If you are like my friend, and have never seen Casablanca, a quick plot rundown is in order (then again, if you've never seen Casablanca, stop reading this blog, and go watch the movie!) It's December 1941, and Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) owns a successful cafe and (illegal) casino in Casablanca. The cafe is inhabited primarily by refugees, trying to get to America. But, on the night when black marketeer Ugarte (Peter Lorre) is arrested for the murder of German couriers (they were carrying non-revocable letters of transit), Rick's past catches up with him, in the form of his lost love, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman).
It's likely that Casablanca is one of the most written about films in movie history - I know of four, one of which was just released: We'll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood's Most Beloved Movie by Noah Isenberg (2017); The Making of Casablanca: Bogart, Bergman, and World War II by Aljean Harmetz (2002), Casablanca: Behind the Scenes by Harlen Lebo and Julius Epstein (1992); and Casablanca: Script and Legend by Howard Koch (1995). As a result, it has a much storied history.
For example, the rumor (fed by a Hollywood Reporter news item) that Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan were to play Rick and Ilsa has been debunked by numerous sources (including Ms. Harmetz). Ms. Harmetz also clarifies the rumor that George Raft was offered the role - his name was suggested, however producer Hal Wallis wanted Humphrey Bogart. Ms. Harmetz also relates Paul Henried's (Victor Laslo) later antipathy for the part of Victor Laslo, and his disregard for Humphrey Bogart. He told the author in 1992 that "Mr. Bogie was nobody.... Before Casablanca he was nobody...he was a mediocre actor." To give him credit where credit is due, he had had a successful theatrical and film career in German before the rise of the Nazis, and had appeared on the New York stage as well.
Though Casablanca is really a fairly simple story of love and loss in time of war, what makes it unique and so thoroughly re-watchable is the dialogue. In AFI's list of 100 Years, 100 Quotes for SIX of the 100 quotes, starting at #5 with "Here's looking at you, Kid." The rest of this amazing list is: #20 - "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship," #28 - "Play it, Sam. Play 'As Time Goes By'," #32 - "Round up the usual suspects, #43- "We'll always have Paris," and #67 - "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine." It doesn't include the lines like "I was misinformed" (see the clip at the end), or "Are my eyes really brown?" I could go on, but you get the point. Check out these TCM articles for some quote that did not make the film!
Some of the more clever lines are uttered by that master of delivery Claude Rains as Louis Renault. Both my friend and I love "Serves me right for not being musical," said when Louis discovers where Rick hid the letters of transit, or "I'm shocked, SHOCKED to find out that gambling is going on in here," as Louis collects his gambling winnings. As always, Mr. Rains is an amazing actor; it is hard to keep your eyes from him when he is working - even in his stillness there is wit shining through.
The other actor who is impressive (besides our key three players, of course) is Conrad Veidt as Major Strasser. A star of German cinema (Veidt is perhaps best remembered from his amazing performance as the somnambulist in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)), Veidt left Germany in 1933. His wife was a Jew, and Veidt despised the Nazis. He emigrated first to England, then to the United States, where it seems that his most memorable roles were as Nazis (such as All Through the Night (1942) and Escape (1940)). He donated large sums of money to the war effort (TCM article); Veidt also required that, if he were cast as a Nazi, that character must be a villain (Casablanca: As Time Goes By: 50th Anniversary Commemorative by Frank Miller). Unfortunately, Mr. Veidt did not get a chance to escape from the Nazi typecasting - he died of a heart attack in 1943, shortly after he finished filming Above Suspicion.
Of course, Mr. Veidt was not the only refugee appearing in the film: Madeline LeBeau (Yvonne), S. Z. Sakall (Carl), Peter Lorre, Marcel Dalio (Emil the Croupier), Helmut Dantine (Jan Brandel), and Paul Henreid were among the actors who escaped from German and the occupied nations to work in Hollywood. (AFI catalog)
In 1944, Casablanca won 3 Oscars in 1944 (Film, Michael Curtiz (Director), Adapted Screenplay (Julius and Philip Epstein and Howard Koch)) and was nominated for 6 others including Best Actor (Bogart), Supporting Actor (Rains), Score (Max Steiner), Editing, and Cinematography. It appears on several other AFI lists:AFI 100 Years, 100 Cheers at #32, AFI's top Heroes, with Rick Blaine at #4, and 100 Years, 100 Thrills at #37. But the true test of the film is watching it again and again (which I have). It's a picture which you decide you will watch JUST this one scene and end up watching the whole movie. I'll leave you this this conversation between Rick and Louis, and another wonderful Rick quote: