7: CASABLANCA : 1942. Director: Michael Curtiz. US. Wartime romance/thriller. Humphrey Bogart. Ingrid Bergman.
Paul Henreid. Claude Rains. Sydney Greenstreet. Peter Lorre. Conrad Veidt.
Producer: Hal B. Wallis. Production Company: Warner Brothers Pictures. Screenplay by Howard Kosh, Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein, adapted from an unproduced 1940 stage play Everybody Comes to Rick’s, by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. Cinematography: Arthur Edeson. Editing Director: Owen Marks. Music: Max Steiner. Screen time: 102 minutes. Budget: $878,000 to about $1million. Box office: $3.7million (rising to $6.9million by 1955). Winner of 1943 Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay. Received 99% approval rating on 91 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.
Veteran movie critic, Roger Ebert, remarked that, while Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane is the “greater film” (movie critics love it more than the ordinary public), Casablanca was the “more loved”…Conceding “the people in it are all so good” and it was a “wonderful gem” – praise, indeed. He went further, saying he had never seen a negative review. Certainly, Leonard Maltin, another critic, from 1950, named it “the best Hollywood movie of all time”, and Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, wrote, “The Warners…have a picture which makes the spine tingle and the heart take a leap”, praising the “devious convolutions of the plot”, the screenplay “of the best”, and cast “all of the first order”. However, The New Yorker thought it merely “pretty tolerable”, not as good as Bogart’s The Maltese Falcon follow-up, Across the Pacific (also 1942, with Astor and Greenstreet, part-directed by John Huston, who – upon being called up for military service – took the script with him, leaving replacement director Vincent Sharman to pick up the plot pieces!) Now, of course, who, except Bogart of 1940s movies aficionados, remembers that movie – the title of which was itself a misnomer, as (for practical, wartime reasons) was set in Panama, not Hawaii. Later, the controversial New Yorker critic, Pauline Kael (1919-2001), sniffed of Casablanca, “It’s far from a great film, but it has a special appealingly schlocky romanticism.” Ouch! My superiority complex is bigger than your superiority complex! Another negative voice was that of Italian culture critic, novelist and philosopher, Umberto Eco (1932-2016), who thought it “mediocre”, although conceding the ending “reached Homeric depths”, whatever that means. Who cares what critics and intellectuals say? In 1989, the UK film magazine Empire rated it 28 out of 100 – saying: “Love, humour, thrills, wisecracks, and a hit tune are among the attractions, which also includes a perfect supporting cast of villains, sneaks, thieves, refugees and bar staff. But it’s Bogart and Berman’s show, entering immortality as screen lovers reunited, only to part. The irrefutable proof that great movies are accidents.” Perhaps of more interest is when, in 1982, freelance journalist Chuck Ross decided to test how many contemporary Hollywood agents would recognise the movie if it were submitted to them now. He retyped the exact script, but disguised under the name of the original play, merely changing the character name ‘Sam’ to ‘Dooley’ (after Dooley Wilson who played Sam), and submitted it to 217 agencies, as a ‘new’ film script by unknown writer ‘Erik Demos’. Seven did not respond. 18 were apparently lost in the post. 90 returned the script unread, most arguing they did not accept unsolicited screenplays, While eight thought it similar to Casablanca, only 33 recognised it for what it was (Alan Green of Gage Group, remarking he had “seen it 147 times”). Meantime 41 rejected it, saying things like “too much dialogue, not enough exposition, story is weak, didn’t hold my interest”. Three – still not recognising it – offered to represent, while one suggested it might make a good novel!
So, in retrospect, what can one say about Casablanca that hasn’t already been said? Is it, after The Maltese Falcon, really the greater movie ever? Books have been written about it. Film critics have argued over it. Spoofs and spin-off plays and movies have been made about it. It has long since become cult status. It has become the subject of Freudian psychoanalysis; hidden allegory (Rick as President Franklin D. Roosevelt!); and even speculation concerning the various names by characters to address Bogart’s character. Aside from would-be sequels, radio adaptions, and other spin-offs, it was said to have influenced the 1944 movie Passage to Marseilles (which also featured Bogart, Greenstreet, Lorre and Claude Rains), as well as another Bogart classic of the same year, To Have And Have Not, directed by Howard Hughes, from the 1937 Hemingway novel. The Marx Brothers made an indie (non-MGM) spy comedy spoof, A Night in Casablanca (1946). Woody Allen made his nod to the movie with Play It Again, Sam (1972 – I remember seeing it, the usual Allen comic vehicle for one-liners). Less obvious in its link to Casablanca, is Neil Simon’s The Cheap Detective (1978, Peter Falk again doing an Bogart parody, as he had in the 1976 Simon movie Murder by Death). I’ve never really waivered from my opinion that Neil Simon is basically unfunny, pretentious, and overrated. A straight plot rip-off, then metamorphosised into bad sci-fi, was the 1996 Barb Wire, starring Pamela Anderson, written by Chuck Plarrer and Iline Chalken, adapted from the Dark Horse comics. As a movie, it bombed, probably deservedly so for basic unoriginality. Obviously yet another Hollywood movie agent somewhere who didn’t know, or remember the original!
David Pirie, in the Time Out Film Guide faces the question of the movie’s reputation head-on, and gives a good response: “Once a movie becomes as adulated as Casablanca, it is difficult to know how to begin to approach it, except by saying that at least 70 per cent of its cult reputation is deserved. This was Bogart’s greatest type role, as the battered, laconic owner of a nightclub who meets a girl (Bergman) he left behind in Paris and still loves. The whole thing has an intense wartime nostalgia that tempts one to describe it as the sophisticated American version of Britain’s naïve Brief Encounter, but it has dated less than Lean’s film and is altogether a much more accomplished piece of cinema. There are some great supporting performances, and much of the dialogue has become history.” Oddly enough, the Ann Lloyd/David Robinson Movies of the Forties (1982) barely mentions it, despite devoting a two page article to Bogart’s other 1940s masterpiece, The Maltese Falcon. In his article on Bogart, Oliver Eyquem writes: “Walsh had endowed Bogart with humanity in High Sierra; Huston gave him morality and the means to defend himself in The Maltese Falcon; Curtiz, in Casablanca, added to these a romantic dimension and a reason for living. At the beginning of the film, Rick, the hero, is shown to have taken refuge behind a mask of cynicism, in keeping with the unscrupulous political climate of wartime Casablanca. The unexpected arrival of the woman he has loved painfully reawakens his emotions, forcing him to renounce his pose of disinterested spectator. The film concludes with the need for commitment, one which concerned not only the hero but the whole of America.” Both the above would give the overwhelming impression this is a movie inexorably tied to the Second World War, and, indeed, although the story is set pre-December 1941 and America entering the war, it was actually being written and filmed in 1942. In the movie, the American Rick is still a neutral in Vichy-occupied Morocco. There were still many in the USA who were opposed to direct military intervention in what they saw as a European conflict. Fast forward to 1942, and that had changed. America and Germany were now at war. So, yes, it is a ‘period movie’ now (if extremely contemporary at the time), but is it not a ‘war movie’ as such, despite the bad guys being Nazis. Pirie makes the comparison with Brief Encounter, which many have also elevated to cult movie status. But the 1945 David Lean film (scripted by Noël Coward) is so terribly, terribly British (or maybe, more specifically, English), even the setting, actually the railway station of Camforth, Lancashire, then a busy junction on the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, going north. But Casablanca is much more than a ‘boy meets girl, boy loses girl’ plot picture. By it’s very origins and setting, it is a much complex and interesting movie, about more than Lean’s failed love affair.
