There are only a few stories if we regard them as shapes made out of possibility, rites of fear and desire. This condition lasted mankind from the cave to the cabin, but then story itself took flight. A few families broke into the business of enacting these stories for strangers—audiences who might be far away, but the new technology reached them. The stories existed as coiled celluloid, waiting to be freed by light.
One of these families were the four brothers Warner, whose creations they would not have described in the elegant prose of one of their their biographers, film historian/critic David Thompson, quoted above. Yet they gave us America’s quintessential celluloid tale, Casablanca.
Released November 26, 1942, the film’s debut neatly coincided with the November 8, 1942 Allied landing in North Africa, and the British stopping Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Corps at El Alamein on the same day (an event alluded to in Bogart’s next film, Sahara). The film opened in Los Angeles on Jan. 23, 1943, the penultimate day of the wartime Casablanca Conference featuring FDR and British PM Winston Churchill, noted for its demand for “unconditional surrender” by the Axis powers.
Yet its screen genesis was December 8, 1941, the day after America found itself at war. Suddenly, war films were in vogue.
Rick: “Sam, if it’s December 1941 in Casablanca, what time is it in New York?”
Sam: “Uh, my watch stopped.”
On May 1, 2016 the cast timeline of the film stopped for good, with the passage of the last surviving member of the credited cast of 22, the delectable Madeleine LeBeau, who plays Yvonne, a tempestuous beauty more enamored of Rick than vice-versa.
Yvonne: “Where were you last night?”
Rick: “That’s so long ago, I don’t remember.”
Yvonne: “Will I see you tonight?”
Rick: “I never make plans that far ahead.”
Madeleine came to the film with her real-life ex-husband Marcel Dalio, the great star of two Jean Renoir classics: The Gand Illusion (1937) and The Rules of the Game (1939). He plays Emil, the croupier:
Rick (to Jan): “Have you tried twenty-two tonight? I said twenty-two.”
Emil: “Vingt-deux, noir, vingt-deux!” Rick (to Jan): “Leave it there.” Emil: “Vingt-deux, noir, vingt-deux!”
Rick (to Jan): “Cash it in and don’t come back.”
Two months before the May 25 start of filming, screenwriter Philip Epstein’s wife lost 25 cents at a roulette wheel in Palm Springs, California. She cried so much that the croupier put her chips on 22, spun the wheel for 22, then told her never to come back.
Jan, played by Helmut Dantine, who at age 16 in 1938 was leader of the underground anti-Nazi resistance in Vienna, is married to Annina, played by Joy Page, daughter of Warner Bros. mogul Jack Warner.
She asks Rick if she should compromise her virtue to get exit visas:
Rick: “You want my advice?” Annina: “Oh yes, please.” Rick: “Go back to Bulgaria.”
But after Rick softens and saves the day, come moments for two other colorful comedic players, Hungarian S. J. (Cuddles) Sakall, who plays maitre d’ Carl—a role with more screen time than that for both Sydney Greenstreet (Sr. Ferrari) and Peter Lorre (Sr. Ugarte):
Customer: “You sure this place is honest?”
Carl: “Honest! As honest as the day is long!”
This inspires Leonid Kinskey, the Russian bartender Sascha (and an off-screen Bogart drinking buddy) to hug and kiss Rick:
Sascha: “Boss, you’ve done a beautiful thing.”
Rick: “Go away, you crazy Russian!”
The “vingt-deux” vignette had two real-life adventures behind it. Marcel Dalio married LeBeau in 1939; they fled France in June 1940, wending their way to the U.S. via Spain, Lisbon, then were stranded
in Mexico when their Chilean passports turned out to be forgeries; they got temporary Canadian passports and then crossed the border. And, as noted above, screenwriter Phillip Epstein’s wife’s loss of 25 cents—all of 46 cents in 2022—gave rise to the sentimental scene.
Which brings us to the script. Casablanca was, as most Hollywood scripts were then and now, a team effort—in this case, six. A young schoolteacher, Murray Burnett, traveling in Europe with his first wife saw virulent anti-Semitism in Vienna. When in France he visited a nightclub called La Belle Aurore, on the French Riviera, on the outskirts of Nice, and exclaimed: “What a setting for a play!” Inside the club, a black jazz pianist played for an international clientele.
Upon his return Burnett teamed up with Joan Alison, soon to be his second wife, to write a play, Everybody Comes to Rick’s; Alison concocted the fictive “letters of transit device”—what Alfred Hitchcock called a “MacGufAin”—the key object of contention among the players.
