Casablanca

The myths debunked

DirkJan Vos - d.vos35@chello.nl

Amsterdam - Den Haag 1960

You must remember this

A kiss is still a kiss

A sigh is just a sigh

The fundamental things apply

As time goes by

Casablanca. A classic with absolute perfection in every detail. Passion and champagne in pre-war Paris. Romance in war-torn Casablanca. Charming tough guy Humphrey Bogart is nightclub owner Richard Blaine, nebulous, sometimes sardonically tough, and with a presence like no-one before or since. His ideal foil is Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund, radiant, confused and smashingly beautiful. Paul Henreid plays her husband, the unremitting resistance fighter Viktor Laszlo. He is sincere, reliant and resolute. Casablanca 1942, backdrop for love and war. Refugees wait to get away to America. They wait and wait and wait...

After seeing the brilliant brandnew copy of Casablanca recently (summer 1992) in a preview at the Filmmuseum, I tried to imagine what the Dutch cinema goer must have felt when the film first came out in Holland on april 4, 1947. It must have been a moving experience. The film showed a romantic view of what had been going on in Europe in the previous war years. The audience could easily identify with all the European characters in the film - more specifically Ingrid Bergman - and also, the protagonist, American Rick Blaine, must have seemed an almost tangible symbol of the Liberation to the audience. Every viewer carried his or her own memories from the War and probably saw some of his own history reflected on the silver screen. Although the film presented its audience with a distorting and artificial mirror many will, in all probability, have shed a sorrowful tear. Casablanca was an innocent, hopeful and tangible memory of a war that had ended. Holland slowly regained its footing and proceeded with everyday life: As time goes by...

And time did go by. New generations - who never lived through the War - saw the film and were captivated time and again by the ingenious and sometimes baffling scenario, by the sublime acting and the unsurpassed dialogue. Even though the film was created more than fifty years ago.


Cap-Ferrat, France, 1938. The American writers couple Murray Burnett and Joan Allison travel through France and, in the South, arrive at Cap-Ferrat. There, they hear a black pianist play As Time Goes By and this inspires them to write a stage play. They offer their play, Everybody wants to go to Rick's, to various companies but none of those wants to take it into production. Eventually, they send it to Warner Bros. to see if the studio is interested in a movie adaptation. They come in at the right moment: Warners has just released Algiers and the picture, starring Hedy Lamarr and Charles Boyer, is a run-away hit. Burnett and Allison's play could be a splendid follow-up to Algiers since it contains the same popular ingredients: an oriental atmosphere, war and romance, music and lots of drinks and cigarette smoke. The rights are sold for $ 25.000 and producer Hal Wallis takes the new project under his wings which, according to his 1941 new years eve memo, is now rechristened Casablanca. His most important tasks will be to rework the script and to find actors and actresses. By then, it has already been decided that Michael Curtiz will direct.

Early 1942, Wallis starts looking for the right actress to play the Norwegian Ilsa Lund and he approaches Hedy Lamarr, Michele Morgan and Ann Sheridan. They all fall short for various reasons and Wallis finally settles upon Ingrid Bergman, a European actress whose English has a slight lilt. At that time, Bergman had been sitting at home in Sweden for almost a year, waiting for new offers from Hollywood. On april 20, 1942, she gets Wallis' message that she has been cast in Casablanca. She answers that she 'fainted, screamed and cried' with excitement. Ecstatic, she travels to Hollywood immediately and moves into South Spalding Drive 413 in Beverly Hills.

Humphrey Bogart is signed to play Richard Blaine. There never were any other serious contenders. The untrue story that Ronald Reagan would have been considered for the part still rears its head sometimes. Frank Miller makes short shrift with this persistent myth in his 50th anniversary book Casablanca, As Time Goes By. From the very start, Wallis was convinced that Bogart should play the part of Rick. Reagan's name cropped up once in a fake press handout and from thereon the rumour started to proliferate. Bogart gets the part and nobody else. Shortly before, he made his breakthrough in The Maltese Falcon and Rick will be his first romantic lead.

On april 20, 1942 shooting starts at Warner's Studios, 4000 Warner Blvd. in Burbank, using lots 9 and 21. Numerous sources say the film was shot in strict chronological order since the script had not been finished at that time. Shooting schedules in hand, Miller shows irrevocably this cannot have been true. Within four months the film is finished and nobody realises a Hollywood classic has been made.

The film starts with the rounding up of the usual suspects in Casablanca's streets and alleys. A German courier has been ambushed and killed in the desert, thereby giving up two transit visa. Two extremely valuable travel documents, signed by general Weygand, that mean free passage via airplane to Lisbon, and from there to America. That night in Rick's Cafe, its owner, American adventurer Rick Blaine, is being accosted by the shady passport dealer Ugarte. He has the transit visa and asks Rick to keep them for him for a few hours. Rick agrees and hides the documents in Sam's piano. Meanwhile, Gestapo Major Strasser has arrived in neutral Casablanca which falls under the command of the thoroughly corrupt Vichy French Prefect, Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains). So have resistance fighter Viktor Laszlo and his wife Ilsa Lund with the intent to take possession of two transit visa for passage to the free world. Strasser orders Renault not to let Laszlo leave Casablanca at any price.

With the dashingly beautiful Ilsa on his side, Laszlo enters Rick's Cafe. He has an appointment with a possible source of transit visa. This man, Berger (John Qualen), tells him about the two transit visa and informs him that Ugarte has just been arrested by Major Strasser. In the meantime Ilsa recognises the bar pianist as Sam and asks him to play their old favourite, As Time Goes By. He hesitates but relents. Just as he is about to start the second chorus, Rick storms in. Without noticing Ilsa he tells Sam harshly he never wanted to hear that particular song again. Sam halts and nods towards Ilsa. Rick's glance meet Ilsa's. Just at that painful moment, Laszlo joins the party in the company of Renault, having found out that Rick is the only man in Casablanca who knows the whereabouts of the transit visa. Maybe they even are in his possession.

The basic intrigue has been established. Ingrid Bergman makes a devastating appearance in the first act of the film. She appears in the semi-dark nightclub chiaruscuro without any noticable make-up and radiantly dominates her dark surroundings in blinding Black&White tones. Bergman's close-ups are breathtaking. Burnett & Allison describe Ilsa in their play as 'A strikingly beautiful woman, a tall lissome brunette with startingly blue eyes and ivory complexion. She wears a magnificient white gown and a full length cape of the same fabric. Her beauty and chic are such that people turn to stare.' Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca may be stared at.

The film continues with the battle over the transit visa en Ilsa's desperation. Before the war, Ilsa and Rick had an affair in Paris. They agreed not to ask any questions about each others past. Ilsa only tells Rick that her husband died recently. The Germans are approaching Paris and the couple decides to flee from town and country. On the morning of their departure, waiting at the station in the pouring rain, Sam hands Rick a note from Ilsa, giving no explanation but saying she cannot join them. Rick and Sam leave for the south. Now, a year later, they meet again in Rick's night club. She tries to wheedle the transit visa away from him but Rick reacts bitterly, reproaches her for leaving him and refuses flatly to give or sell her the visa. The tension rises. Ilsa is confused about her feelings and doesn't know whether she must choose for Rick or for her husband. Eventually Rick delivers her from her dilemma, with the initially unknowing assistance of Renault, and, by way of a hectic denouement, the film reaches a surprising climax to end in one of the most impressive happy endings in film history.