School teacher and playwright Murray Burnett (1910-1997) had visited Europe with his wife Frances in 1938, where he saw the Jewish refugees fleeing from Hitler pogrom in Germany. Later, with Joan Alison (Alice Joan Leviton, 1901-1992, also from New York), they wrote the stage play Everybody Comes to Rick’s, in 1940. It was their second play, blatantly pro-French Resistance, and anti-Nazi. It was never performed; instead Stephan Karnot and Warner Brothers studio editor Irene Lee Diamond convinced producer Hal B. Wallis to obtain the rights for $20,000, back then the most ever spent on a unproduced play. Thereafter it morphed into Casablanca, and the Warner Bros Studio did their best to downplay the story’s original plot or authors – apparently even to the extent that Ingrid Bergman, as late as 1974, was still unaware there had ever been a previous story script prior to the 1941 film. In 1986 Burnett and Alison contested the property rights of what was, after all, originally their theatrical creation. The case went to the New York Court of Appeal, and Warner Bros agreed to pay them $100,000 each, and the right to produce the play on stage. In 1991 it opened at the Whitehall Theatre, London, for six weeks, with British actor Leslie Grantham (best known for playing ‘Dirty Den’ in the television soap EastEnders) playing Rick. While the name of the Rick Blaine character remained the same in both draft play and later movie, love interest American ‘Lois Meredith’ became Norwegian Ilse Lund; and Italian ‘Luis Rinaldo’ became Louis Renault. Sam, in the play, was known as ‘The Rabbit’. Victor Laszio remained the same, but ‘Señor Mortinez’ became the Italian Signor Ferrari, and ‘Guillerro Ugate’ became just Ugate. In the play Rick is a lawyer, who meets ‘Lois’ in Paris before she marries Victor Laszio.
Hal B. Wallis (Harold Brent Wallis, born Aaron Blum Wolowicz, 1898-1986) already had a glittering career as film producer, with a filmography from 1930 to 1975. Among just a few of his previous movies were Little Caesar (1931), The Petrified Forest (1936), Kid Galahad (1937), and The Maltese Falcon. Although he resigned from Warner Bros in 1944 – more of which below – later financial successes included the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis comedies, a number of Elvis Presley movies, Gunfight at the O.K. Carrol (1957), Barefoot in the Park (1967), and True Grit (1969). For Casablanca Wallis had originally wanted German William Wyler (1902-1981) as director, but he was unavailable, so Wallis made the happy second choice of his close friend, Hungarian Jew, Michael Curtiz (born Manó Kertész Kaminer, 1886-1962), whose filmography, in Europe and the USA (after 1926), was from 1917 to 1961, some 86 films in total. Some of these include Angels With Dirty Faces (1938, with Cagney and Bogart); Mildred Pierce (1945, with Joan Crawford); Doris Day’s movie debut, Romance on the High Seas (1948); White Christmas (1954, with Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney); We’re No Angels (1955, with Bogart and Peter Ustinov); Kid Creole (1958, with Elvis Presley); The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1960); The Comancheros (1961, with John Wayne). Bette Davis was in six of his films; Cagney and Bogart in four each; Errol Flynn in seven. By any accounts, an impressive CV.
We’ve already looked at Humphrey Bogart (1898-1957), whose filmography career had really take off with The Maltese Falcon and now – much to his surprise – Casablanca also. He was paid $37,000. Playing opposite him, as the love interest, was the self-confessed “tall, Swedish, Lutheran” Ingrid Bergman (1915-1982), with a filmography from 1932 to 1978, theatre work 1940 to 1978, and television from 1959 to 1982. She plays Ilse Lund, Norwegian wife to Victor Laszio, who Rick met in Paris in 1940 when she thought her husband was dead. The wonderful Bogart line: “I remember Paris. You wore blue, the Germans wore grey.” In looks Ingrid could be compared to her fellow Swedish actress, Greta Garbo (1905-1990), if not in temperament, or Garbo’s contemporary, German-born Marlene Dietrich (1904-1982). She was one of that collection of incredibly beautiful actresses, like Grace Kelly or Deborah Kerr. And, perhaps rather like Grace – if to a lesser extend with Deborah Kerr – she had a reputation of having romantic/sexual relationships with her leading male co-stars. Over time she was linked to Spencer Tracey, Gary Cooper, Victor Fleming, the musician Larry Alder, Anthony Quinn, the photographer Robert Capra, Gregory Peck, Cary Grant…to name but a few. The exception was Bogart. The first problem perhaps was Ingrid was several inches taller, and, the story goes, when filming together, Bogart wore 3 inch wooden platforms tied to his shoes. One of the reasons Ingrid liked working with Gary Cooper was that she “didn’t have to film barefooted”. Romantic as she and Bogart were on-screen, immediately the cameras stopped rolling, he blanked her, going off to play chess on his own. Not that Bogart – in keeping with most others in his profession – was particular celibate or not into infidelity, but at that time he was going through a particularly bad period with wife Mayo Methot (1904-1951), herself a film and stage actress, who he had married in 1938. It was the third marriage for both, having met while filming Marked Woman, with Bette Davis (1937). Both were into heavy drinking, but Mayo often became violent under the influence of alcohol, and was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. What were called “gin-fuelled rages” often ended in violence, committed by both. However, even after Bogart began his affair with 19 year old Lauren Bacall in 1943, there still followed separations and reconciliations until a final divorce in May 1945, Bogart marrying Bacall just days later. Thereafter Mayo’s career declined due to her alcoholism (which eventually was her cause of death) and depression. However, it is noteworthy that Bogart continued to send flowers to her crypt until his own death in 1957. Ingrid herself was married three times, and won three Oscars, for Gaslight (1944); Anastasia (1956); and Best Supporting Actress in Murder on the Orient Express (1974). She was named as the ‘Fourth Greatest Screen Legend Actress’ by the American Film Institute, after Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis and Audrey Hepburn, but in front of Garbo at fifth, Marilyn Monroe at sixth, Elizabeth Taylor at seventh, Dietrich at nineth, and Grace Kelly at thirteenth. Bogart tops the greatest actor’s list. Initially other actresses had been considered for her role of Ilse Lund, including Ann Sheridan (1915-1967); Hedy Lamarr (Austrian/German, 1914-2000); Louise Rainer (another Swede, 1910-2014); and Michéle Morgan (French, 1920-2016). Producer Hal Wallis got Bergman from David O. Selznick on an exchange loan of Olivia de Haviland. Bergman’s salary for the movie was $25,000.
Playing the role of Czech resistance hero (and husband to Ilse), Victor Laszlo, was Austrian-born actor Paul Henreid (1908-1992), born in Trieste, then still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He left Germany in 1935 (he was later officially designated an “enemy of the Reich”), moving first to Britain, then to the USA in the late-1930s, and, in 1939, played the German school teacher Staefel in Goodbye Mr Chips. He was employed by RKO, Warner Brothers, MGM, and later Columbia Pictures. His career profile lists actor, director, producer, writer. In the filming of Casablanca he comes across as boorish and rather arrogant, demanding equal billing to Bogart and Bergman, the former he considered a “mediocre actor” and the latter a “prima donna” – not how to make movie friends, Paul! Like Bergman he was paid $25,000, less than Bogart, which perhaps rankled him greatly. Despite being avowed anti-Nazi, he was also later opposed to the early-1950s House Un-American Activities Committee show-trails, and was subsequently – along with so many others – thereby falsely blacklisted as a “communist”. In defiance, Alfred Hitchcock hired him to appear in his television Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He continued movie work in France and the UK, and in other television series after his blacklist status was removed.
British/London-born Claude Rains (full name William Claude Rains, 1889-1967, US citizen from 1939) played the somewhat roguish, cynical French gendarme prefect of police, Captain Louis Renault, who shifts his colours from supporting the neo-fascist Vichy regime and their Nazi masters in Morocco, to that of the Free French – or so we assume. He is unscrupulous, but charming, and – while the Hollywood Code put strict limitation on saying so explicitly, he obviously sold favours such as visas out of Morocco to neutral Portugal in exchange for sex with the pretty women, even if they are married. However, throughout the movie, Renault is friendly to Rick. Rains was another stage, as well as movie, actor, his theatre work was from 1900 to 1956, filmography from 1920 to 1965. Initially he moved to the USA in 1913, returning to the UK at the outset of the First World War. In action at Vimy, on the Western Front in 1916, he suffered disability following a gas attack, which left him with a 90% loss of vision in his right eye. One of his other best known early movies back in America, was as Griffin, in the 1933 Hollywood movie version of H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, with director James Whale. He later appeared, again Bogart, Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, as sea Captain Freychet in Passage to Marseilles (1944), and with Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant in Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946). His domestic life was rather chaotic, being married six times, his last wife predeceasing him, after which he remained single, eventually retiring to be a ‘gentleman farmer’ at his 380-acre Stock Grange Farm, Pennsylvania. However, he, too, was a chronic alcoholic, who eventually died of cirrhosis of the liver.