The authors couldn’t find a producer, so they sold it to WB for
$20,000 ($366,000 today), the highest price to that date paid for an untested writer’s manuscript. The first reader at Warner read the script on Dec. 8, 1941, and on Dec. 31 Hal Wallis gave the film its final title, in homage to WB’s 1938 hit, Algiers. Instrumental in persuading Wallis to buy the play was the eventual film’s story editor, Irene Lee.
The play is darker than the film. Rick’s Paris fling is with his former paramour, American Lois Meredith, far from patriotic like Ilsa. In the end she seduces Rick for the letters of transit, and she departs with Victor Laszlo. Rick surrenders to Capt. Strasser in Capt. Luis Rinaldi’s presence. When we first see Sam in the play, he is playing Stardust. But in the film we first hear Sam in the lengthy first scene at Rick’s, playing It Had To Be You.
Four top screenwriters were brought in to doctor the script, each making different main contributions. Howard Koch wrote the patriotic dialogue, and polished the script. Paul Henreid thought the role of Laszlo ridiculous—spouting platitudes “in an immaculately clean white suit.” He felt it would ruin his budding career as a Hollywood romantic lead, having just played opposite Bette Davis in Now, Voyager. His agent, a young up-and-comer named Lew Wasserman,
persuaded him to do the film. Wasserman noted that Henreid, ardently anti-Nazi but an unknown in America, here on a work visa only, could be returned to Austria. Playing the resistance leader would give him anti-Nazi “street cred” during wartime. Henreid felt thereafter that the film did derail his path to top stardom.
Casey Robinson (uncredited) wrote the romantic parts; Robinson wanted his lady love, Tamara Toumanova, to get the female lead. She didn’t, but he married her. For her part, Toumanova went on to a star ballet career, and danced with Gene Kelly in Kelly’s 1957 film, Invitation to the Dance.
Comedic dialogue was the forte of the Epstein twins, Julius and Philip. Champion collegiate boxers in the late 1920s, they were a madcap pair. Jack Warner made all his employees fill out loyalty forms after Pearl Harbor, the first two questions of which asked if the form-filler had ever been a member of a subversive organization, and if so, what organization(s). To which the Epstein brothers wrote ”yes” to the first, and to the second they named Warner Brothers.
The autocratic Warner had given Wallis annual plenary authority over four selected films, with 1942 being the first year of their multi-year deal, a reward for all the great hits Wallis had produced. But for that deal, Bogart would not have played Rick Blaine. Warner wanted George Raft, but Wallis, though initially drawn to Raft, decided he wanted Bogart. A fortunate choice: Raft somehow would have seemed out of place giving Rick’s airport speech to Ilsa. In 1940 Raft, ironically, by Bogart’s career a needed boost: he turned down the role of reformed robber Roy “Mad Dog” Earle in 1940’s High Sierra, perhaps the greatest tragic gangster film ever made. Earle is sprung from prison by a dying gangster, who in return asks Earle to do bring adult supervision to one last job: supervising two dimwit hotheads and the girl they both covet. The robbery goes away, Earle wins the girl, but sacrifices his life for her.
Raft had a superstitious side: he never wanted his character to die in a film. So he turned the role down. (He did die in 1939’s Each Dawn I Die, the film that made him a WB star. So after attaining exalted status, he refused such roles.) This paved the way for Bogart, based upon his stellar performance in the film, to win the role of private-eye
Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon—another role Raft declined. His epic performance elevated him to eligibility to play Rick Blaine.
Which brings us to Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund. Bergman was already a star under contract to David O. Selznick, having made Intermezzo in 1939. Selznick not infrequently loaned his stars out to other studios, but controlled their use. Bergman was second choice for Ilsa. First choice Michelle Morgan wanted too much, and Wallis balked; Selznick loaned Bergman to Warner Bros. Born to a German mother and Swedish father, Bergman was largely apolitical, in stark contrast to many in the cast. Nor was she attracted to Bogie, of whom she said that she had kissed him but never knew him. Just before finishing Casablanca she learned that she had won the role she coveted above all, that of the young revolutionary partisan, Maria, in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Shooting for Casablanca was wrapped up August 3. An elated Bergman started work on FWTBT the next day.
For her role she had to have her lustrous hair cut short.