Much has been said about the final version of the script and the end of the film. Until the very last moment, nobody knew exactly who could, would or had to leave with Ilsa: Viktor Laszlo or Rick Blaine? The problem with the ending was not so much a dramatic one but was mostly a matter of the demands that stars Bogart and Henreid made of their character and, more importantly, Wallis. Both demanded to be the one who left Casablanca with Ilsa. From the very start, Bogart had much to say about his part. He found Rick to be weak in character and not very heroic. Winning back his old love might add a little glamour to the part. Howard Koch and the Epstein brothers, Julius and Philip, the main screenwriters, added more gumption to Rick's character and more humour to the film but Bogart remained insecure about his part and all through shooting he was aware of the star qualities of co-star Ingrid Bergman. Mel Baker, one of Bogarts advisors, had told him 'Make sure you stay in one place and have her come to you. Mike (Michael Curtiz) probably won't notice and if he does, tell him it follows from the script. You have something she wants and so she has to come to you.' Bogart took his advice. To make him look even taller than Bergman, wooden blocks were attached to his shoes. But Bergman remained a star. She was tall, beautiful, healthy, Swedish and very much afraid of that eternal label. According to Curtiz, many women were indeed jealous of her beauty and independence. Her private life was constantly scrutinized. When not on the set, Bogart and Bergman hardly saw each other. Bergman's biography tells us the following:

'Bogart needed to do very little to get that haggard look. He knew everything about tragic loves and crying over a sentimental song in a bar had nothing to do with that. He lived through it every day with his wife Mayo Methot in their West-Hollywood house, Sluggy Hollow. It was nothing but drink, blood and fights, a butcher's knife in the back, slugging it out in the living room and bullet holes in the ceiling. His wife was so jealous of Ingrid, he didn't dare approach his co-star.'

Looking back, Bergman said about her contacts with Bogart: 'I have kissed him but I never knew him.'

Remains the question whether Casablanca is a political film with a touch of the romantic or a romantic film with a political undertone. Director Michael Curtz has been quoted as saying: 'It is not our duty to convey a message to the people, our only brief is to entertain the audience.' Curtiz was a skillful Hollywood director but as a Hungarian jew who had emigrated to America, he couldn't easily gloss over the political background of the film. Rick and his night club represent America's 'neutral' position before the attack on Pearl Harbour, before the United States' involvement in the Second World War. Rick is a metaphor for American Isolationism, the wise guy who doesn't get involved until the very last moment and then intervenes roughly and succesfully. And, of course, Rick pulls all the strings. Another remakable thing is Laszlo's references to German concentration camps as early as 1942. This sequence must have made people shiver in 1946. And also the refugee problem was skillfully incorporated in the film. In spite of the romantic and ultimately very cinematographic script, fiction and reality were not all that different.

The flight from the Nazis was a harsh reality for many actors and technicians. Paul Henreid had hastily left Vienna, following the 1938 Anschluss, and was almost interned as unwanted refugee in Great Britain. French Madeleine LeBeau, who plays Rick's jilted girlfriend, had just been able to escape from occupied France. Conrad Veidt as the ruffian Strasser and jewish actor Peter Lorre were prominent anti-nazis. The cast and crew were composed of no less than 34 nationalities.

Every writer later claimed to have come up with certain lines of dialogue or plot twists. The film's opening credits the Epstein Brothers and Howard Koch. The Epsteins, two experienced and witty screen writers, get first credit, Koch is credited as co-writer. As is the case with most Hollywood films, other writers had also contributed to the script. In an extensive article in HP (De Haagse Post) of may 1986, Ron Kaal conscientiously reveals every intricacy surrounding the script's genesis. In the NOS documentary Was that cannon fire or is it the pounding of my heart, Hans Keller also tries to unravel the secret of the script. But do they solve the enigma? No. For reasons unknown, nobody seems to have taken the trouble to read the original play. Even Koch had to admit to not even having looked at it. Miller, however, has studied the original play. He holds the opinion - like NRC's stage critic Henk van Gelder who saw Everybody Comes to Rick's in London's Whitehall Theatre - that Allison and Burnett's influence is severely underrated. The most essential twists in the script are lifted directly from the play. It is remarkable though that, according to van Gelder's review, the play ends with the phrase 'You know Louis, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.' Allison and Burnett never wrote this line. It is confirmed everywhere that Wallis came up with this piece of dialogue and that it was only added to the film long after production finished. The director of the play has - with or without the intention to joke - simply tagged the line at the end of the play. But that is how rumours start and myths are born. In the same vein, Miller shows in his beautifully documented book, how the popular but never actually spoken line 'Play it again, Sam.' came about. In Everybody Comes to Rick's we read 'Play it, you dumb bastard.', the first version of the Casablanca script changes this to 'Play it, you dumb...' and in the final scene Rick says 'If she can stand it, I can. Play it.' Even Ilsa asks Sam pleadingly, liltingly, to 'Play it, Sam. Play it once, for old times sake.' It was not until much later that everyone started quoting them as saying 'Play it again, Sam.'