German-born Conrad Veidt (1893-1943), another genuine refugee from the Nazi regime, played Major Heinrich Strasser. He had fled Germany in 1933 soon after marrying his Jewish wife, Ilona Prager. His filmography was from 1917 to 1943. Sadly, this was his penultimate film, as he died from a heart condition soon after. He was a heavy smoker. We have already discussed British actor Sydney Greenstreet (1879-1954), who played Signor Ferrari, owner of the rival Moroccan bar, the Blue Parrot, and a black-marketeer, who also sells visas. Likewise, another from The Maltese Falcon, is Hungarian-German actor Peter Lorre (1904-1964), as Signor Ugate, part of the local criminal underworld, motivated only by profit, capable of murder – another Joel Cairo, in other words! Lorre made two films with Alfred Hitchcock, the original 1934 The Man Who Knew Too Much, and The Secret Agent (1936), both during Hitchcock’s British period. In between, in 1935, he played the central character in director Josef von Sternberg’s Crime and Punishment, based on the novel by Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky. Throughout his subsequent career, he migrated back and forth from Britain and Hollywood, but became increasingly typecast into playing sinister, darker roles. From 1937 to 1939 he played Mr Moto, the crime-solving Japanese detective from the novels by John P. Marquand. Later appearances included in Arsenic and Old Lace (1944); The Beast With Five Fingers (1946); Around the World in Eighty Days (1956); Tales of Terror (1962); The Raven (1963); and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1964). Lorre was a heavy drinker and smoker, and following intestinal problems in the 1920s, he – like follow horror movie actor Bela Lugosi – became addicted to morphine. He died, age 59, of a stroke. He had formed something of a comradeship with fellow actors of the terror movie genre – Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Vincent Price, and Christopher Lee. For his role in Casablanca he was paid a mere $500.
Given that the story plot was about refugees trying to escape the Nazis, many of the cast were genuine refugees, which their own backstories and recent memories, and this gave added emotional impact to the movie’s ethos. The scene where ‘Victor Laszlo’ orchestrates the occupants of Rick’s Bar to sing La Marseillaise in competition to Major Strasser’s Germans singing Die Wacht on Rhein, the tears were for real. Originally the ‘Germans’ were to sing the Nazi anthem Horst Wessel Lied, but this was still under international copyright at the time. Casablanca probably had the most international, non-American cast for any Hollywood movie – only Bogart, Dooley Wilson and Joy Page (who played Annina Brandel, the young Bulgarian wife – she was the step-daughter of studio boss Jack L. Warner) were American by birth. Even Rick’s girlfriend, Yvonne, who he dumped as soon as Ilse reappeared, was played by French actress Madeleine Lebeau, who had fled Europe with her husband Marcel Dalio.
