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Casablanca: The immortal war-torn romance

The journey of the screen classic, ‘Casablanca’ began when an unproduced American play, ‘Everybody Comes to Rick’s’ written in 1940 by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison was bought by Warner Bros for $20,000; an astonishing transaction as record price was paid for an unproduced play written by two unknown writers. Interestingly, this anti-Nazi and pro-French Resistance play was written prior to the United States’ entry into World War II.
The studio publicity in 1941 claimed that Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan were scheduled to appear in ‘Casablanca’, with Dennis Morgan as the third lead. However, this was never the case and the false story was planted, either by a studio publicist or a press agent for the three actors, to keep their names in contention. Meanwhile actor, George Raft was angling for the part of Rick with Jack L Warner of Warner Bros Studios, but producer Hal B Wallis had already been assigned to search for what would be Humphrey Bogart’s next starring role. Wallis wrote to Jack Warner that he had found Bogart and that the role was perfect for him. Nobody else was ever considered for the part.
Actress, Michele Morgan asked for $55,000 for the role of Ilsa, but Wallis refused to pay it when he could get Ingrid Bergman for $25,000. Wallis also considered actress, Hedy Lamarr for this role, but she was then under contract to MGM, who wouldn’t release her and also didn’t want her to work with an unfinished script.
Actor, Paul Henreid was loaned to Warner Bros for the role of Victor Lazlo by Selznick International Pictures against his will. Henreid was concerned that playing a secondary character would ruin his career as a leading romantic actor.
Furthermore, Wallis nearly made the character of Sam a female and actresses namely Hazel Scott, Lena Horne, and Ella Fitzgerald were considered for the role. Finally actor Dooley Wilson was cast as Sam with no change in the gender of the character.
The filming of ‘Casablanca’ began on May 25, 1942 and was completed on August 3, 1942, with the production cost of $1,039,000, going $75,000 over budget. Unusually, the film was shot in sequence, mainly because only the first half of the script was ready when the shooting began. The entire film 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 cinematographer of ‘Casablanca’ was Arthur Edeson, a veteran who had previously shot films like ‘The Maltese Falcon’ (1941) and ‘Frankenstein’ (1931). Particular attention was paid while 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”.
The music for the film was written by Max Steiner, best known for his score for ‘Gone with the Wind’ (1939). 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 – the character of María in ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ (1943) – and could not re-shoot the scenes in ‘Casablanca’, which incorporated the new composition.
Although an initial release date for ‘Casablanca’ was anticipated for spring 1943, the film premiered at the Hollywood Theater in New York City on November 26, 1942, to coincide with the Allied invasion of North Africa and the capture of Casablanca. In the 1,500-seat theatre, the film grossed $255,000 over ten weeks. It went into general release on January 23, 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. It was a substantial but not spectacular box-office success, taking $3.7 million on its initial US release, making it the seventh highest-grossing film of 1943.
‘Casablanca’ received consistently good reviews, and over the years achieved cult status. It has today gained a popular following and appeared on many best-film lists.
In January 1943, a sequel to ‘Casablanca’, to be entitled ‘Brazzaville’ and to be set in the African headquarters of the Free French was announced for future production. Bogart was to reprise his role, and Geraldine Fitzgerald and Sidney Greenstreet were to co-star. At various times in the 1950s and 1960s, plans were also announced to make a theatrical musical version of the film. However, nothing materialised. A Lux Radio Theatre production of ‘Casablanca’ was broadcast in January 1944 and starred Hedy Lamarr and Alan Ladd. A colourised version of ‘Casablanca’ was released in 1988 amidst film colourisation controversy of the 1980s, while Murray Bennett and Joan Alison’s play, ‘Casablanca’ gave its first performance in London, in 1991.
Attempts to recapture the magic of ‘Casablanca in other settings, such as ‘Caboblanco’ (1980) and ‘Havana’ (1990), were poorly received. Probably the best known of the many parodies and tributes to ‘Casablanca’ is Woody Allen’s 1972 film, ‘Play It Again, Sam’. The film used the ‘ghost’ of Bogart as ‘Rick’, a character who advises Allen’s bumbling hero in his attempts to romance women after his wife divorces him. A 1998 novel entitled ‘As Time Goes By’ was written by Michael Walsh for Warner Books. The novel followed the characters of Rick, Ilsa, Victor, Sam and Louis after they left Casablanca.

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