And that is why the song As Time Goes By made it into Casablanca. The film was to be scored by Max Steiner, a prodigy who completed the Vienna Imperial Academy of Music’s eight-year curriculum in a single year, and was already a major player. Among his credits were the scores for King Kong (1933) and Gone With the Wind (1939); for the latter Steiner composed Tara’s Theme, for many years the theme song for mid-century network television’s Million Dollar Movie. Steiner hated the song. When in October he began work on Casablanca, he told Wallis he would not use the song. But Bergman appears in four scenes in which parts of the song are played. Had her hair not been sheared for Bells she could have re-shot the scenes. Wallis would not accept a wig for a re-shoot, and it would have taken a year from the end of filming Bells for Bergman’s hair to grow back.
Wallis wanted to have his film in theaters in time for the holiday season, so he told Steiner to keep the song. Author Aljean Harmetz explains how Steiner responded to this directive in her 1992 book on the film, Round Up the Usual Suspects:
During one minute and forty-six seconds of underscoring, when Rick is saying goodbye to Ilsa, “As Time Goes By” is transformed emotionally from a tone of tragic loss to romantic love to
bittersweet resignation to a tragic and final climax as Ilsa and Lazlo turn their backs and walk toward the Lisbon plane.
To give one specific example of how much Steiner used multiple tunes and themes in a sequence there is the scene where Ilsa enters Rick’s after the Paris flashback, Steiner’s background became the medley Ilsa Returns (3:13). It includes 35 sec. of As Time Goes By; followed by 31 sec. of the theme Bitterness; 22 sec. of Victor Laslo’s Theme; 9 sec. of Agitato No. 1; 32 sec. of Ilsa’s Theme; and finally finishing with 7 sec. of La Marseillase.
The improbable journey of As Time Goes By to film immortality began inauspiciously in 1931, when a young songwriter named Herman Hupfeld (1894-1951) wrote music and lyrics; it was used in the 1931 revue, Everybody’s Welcome, which ran for 139 performances (Oct.
31, 1931-Feb. 13, 1932). Hupfeld had composed two other minor hits that decade, the top one being Ruba, You Rhumba with a Tuba. First sung on radio by Frances Williams, ATGB was recorded by, among others, torch singer Libby Holman and crooner Bing Crosby. First to record it was crooner Rudy Vallee, whose 1931 gramophone disc (3:31) includes the rarely sung verse.
In one of the many ironies surrounding the song’s history, in August 1942 the gangster head of the recording industry union, the American Federation of Musicians, appropriately named James Caesar Petrillo, lived up to his middle name. In a copyright royalty dispute over fees for playing commercial studio recordings on the air he banned radio performance of newly recorded commercial music. The ban lasted until the dispute was settled in May 1944. By that time, the film was long gone from theaters. During those 21 months only earlier recordings of the song could be played on radio. So while Holman and Crosby racked up royalties, as did composer Herman Hupfeld, Dooley Wilson was left out entirely.
Born Arthur Wilson, Wilson first achieved prominence performing in minstrel shows, made up in whiteface. His signature number was the Irish tune Mr. Dooley. Now billed as Dooley Wilson, he was not the first choice for the part of Sam. Both singer Lena Horne and pianist Hazel Scott were offered the role, but both turned it down. Wilson, for his part, was a singer who played a little drums but not a note of piano. The piano part was played offstage, by African-American
pianist Elliot Carpenter, best known for his role as pianist for acclaimed black orchestra leader James Reese Europe. You can see Dooley Wilson’s eyes looking offstage when he is ostensibly playing, so he can imitate Carpenter’s hand gestures. And when after the film Wilson showed up for a cabaret engagement in San Francisco, he asked the owner about his pianist. The owner had no idea Wilson did not play, and had to quickly find him an accompanist.
Rick: “You played it for her and you can play it for me.”
Sam: “Well, I don’t think I can remember it.” Rick: “If she can stand it, I can. Play it!” Sam: “Yes, boss.”
Perhaps saddest of all is that Wilson was one of two players associated with the film who hardly benefited at all. Wilson was long gone by the time what became a veritable cult of Bogart began April 21, 1957, at the Brattle Theater near Harvard, shortly after the actor’s death on January 14, 1957. Bogart festivals spread, and in New York City the art cinema houses began running them in the early 1960s.
The other sad tale is that of the great Conrad Veidt. A huge silent film star in the 1920s, Veidt made but a few American films, two in 1942 with Bogart (All Through the Night & Casablanca.) So anti-Nazi was Veidt that he donated all proceeds from his late films to British war relief. Veidt said of Major Strasser:
This role epitomizes the cruelty and the criminal instincts and murderous trickery of the typical Nazis. I know this man well. He is the reason I gave up Germany many years ago. He is a man who turned fanatic and betrayed his friends, his homeland, and himself in his lust to be somebody and to get something for nothing.