Casablanca’s ”wonderfully unified and consistent” script defy all expectations and logic. Starting with Burnett and Alison draft play, Wallis brought in scriptwriting twins Julius and Philip Epstein (1909-2000 and 1909-1952 respectively), but, having started, they then took a break to work with Frank Capra on his 1942 Why we Fight series. In the interval the film script was given over to Howard Koch (1901-1995), who apparently drafted between 30 and 40 pages before the Epstein brothers returned. Here there seems some confusion, perhaps prompted by individual egos, maybe most notably Koch. He claimed the Epstein brothers retained his work, either all or in part in the final story script. They claimed they never used what he wrote. It does seem that neither actually sat and worked together. The later interpretation would seem to be the Epsteins wrote the overall structure, the back-history of Rick and Ilse, and the ending, but that Koch worked on the politics, while yet another screenwriter, [Kenneth] Casey Robinson (1903-1979) worked – uncredited – for three weeks polishing the nitty-gritty of the Rick and Ilse Parisian romance and their subsequent dialogue after she walked into Rick’s Bar. In addition to a career as producer, scriptwriter and director, he was described as a “master of the art of adaption”, although his later assessment of the film was “sophisticated hokum”. In the Epstein/Koch debate, it would appear that the twins were paid $30,416 and Koch $4,200, so it is apparent which contribution to the end film was the greater. As for the myth that even the actors like Bogart and Bergman didn’t know the end, the Hollywood Code would have forbid married Ilse and former lover Rick having a ‘happy-ever-after’-style ending anyway – adultery was not rewarded in movies at that time! The only question was the fate of Victor, and how Rick would send Ilse away.
British film critic Barry Norman (1933-2017), in the chapter “Hollywood Goes To War” in his book Talking Movies, had much to say about the motives and myths of Casablanca. Having remarked that, in 1941, Howard Koch had co-written (with John Huston) the Gary Cooper First World War movie Sergeant York, about a former conscientious objector who – single-handedly – became a war hero, Norman continues: “A much greater exception to the rule that wartime pictures were not as good as they might have been given a little more boldness and imagination was one of the most splendid film of any era (and never mind such Pseuds’ Corner comments as Pauline Kael’s ‘the best bad movie ever made’) – Casablanca, which was made in 1942. It was set at a time when America had no part in the war and was aimed very largely at the appeasers. Humphrey Bogart’s line: ‘What time is it in New York? I bet they’re asleep in New York. I bet they’re asleep all over America’ has nothing to do with nostalgia for the nocturnal peace of his homeland. He is saying, ‘Wake up, America.’ And even by the time the film was made America was already wide awake and getting into the thick of the action, it was a timely reminder that the nation had done the right thing after Pearl Harbour. All manner of myths and legends have sprung up about the making of Casablanca – that the script was written while filming was already going on (true); that two alternative endings were shot (untrue); that when Bogart nodded approval for the Free French to sing the ‘Marseillaise’ and drown out the Germans he had no idea what he was nodding for but nodded simply because the director, Michael Curtiz, told him to (quite probably true), and that Bogart and Ingrid Bergman were both second choices, the originals having been Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan (quite appallingly true but at least indicating that someone up there in that Great Cutting Room in the Sky keeps a benevolent eye on the movies and is prepared occasionally to intervene and help wrestle triumph from the jaws of what would certainly have been disaster if the casting people had not had second thoughts). In the same way the film has been subjected to a variety of dotty interpretations, the most amusing being the friendship between Bogart’s Rick and Claude rain’s corrupt police chief is in fact homosexual. But this, of course, is merely the work of the Gay Mafia who are always trying to make us believe that everybody is really homosexual if only we’d all admit it.
Actually, according to Howard Koch, Warners had bought the story in the first place with the idea of casting George Raft and Hedy Lamarr but this never got beyond an idea because Raft turned it down. Koch himself was brought in to work on the screenplay after the Epstein brothers had been seconded to help out elsewhere in the war effort. He had two weeks with the Epsteins while they filled him in on where the story was going, as far as they could work it out, and then… ‘I was on the last stretch for the final script and working very often on the set with the actors and the director. And I think at this stage what we were trying to do was make an entertaining picture that would say something good politically.’ Two alternative endings may not have actually been shot but they were debated, he said, right up until the last moment. ‘I remember Ingrid Bergman coming to me on the set, when I was working with the actors, and saying “How can I play this love scene when I don’t know which man I’m going to end up with?” I made the best guess that I could, which was in line with the ending as it turned out, and I think she was happy with that approach.’ The alternatives were the romantic ending – Bogart going off with Bergman – or the one that was eventually chosen, the sacrifice – Bogart packing Bergman onto the plane with Paul Henreid and going off himself with Claude Rains, hence the homosexual theory. It would come as a surprise to Howard Koch to learn that there were homosexual undertones in a all this. Being merely the writer he saw the conclusion only in political terms – ‘anyone making a sacrifice, as Rick made one there, would be acting in a cause that was for the benefit of all human beings.’ One great advantage Casablanca enjoyed in being set in the period before Pearl Harbour was its lack of topicality. No matter what happened it could not be rendered out of date by events that occurred between the end of shooting and the premiere. For more standard war films the fear of becoming instantly irrelevant because of changing circumstances was very real. It was a problem that stayed around for obvious reasons, throughout the war, although naturally it did not stop movies with more topical subject matter being made.”