How did all these apocryphal stories come about? Most probably, a number of contributions and changes, especially those dealing with plot twists, have been worked out and written down but never made it into the final version of the film. Every writer probably wracked his brain over different denouement variations if Rick would have left with Ilsa. One version of the script, for instance, has Laszlo executed in the first act. In retrospect, Wallis and Curtiz stuck to the original solution and so Laszo leaves Casablanca with Ilsa at the very last moment.

Umberto Eco dedicated an essay to Casablanca in 1987. In that piece, he points out the different symbolic (iconographic) political references in the film. Eco views America as the Promised Land, as the Paradise the refugees are on their way to. Casablanca is a microcosm of archetypes. The airport is the Place of Passage and the bringing of Offers results in Liberation and Redemption. Casablanca as the eternally moving myth, as a classic Greek tragedy. Besides that, Eco sees Casablanca as the film with the thousand quotes, the echo of cinematographic history. According to him, we cannot separate the film from all the other gangster, war and western movies that have been made before or since. The film, which was shot in an artificial cardboard reality, thus becomes the archetype of the art of film itself. Also, stars like Bogart, Bergman, Lorre and Greenstreet still project their own myths, even after their death and the viewer cannot separate the characters projected on the silver screen from their constructed media myths: Rick Blaine is Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman is Ilsa Lund.

Apart from a lot of sense, a lot of nonsense has been said about Casablanca. Of course, someone somehow discovered a homo-erotic relationship between Rick and Renault. The key to this farfetched theory is the closing line, 'You know Louis, this could be the beginning of a beautifull friendship.', and Renault's remark that, had he been a woman he would have fallen in love with Rick(!). Also, we did not have to wait long for surprising interpretations from the feminist camp. Anja Meulenbelt even borrowed the film's title for one of her books. In that book she derides Ilsa's stereotype. According to Meulenbelt, Ilsa is again the prime example of woman's traditional, role confirming, patriarchal serfdom. She gets seriously riled up over Ilsa's supposedly common and whorish subordination to masculin ideals. Men may go out for moral adventures and woman may be its willing victim. Key to Meulenbelt's argument is the scene where a desperate Ilsa turns to Rick, embraces him and says: 'You must think for both of us.' Every healthy housewife is jealous of Ilsa but Meulenbelt neither feels nor sees anything. On the other hand, Renate Dorrestein, in her novel 'Ontaarde Moeders', admits without much further ado that she adores men like Bogart, men 'who wear tan trenchcoats and dark hats.'

Casablanca served as a source of inspiration for many other films. The best known is probably Woody Allen's Play It Again, Sam (which, by the way, is also based on a stage play) and, even earlier, in 1946 the Marx Brothers do a spoof called A Night in Casablanca. Warner's management writes an irate letter and threatens to sue them for plagiarising the name Casablanca in the title of their film. Groucho is quick to retort that they are guilty of the same crime by pointing out that they have the word Brothers in their name, even though the Marx Brothers have been in business a lot longer. This put a swift end to the fraternal quarrel. Casablanca is still one of the most popular film icons - especially in the United States. But even outside that territory: in India, the whole story line was copied to an Indian pulp spectacle in the mid-60s and was greedily devoured by an audience of millions.