Alas, Veidt had little time to enjoy the fruits of his stellar portrayal. He dropped dead of a heart attack on an LA golf course in April 1943, a mere five months after the film’s release. Veidt did not even live to see the picture win three 1943 Oscars (Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Director), awarded March 2, 1944; nominated for eight awards, losers were Humphrey Bogart (Actor), Claude Rains (Supporting Actor), Max Steiner (Orchestration), Owen Marks (Editing), and Arthur Edeson (B&W Photography). Though released in
1942, the film did not play in LA until 1943, and thus was not eligible for the 1942 awards. One moment at the ceremony, matching clichés about Hollywood rivalry and ambition: when the Best Picture award was announced, Jack Warner, who had nothing to do with the decisions and guidance that made the film a smash, leaped up and ran to the stage to collect the award. Producer Hal Wallis, the true architect of the film, could only fume. He never forgave Warner, and left shortly thereafter to form his own independent company.
Other well-known players were luckier. Three of them were top supporting players who played sympathetic characters in Casablanca, instead of sinister types: Sydney Greenstreet as Signor Ferrari (vs. treacherous Kasper Gutman in The Maltese Falcon); Peter Lorre (born Laszlo Lowenstein in Hungary) as Signor Ugarte (vs. Joel Cairo in The Maltese Falcon); and Claude Rains (Capt.
Renault vs. Alexander Sebastian in Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious). All three were off-screen pals of Bogie.
After Rick, in Sr. Ugarte’s presence, bars a German would-be casino customer and tells him he’s lucky his cash is good at the bar. . . .
Sr. Ugarte: “Watching you just now with the Deutsches [sic] Bank, one would think you’d been doing this thing all your life.”
Rick: “Well, what makes you think I haven’t?”
Rick decides to leave Casablanca, planning to take Ilsa with him, and goes to the Blue Parrot to sell his place to Sr. Ferrari. . . .
Sr. Ferrari: “Shall we draw up papers, or is our handshake good enough?’
Rick: “It’s certainly not good enough. But since I’m in a hurry it’ll have to do.”
Sr. Ferrari: “Oh, to get out of Casablanca and go to America. You’re a lucky man!”
Rick: “Oh, by the way, my agreement with Sam’s always been that he gets twenty-five percent of the profits. That still goes.”
Ferrari: “Hm. I happen to know that he gets ten percent. But he’s worth twenty-five.”
The collaboration between idealist Koch and the cynical Epstein brothers is perfectly captured in this exchange between Rick and Ferrari; in response to Ferrari’s offer to buy the services of Sam:
Rick: “I don’t buy or sell human beings.”
Sr. Ferrari: “It’s too bad. That’s Casablanca’s leading commodity.”
The most dramatic moment in the film occurs when, after German officers lead by Major Strasser sing Wacht am Rhein at their café table, Victor Laszlo goes to the house orchestra. . . .
Laszlo: “Play ‘La Marseillaise!’ Play it!”
After Rick nods his approval to the orchestra the singing contest begins, with French patriotism winning the night.
Yvonne: “Vive la France! Vive la democracie!”
Crowd: “Vive la France! Vive la democracie!”
Upon Le Beau’s death, the French culture minister said, referring to her singing the anthem, “She will forever be the face of the French resistance.” Penned days after King Louis XVI declared war on the French revolutionaries, Rouget De Lisle’s 1792 composition, was composed at the Strasbourg Garrison, where the army prepared to march to the frontier; it was originally titled Chant de Guerre de l’Armée du Rhin”(Song of War of the Army of the Rhine). The song gained its iconic La Marseillaise title later, when federal guards from Montpellier brought it through Marseille en route to Paris.
Director Michael Curtiz (1886-1962) was Wallis’s fourth choice. An especially versatile director, and the artistic force who shaped the Paris flashback, Curtiz was a vulgar slave driver on the set who hated and bullied actors, save those too big a star for him to do so, like Bogart. Yet he treated Bergman, not yet a full-fledged star, regally. A Hungarian expatriate, he barely spoke English, and his malapropisms were legendary. On one set, angered that it had taken too long for a Cola-Cola to be brought to him, he exploded: “Next time I send some dumb son-of-a-bitch for Coca-Cola, I go myself!” But his camera work was top-notch, and he used rapid pace to deny viewers time to assess plot credibility. Curtiz used Café New York as a model for Rick’s Café Américain.