At the time of its release Casablanca was banned in the Irish Republic under the so-called neutrality rules, and was only shown – but still with cuts – in 1945. Even later, when shown on television as late as 1974, all the dialogue relating to Rick and Ilse’s love affair was cut – thereby, of course, leaving a large, illogical, plot hole! Oh dear, no Irish Catholic male would ever dream of having an affair with Ingrid Bergman, would they? As always with such silly censorship, what planet do these people live on? Obviously not the real world. Warner Bros did do an edited version for post-war West Germany in 1952, but again with all references to the Second World War and the Nazis removed – it was 25 minutes shorter – thereby totally changing (one might say, distorting and murdering) the story and characters. It was not until 1975 that the original plot was finally shown.
On the other hand, the thought of right-wing, second-rate actor Ronnie Reagan might have played Rick is more scary than such silly censorship! It would seem Barry Norman was only half-right about George Raft. The rivalry between Bogart and Raft was long-running, back at least to 1932, when both appeared in Scarface – Shame of a Nation. Over the years Raft became the Warner Bros poster-boy, to the extent that, in 1939, his average weekly pay was $5,500 to Bogart’s $1,250. However, he came to dislike playing gangsters (which role most people associated him with), in part because he had lots of friends who really were gangsters. While not really being very intelligent, he came to be extremely opinionated about plots and story lines, and this, eventually lead to his decline, as, time after time, he refused parts, quite a few of which then went to Bogart. Bogart had his own chip on the shoulder. He made 37 movies in eleven years, but, not only was he also typecast as the gangster or ne’er-do-well who gets shot or dead before the last reel, but also found himself constantly pushed down the billing on the movie poster – “also featuring: Humphrey Bogart”. When Raft turned down the lead role of Ray Earle in High Sierra (he didn’t like the ending), and Paul Muni, the other big name, was in conflict with the studio – which ended his career soon after – Bogart apparently telegraphed Hal Wallis saying he wanted the part – and he got it. Both Raft and Bogart then appeared in several mediocre movies (Raft himself had Bogart removed from performing in Manpower), before Raft again declined to take the Sam Spade role in The Maltese Falcon. His argument was it had already been filmed twice, the second of which bombed, and Huston was a “rookie director”. Yet again Bogart got the part, and stardom at last. Raft didn’t see it; his star was waning. In 1942 Raft turned down All Through the Night and Big Shot – Bogart got both. With Casablanca, the story seemed to be studio boss Jack Warner sent a memo to Hal Wallis, asking if Raft was to play Rick. Wallis replied, no, the part was written with Bogart in mind. And that would appear to be it. In 1943 Raft featured in a sort of Casablanca rip-off, Background to Danger, set in Turkey, with Greenstreet and Lorre. It flopped. His final big movie break came when Billy Wilder reluctantly approached him to play the lead in the 1944 Double Indemnity, after a long list of rejections by bigger, better names. Wilder regarded Raft as “scrapping the bottom of the barrel”. Raft, who was semi-illiterate, listened as Wilder read the script, then demanded a completely different plot. The part finally went to Fred MacMurray. Still seemingly unaware he was sabotaging his career, Raft made it through the mid-1940s (his annual earnings in 1946 was $108,000), but the decline set by the late-1940s, still refusing good parts that went to other actors. By the time he died at 1980, age 85, his income was $800 a month, comprising social security and pension. He did get to sleep with some of the top Hollywood actresses of the time – Dietrich, Bankhead, Carole Lombard, Mae West, Betty Gabel, and Norma Shearer – and outlive his ‘arch-rival’ Bogart, by a considerable number of years.
Max Steiner, who wrote the overall musical score, disliked the song As Time Goes By, sung by Dooley Wilson as Rick’s best friend Sam. It had been included in the original play, being a Burnett favourite. It was written by Herman Hupfield (1894-1951), for the Broadway musical Everybody’s Welcome in 1931, when it was sung by Frances Williams. Several versions were made 1931-32, one in particular by Rudy Valée. Dooley Wilson was a drummer and couldn’t play piano, which was by studio pianist Jean Vincent Plummer instead. Steiner thought it a “schmucky song”, and wanted it cut from the final movie, but instead it became the film’s leitmotif running throughout, and, of course (as no doubt intended in the original play script) the memory-link back to Rick and Ilse in Paris.
Hal Wallis’s falling out with Warner Brothers Studio came following the Academy ceremony, when Casablanca received the 1943 Best Picture Award. As producer, Wallis stood up to go on stage to collect the trophy, only to be “blocked by the entire Warner family” while studio boss Jack L. Warner rushed up to bask in the fame and glory – despite that he had had little interest or connection to the movie until then. Wallis was humiliated and angry, remaining so even forty years later. He left Warner Bros a few weeks later. Their loss, but Warner Bros were not the best of studio, or bosses. Jack (Jacob Wamer, 1892-1979) was the co-head of production as well as film exec., and longest lived of the four brothers – Sam Warner (1887-1927), Harry (Hirsz Moje?ese Wonsal, 1881-1958) and Albert (Aaron Wonsal, 1884-1967). Jack Warner retired in 1973.
Inevitably there are a number of factual boobs in Casablanca – not least in that the ‘Letters of Transit’ was a complete MacGuffin, created by Joan Alison in the original play, having no basis in fact. Following the fall of France in June 1940, French Morocco was under control of the Vichy until 1942. As the exiled leader of the Free French, based in London, General de Gaulle would have been persona non grata, while the Vichy-appointed Delegate-General in North Africa, General Weygand (1867-1965), was dismissed from his post by the Vichy government in November 1941. However, at no time were any German troops stationed in French Morocco during the Second World War. After 1942 Morocco passed under the control of the Allied Powers, eventually predominately the Americans. On the other hand, Victor Laszlo turning up in Casablanca, he would probably have been arrested, although we could argue Captain Renault preferred not to, hoping simply to get him out of the country!
Contemporary suggestions of sequels, and/or remakes never really happened, although – as we have seen – there were plenty of inferior rip-offs. In 2012 there was talk of a sort of sequel, proposed by Cass Warner, granddaughter of Harry Warner, who was also a friend of the then late Howard Koch, in which the “illegitimate son” of Rick and Ilse is searching for his biological father – boring! As always, decades later, with possible sequels (the long-awaited sequel to Gone With The Wind is a case in point), the original actors and actresses are aged or dead – mostly dead. Who could play the Bogart and Bergman roles now? Maybe CGI eventually. Until then….
Which brings us to Ted Turner’s totally misguided attempt at colorization of the great black and white movie classics – Casablanca included. We will look at this again with the needless colour version ‘remake’ of Hitchcock’s Psycho, but the question has to be: why? In fact, the response was mostly negative, with the colour version visually less interesting. Bogart’s son Stephen summed it up nicely: “If you’re going to colorize Casablanca, why not put arms on the Venus de Milo?”
What is it that makes Casablanca still a great movie, almost despite the odds? It is not just a love story. It is a story about loyalties and doing the right thing; about a man made cynical, but who is still basically right-minded and decent; who knows, no matter how bad things are now, they are going to get a lot worse before they get better. It’s about the little people rather then heroes or heroics. In war, or living under a tyranny, it is the ordinary people just trying to survive, day by day. Despite the factual flaws, there is an authenticity there, while the dialogue – whether it be from the original play, or written by the Epstein brothers or Howard Koch – is believable, mundane to the magnificent, memorable and quotable, holding the film and the characters together.