was reduced to bit parts in Hollywood. He had a key role in another of Bogart's films, To Have and Have Not.
  • Helmut Dantine as Jan Brandel, the Bulgarian roulette player married to Annina Brandel. Another Austrian, he had spent time in a concentration camp after the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria.
  • Norma Varden as the Englishwoman whose husband has his wallet stolen. She was a famous English character actress.
  • Jean Del Val as the French police radio announcer who (following the opening montage sequence) reports the news of the murder of the two German couriers.
  • Torben Meyer as the Dutch banker who runs "the second largest banking house in Amsterdam". Meyer was a Danish actor.
  • Dan Seymour as Abdul the doorman. He was an American actor who, at 265 pounds, often played villains, including the principal one in To Have and Have Not.
  • Gregory Gaye as the German banker who is refused entry to the casino by Rick. Gaye was a Russian-born actor who went to the United States in 1917 after the Russian Revolution.
  • William Edmunds as a contact man at Rick's. He usually played characters with heavy accents, such as Martini in It's a Wonderful Life (1946).
  • Leon Belasco as a dealer in Rick's Cafe. A Russian-American character actor, he appeared in 13 films the year Casablanca was released.[11]
  • Georges Renavent as Conspirator.
  • Leo White as the waiter Emile (not to be confused with the croupier Emil), from whom Renault orders a drink when he sits down with the Laszlos. White was a familiar face in many Charlie Chaplin two-reelers in the 1910s, usually playing an upper-class antagonist.
  • Jack Benny may have had an unbilled cameo role (claimed by a contemporary newspaper advertisement[12] and reportedly in the Casablanca press book[13]). When asked in his column "Movie Answer Man", critic Roger Ebert first replied, "It looks something like him. That's all I can say."[13] In response to a follow-up question in his next column, he stated, "I think you're right."[14]

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. A witness to the filming of the "duel of the anthems" sequence said he saw many of the actors crying and "realized that they were all real refugees".[15] Harmetz argues that they "brought to a dozen small roles in Casablanca an understanding and a desperation that could never have come from Central Casting".[16] The German citizens among them nevertheless had to keep curfew as enemy aliens. Ironically, they were frequently cast as the Nazis from whom they had fled.

Some of the exiled foreign actors were:

  • Wolfgang Zilzer who is shot in the opening scene of the movie, was a silent movie actor in Germany who left when the Nazis took over. He later married Casablanca actress Lotte Palfi.
  • Hans Twardowski as a Nazi officer who argues with a French officer over Yvonne. He was born in Stettin, Germany (now Szczecin, Poland).
  • Ludwig Stössel as Mr. Leuchtag, the German refugee whose English is "not so good". Born in Austria, the Jewish actor was imprisoned following the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria. When he was released, he left for England and then America. Stössel became famous for doing a long series of commercials for Italian Swiss Colony wine producers. Dressed in an Alpine hat and lederhosen, Stössel was their spokesman with the slogan, "That Little Old Winemaker, Me!"
  • Ilka Grünig as Mrs. Leuchtag. Born in Vienna, she was a silent movie star in Germany who came to America after the Anschluss.
  • Lotte Palfi as the refugee trying to sell her diamonds. Born in Germany, she played stage roles at a prestigious theater in Darmstadt, Germany. She journeyed to America after the Nazis came to power in 1933. She later married another Casablanca actor, Wolfgang Zilzer.
  • Trude Berliner as a baccarat player in Rick's. Born in Berlin, she was a famous cabaret performer and film actress. Being Jewish, she left Germany in 1933.
  • Louis V. Arco as another refugee in Rick's. Born Lutz Altschul in Austria, he moved to America shortly after the Anschluss and changed his name.
  • Richard Ryen as Strasser's aide, Captain Heinze. The Austrian Jew acted in German films, but fled the Nazis.

Production

The film was based on Murray Burnett and Joan Alison's then-unproduced play Everybody Comes to Rick's.[17] The Warner Bros. story analyst who read the play, Stephen Karnot, called it (approvingly) "sophisticated hokum",[18] and story editor Irene Diamond convinced producer Hal Wallis to buy the rights in January 1942 for $20,000,[19] the most anyone in Hollywood had ever paid for an unproduced play.[20] The project was renamed Casablanca, apparently in imitation of the 1938 hit Algiers.[21] Although an initial filming date was selected for April 10, 1942, delays led to a start of production on May 25.[22] Filming was completed on August 3, and the production cost $1,039,000 ($75,000 over budget),[23] above average for the time.[24] The film was shot in sequence, mainly because only the first half of the script was ready when filming began.[25]

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.[26] The street used for the exterior shots had recently been built for another film, The Desert Song,[27] and redressed for the Paris flashbacks. It remained on the Warners backlot until the 1960s. The set for Rick's was built in three unconnected parts, so the internal layout of the building is indeterminate. In a number of scenes, the camera looks through a wall from the cafe area into Rick's office. The background of the final scene, which shows a Lockheed Model 12 Electra Junior airplane with personnel walking around it, was staged using midget extras and a proportionate cardboard plane.[28] Fog was used to mask the model's unconvincing appearance.[29] 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.[30] 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).[5]

The difference between Bergman's and Bogart's height caused some problems. She was some two inches (5 cm) taller than Bogart, and claimed Curtiz had Bogart stand on blocks or sit on cushions in their scenes together.[31]

Wallis wrote the final line ("Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.") after shooting had been completed. Bogart had to be called in a month after the end of filming to dub it.[32]

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; however, 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."[33]