Casablanca has been dissected to within the smallest detail and counts as a cult classic. It started at the end of the 50s in the United States when, following Bogart's death, a full fledged Bogey veneration burst loose. In the early 60s, Casablanca was shown in the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. for three consecutive weeks every year. For the first time, Bogart and Casablanca fans got together and the first case of audience participation was a fact. During the screening, people in the audience lisped along with famous lines of dialogue like You played it for her, you can play it for me; But we'll always have Paris and Go ahead and shoot. You'll be doing me a favor. It certainly was not considered unusual to sit in the audience, dressed in dark hat and tan trenchcoat. The theatre was built over The Casablanca, a bar where the cultists waged heated discussions about the movie. Ever since, many a film buff has embraced Casablanca and a lot of trivia has been entrusted to paper. The exact number of cigarettes that is smoked is known, as well as the grand total of champagne cocktails. The most extensive Casablanca collector lives, of course, in America. He is dentist Gary Milan. He owns various Casablanca collectables, such as two original scripts, pieces of wardrobe, chairs, a transit visum and, as a pearl in his crown, the original piano from Rick's Cafe graces the living room of his sumptuous house in Beverly Hills. Recently he said on the occasion ofCasablanca's fiftieth anniversary: 'I am an incurable romantic. I have seen the film more than 330 times and I keep discovering new details.' He also said that the piano at issue - contrary to what many people think - is not white but beige. Few people will be surprised by this rather useless bit of information but the other piano from the film, the less important one that can be seen in La Belle Aurore, Rick's Paris based bar, was auctioned in New York in 1988 and sold for no less than $150.000. The amount was payed by an unknown Japanese insurance company through their proxy, C. Itoh.

And let's not forget the music. Casablanca not only exhumes an oriental atmosphere, full of romance, lots of drinks and cigarette smoke but is also filled to the brim with wonderful music. Apart from the original score by Max Steiner the viewer is treated to contagious arrangements of songs like Perfida, It Had To Be You, Shine, That's What Noah Done, Muse's Call, Knock On Wood, The Very Thought Of You and, of course, As Time Goes By, all interpreted by Dooley Wilson.

Summer 1990. During the screening of the sole remaining 35mm copy in Holland, two pig headed pals in the Hague are forced to conclude, to their horror and dismay, that a crucial scene (the arrest of passport dealer Ugarte) has spontaneously dissappeared from the film. This dramatic - and, as may be assumed, unintended - cut incites them to start a pressure group whose main goal is to realise an immaculate copy and regular screenings of the film: the Casablanca Society. In view of the fiftieth anniversary of this cinematographic classic, the Society, immediately after its inception, contacts UIP, the Dutch distributor. CEO Max van Praag turns out to be a vivid admirer of the film and goes to great lengths to be able to screen Casablanca in a new copy in 1992. The hunch turns out to be a good one: after the finish of the Amsterdam premiere, the audience enthousiastically applauds the film for several minutes.

FoxoF for the Kult Konspiracy

Most links in this text point to The International Movie Database.

Casablanca - As Time Goes By (50th Anniversary Commemorative)

Turner Publishing, Inc. 1992

ISBN 1-878685-14-7 (Hardcover)

ISBN 1-878685-17-1 (Softcover)

Copyrights on Casablanca related material are held by Warner Bros. and Turner Broadcasting. This is a fan maintained page and the author has no commercial intentions whatsoever.

Text 1993 FoxoF
Translation: J. Lester Novros II

Moby Dirk Freestyler 2005 - 2015

The KulTKonspiracy on Dutch tv in 1992:

Item over de herdenkingsavond op 8 augustus 1994 in het Haags Filmhuis - 2 Vandaag VOO - 4 augustus 1994 - YouTube

Found footage on YouTube

DirkJan Vos - d.vos35@chello.nl