The climactic airport scene was shot on a Warner sound stage, using miniatures for the planes and tower. Van Nuys Metropolitan Airport, outside Los Angeles, could not be used for shooting after dark due to wartime blackout rules, but it was used for the daylight scene in the beginning, when Major Strasser arrives and is met by Capt. Renault.
The special effects wizards generated the fog from off the sound stage. Aside from lending an aura of mystery and suspense to the scene, the fog was needed to make it hard to see that the balsa wood prop plane and hangars were so small and decrepit. The fog sacrificed verisimilitude: Casablanca’s airport is virtually fog-free.
The Epstein brothers came up with key to the resolution of the plot in a daytime epiphany while tooling around Beverly Hills, turning to each other—they often finished each other’s sentences—and exclaiming: “Round up the usual suspects!”
The original script’s ending—drawn from the play script—was unacceptable to censors and unlikely to appeal to audiences: (a) Rick’s lady was playing the field, so to speak; (b) Rick is arrested by Major Strasser (a mere captain in the play); (c) Renault goes with Vichy, turning Rick over to Strasser; (d) Victor Laszlo is not a charismatic leader, but merely a courier with lots of money the Nazis covet.
It became clear that Ilsa would have to wind up with Laszlo, and Rick would need a reason for letting her go. What emerged was that Ilsa loved Rick romantically—recall at the end of the scene in La Belle Aurore, when Ilsa implores Rick (0:57), knowing she will not board the train to join him—“Kiss me. Kiss me as if it were the last time.” But at the end, though adoring her husband spiritually she recognizes—as Rick does at the airport—that her husband needs her:
Ilsa: “You’re saying this only to make me go.”
Rick: “I’m saying it because it’s true. Inside of us we can both know you belong with Victor. You’re part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you are not with him, you’ll regret it.”
Rick: “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.”
Ilsa: “But what about us?”
Rick: “We’ll always have Paris. We didn’t have it, we’d lost it, until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.”
Ilsa: “And I said I would never leave you!”
Rick: “And you never will. But I’ve got a job to do, too. Where I’m going you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of. Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that. Not now. Here’s looking at you, kid.”
Laszlo closes the deal (3:50–Laszlo starts at 2:25):
Laszlo: “Everything is in order?”
Rick: “All except one thing. There’s something you should know before you leave.”
Laszlo: “Monsieur Blaine, I don’t ask you to explain anything.” Rick: “I’m going to anyway, because someday it may make a difference to you later on. You said you knew about Ilsa and me.
Rick: “But you didn’t know she was at my place when you were. She came here for the letters of transit. Isn’t that right, Ilsa?”
Rick: “She tried everything to get them, and nothing worked. She did her best to convince me that she was still I love with me, but that was all over long ago. For your sake, she pretended it wasn’t, and I let her pretend.”
Laszlo: “I understand.”
Rick: (presenting the letters of transit) “Here it is.”
Laszlo: “Thanks. I appreciate it. And welcome back to the fight. This time I know our side will win.”
Laszlo: “Are you ready, Ilsa?”
Ilsa: Yes’ I’m ready.”
“Goodbye Rick. God bless you.”
Rick: “You better hurry, or you’ll miss that plane.”
Strasser, tipped off by Renault, arrives at the airport, only to get his (1:07). The censors would not allow Rick to shoot Strasser in cold blood. So Strasser shoots first, but not straightest.
Capt. Renault switches to the good side, as the gendarmes arrive at the airport:
Gendarme: “Mon Capitaine!”
Renault: “Major Strasser’s been shot. Round up the usual suspects.”
Gendarme: “Oui, mon Capitaine.”
Renault and Rick decide their future (3:27):
Renault: “Well, Rick, you’re not only a sentimentalist, but you’ve become a patriot.”
Rick: Maybe, but it seemed like a good time to start.”
Renault: “I think you’re right.”
Producer Hal Wallis—who had come up with the idea of using a spinning globe to narrate the underlying conflict and set the stage for the plot to unfold—also came up with the final line:
Rick: “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
Casablanca benefited from many serendipitous factors. One was that so many talented refugees had fled the Nazis—Warner’s bragged that there were 34 nationalities represented in the making of the film. Of the 22 billed cast, 18 were foreign (American-born: Humphrey Bogart, Arthur “Dooley” Wilson, Joy Page and Corinna Mura). Several top players had been major stars in their home countries. They had to start all over in America, and in some cases took roles that otherwise might have gone to lesser talents. Another huge factor is dialogue that crackles.
Many of us are familiar with Woody Allen’s amusing 1972 film tribute to Bogart, “Play It Again, Sam”—a phrase never actually uttered by any character in the film or the play. But in 1975 Tony Bennett recorded “Play It Again, Sam” as an original song tribute. And in 1992
Michael Walsh published a prequel/sequel version, As Time Goes By; the novel tracks the lead characters lives before the film and then how they collaborate to assassinate SS chief Reinhard Heydrich, who was killed by Czech partisans June 4, 1942. That date was after the December 1941 fictional setting for the film, but during the actual period when the film was made.
Hollywood Flunks a Film Quiz. In 1982 a freelance writer, Chuck Ross, retyped the final Casablanca script and sent it to 217 agencies under the original play title Everybody Comes to Rick’s. He changed the Dooley Wilson character’s name from Sam to Dooley. His tally: 90 agencies returned the script unread; 33 recognized the script; 8 others thought it “similar” to Casablanca; and 38 rejected it after reading.
Was There a “Real” Rick Blaine? In 2018, Mark Cohen, author of acclaimed biographies of comedian Alan Sherman (“Overweight Sensation: the Life and Comedy of Allan Sherman”) and showman Billy Rose (“Not Bad for Delancey Street: the Rise of Billy Rose”), the latter easily the definitive biography of America’s greatest mid-century impressario.
Full disclosure: It happens that I knew Billy Rose in my youth, as he and my parents were close friends. To me, his was an avuncular presence; his storied Upper East Side townhouse, less than a block from my parents’ apartment, was an architectural and interior decorative marvel. I spent several Christmas season evenings there, and also went to parties from time to time. I shared my memories of Billy Rose with Marc over an enjoyable D.C. lunch. In 2018 Marc posted online his evidence that he believes made Rose the real-life model for Rick:
Burnett and Alison sold “Everybody Comes to Rick’s,” their unpublished and unproduced play, to Warner Bro.[ on December 28, 1941, and in less than a year the Hollywood studio turned it into “Casablanca,” which opened on November 26, 1942. In “The Making of Casablanca,” Aljean Harmetz emphasizes that “much of the raw material of ‘Casablanca’ can be found in the three acts of ‘Everybody Comes to Rick’s.’” And in “We’ll Always Have Casablanca,” Noah Isenberg says that the play supplied much of the movie’s dialogue and scenes and nearly all its characters, including Rick, “the cynical saloon keeper.” So who was Rick based on? Was there, in the New York of 1938–40, a cynical
nightclub owner whose toughness was joined by a concern for Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi oppression? The answer to that one is easy: Billy Rose. Rose was the real Rick Blaine, and Rose’s Casa Mañana was the real Rick’s Café Américain.
Marc draws parallels from news articles about Rose—a café frequented by exiles, singing the French anthem, similar eyes, and concludes: “Hard as nails in a business deal, he is a sentimentalist at heart. An old song will raise a lump in his throat.” I wouldn’t have made the connection, but then again Marc did brilliant, voluminous research for his book, and I never knew about the Casa Mañana.
Nobel Laureate novelist Saul Bellow published a novella, “The Bellarosa Connection”, with one of its two major characters based on Billy Rose. It tells a story of how Rose rescued one refugee from the Nazis, using his money and connections with the Italian Underground,
Which brings us full circle, back to Bogie’s Rick, and his storied café, as to why he came (1:09) to Casablanca:
Capt. Renault: “I have often speculated why you don’t return to America. Did you abscond with the church funds? Did you run off with a senator’s wife? I like to think you killed a man. It’s the romantic in me.”
Rick: “It was a combination of all three.”
Capt. Renault: “And what in Heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca?”
Rick: “My health. I came here for the waters.”
Capt. Renault: “The waters? What waters? We are in the desert.”
Rick: “I was misinformed.”
Actually, Rick, you were right. Casablanca sits on the west coast of Morocco. Stretching westward from the beach are the vast waters of the Atlantic Ocean. And you can bet Louie 20,000 francs—uh, Euros.
What We Have Lost. Screenwriter Howard Koch wrote in 1992 about what is gone, never to return:
Casablanca is how we thought we were, all right, a pure explication of the mood in which we entered World War II and a
greater distance than Mars from the way we eventually came out of it, seduced by power, corrupted by affluence.
It was good to go back to those days when, despite all out faults, we still believed in outgrown basic virtue. If today we are lost and by the wind grieved, it helps some to see us at a time when we were not, when the hope of truth and good and a positive affirmation was not so far away as the grim reality of today makes them seem.
A quarter-century earlier, Simon & Garfunkel, famed lyrics anticipated America’s cultural collapse:
Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you . . . What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson ‘Joltin Joe’ has left and gone away . . . .
Like Joltin’ Joe, Rick Blaine has left us too.
A Personal Casablanca Note. I was the first patron—and perhaps still the only one—to have played “As Time Goes By” in Rick’s Café, Casablanca. Rick’s was opened in 2004 by an American ex-attaché, Kathy Kriger. She confirmed to me my first-patron ATGB-player status when I played there on March 18, 2007. The piano, a lovely cherry- wood Pleyel baby grand ca. 1935, sounded better than either of the two Steinway uprights used in the film, that have sold at auction for princely sums (one in 2014, for $3.4 million; one in 2012, for $600,000).
It was touch and go as to whether I would be allowed to play. Since departing Orlando 21 days earlier with 84 other globetrotters we’d arrived at the penultimate destination on our journey, which was to end in less than 24 hours. We’d had our final farewell celebration party earlier in the evening in Marrakech, and only were in Casablanca, not originally on the itinerary, because Homeland Security would not allow flights originating from Marrakech to land in the U.S. We had to originate from a secure airport. Casablanca, only 20 minutes flying from Marrakech, became our port of embarkation. We were to be there less than 24 hours. Over the previous three weeks the TCS staff had repeatedly importuned the owner to allow me to play, but she had a standing policy against guests playing. She
persisted even when we called as we left the airport telling her that 30 guests would come to her café for a drink. She consented only to stay open past normal closing time.
The pianist, Issam Chabka, was finishing his final set. One of my compatriots, exceptionally charming, persuaded Madame Rick to relent. I quickly stepped up and played ATGB. After finishing, I joined Mme. Rick and Issam at the bar; she told me her fear was that someone would sit down and play “Chopsticks.”
Five years later friends of mine visited the cafe, met her and asked about my star turn. She told them that no one else had gotten permission. So they called me and I pushed ATGB from my Steinway Model “A” grand into my cellphone, giving her a transatlantic reprise.
A Closing Prayer, “As Time Goes By.” As Rick and Ilsa will “always have Paris,” may we, forever after, “always have” Casablanca.
SONGS PRESENTED (PLAYS & FILMS)
As Time Goes By (Herman Hupfeld, 1931); La Marseillaise (Rouget de Lisle, 1792); Stardust (Hoagy Carmichael, 1929); It Had to be You (Isham Jones, 1924); Perfidia (Alberto Dominguez, 1939);
Shine (Ford Dabney & Lew Brown & Cecil Mack, 1910); Knock on Wood (M.K Jerome & Jack Scholl, 1942); Baby Face (Harry Akst & Benny Davis, 1926); Avalon (Al Jolson, Buddy de Silva & Vincent Rose, 1922); Sweet Georgia Brown (Ben Bernie, Maceo Pinkard & Kenneth Casey, 1925); If I could Be With You One Hour Tonight (James P. Johnson & Henry Creamer, ); Love for Sale (Cole Porter, 1930); Crazy Rhythm (Irving Caesar, Joseph Meyer & Roger Wolfe Kahn, 1928); I’m Just Wild About Harry (Eubie Blake & Noble Sissle1921); You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby (Harry Warren & Johnny Mercer, 1938); Speak to Me of Love (Robert Maurice Lenoir & Bruce Sievier, 1930); Tabu (Margarita Lecuona,1934); Tango des Roses (Filippo Schreier-Aldo Bottero, 1928); The Very Thought of You (Ray Noble, 1934); Heaven Can Wait (Jimmy van Heusen & Eddie de Lange, 1939).
Humphrey Bogart: The Essential Collection (12 DVDs); introduction by Lauren Bacall; commentaries by Rudy Behlmer & Roger Ebert.
Vincent’s Casablanca homepage; one-stop website that offers many links, including a film script pdf.
Casablanca McGady,net homepage & minor character sub-pages. Play It Again, Sam (1972): Woody Allen’s classic Bogart psychiatric send-up.
The Man With Bogart’s Face (1980)
Little known, quite funny send-up of private eye Bogie roles. Aljean Harmetz, Round Up the Usual Suspects: The Making of
Casablanca—Bogart, Bergman and World War II (1992) Perhaps the most comprehensive single source on the film.
Frank Miller, Casablanca: As Time Goes By (1993, 50th anniversary commemorative ed.) Lavishly illustrated, inside dope.
Jeff Siegel, The Casablanca Companion (1992) Compact summary. Howard Koch, Casablanca: Script and Legend (1973, rev. 1992) The full script, plus essays, from a key Casablanca screenwriter.
Rick’s Café, Casablanca: The Legend Continues (2006) Glossy photos, plus fascinating text from Madame Rick’s Casablanca club, from idea through the pangs of creation and happy finale.
Will Friedwald, Stardust Melodies: A Biography of Twelve of America’s Most Popular Songs (2002) Includes As Time Goes By. Steven C. Smith, Max Steiner: Composing, “Casablanca,” and the Golden Age of Film Music (2014) Film scoring history, Steiner’s bio—including his key role in shaping film scoring; and musical analysis of three major scored scenes.
Michael Walsh, As Time Goes By (1998) A literary sequel. What happens to Rick, Ilsa, Victor, Louis, Sam, Carl, Sascha, Emil, Abdul, Sr. Ferrari and, of course, to Rick’s Café Americain.
Hal Wallis, Starmaker (1980).
Rudy Behlmer, Behind the Scenes (1989). Casablanca Photo Book (actual publication date not given).
David Thompson, Warner Bros: The Making of an American Movie Studio
Noah Isenberg, We’ll Always Have Casablanca (2017).
Ronald Haver, Casablanca: The Unexpected Classic (posted 1/11/89).
Max Steiner: Orchestrating
Steiner had three close collaborators who turned his notated abbreviated scores into full orchestrated scores: Bernard Kaun (RKO, 1932-36); Hugo Friedhofer (Selznick Intl. & WB, 1936-47); and Murray Cutter (WB, 1947-64). (Composing, Casablanca, and the Film
Music of the Golden Age, The International Film Society, Equinox Online, 2022)
During the creation of the Casablanca score, Hugo Friedhofer advised Steiner to use a triplet phrasing for the song “As Time Goes By.” He recalled that Max thought of the song “as being a kind of a square tune, which requires translation from what’s in the printed piano part to a more relaxed version. So, I say this with all modesty, I said, ‘Max, think of it that way’ [sings]. With triplet phrasing. He kind of thought about it, and that’s the way it came out.” (Smith, 284) Steiner, who told his wife re ATGB” They have the “lousiest tune,, they already have recorded it, and they want me to use it.” Steiner nonetheless put it to excellent use, with 24 scoring variations.
ATGB as originally composed by Herman Hupfeld had not only the standard 32-bar AABA for the chorus; it also has a 12-bar verse preceding it, which often is not included in singing or playing popular songs, and it not played in Casablanca. Like many verses, it is derived from opera “recitative” form: it features a long string of largely repetitive notes, that without lyrics would strain the listener; these are used because everything in classical opera (think: Puccini) or light operetta (think Gilbert & Sullivan) must be sung. The chorus stems from the medieval troubadours who serenaded their loves (think singing on the street below the loved one’s balcony).
Steiner’s score uses the “A” section, with the “B” bridge sung by Dooley Wilson in the La Belle Aurore portion of the Paris flashback. Steiner employed two techniques critical to his scoring: (a) “Mickey- Mousing”—film argot for matching music precisely by frame, as indicated by click marks in the film video recording; (b) leitmotif— derived from classical opera and ballet, with major characters matched to a musical signature theme. But in film scores it also can be used in a third context: indicating time and place. This third use is illustrated by the climactic musical moment in Casablanca: the dueling choruses of Die Wacht am Rhein (“The Watch on the Rhine”), an 1840 German patriotic anthem, sung by the Nazis and led by Major Strasser, and the pro-French patrons, led by Victor Lazslo, singing La Marseillaise with the orchestra in Rick’s cafe. The musical allegory is clear: good will triumph over evil.
When ATGB is played in Rick’s cafe, we learn much about Ilsa and Rick’s romance in Paris, and its untimely end. Per composer George Antheil, a music theme can not only signal prior relationships; it can also presage what is to come: “The characters in a film drama never know what is going to happen to them, but the music always knows.”
Steiner’s score, although not rewarded with another Oscar, was praised highly by celebrated classic conductor Leopold Stokowski (who saw the picture three times, and judged Steiner’s score is equal to any film scores he had composed); director Michael Curtiz (“perfectly catching all moods and drama”); and producer Hal Wallis (“impassioned , , , it showed in his work”). Steiner also won high praise from the formidable Oscar-winning dramatic actress Bette Davis: “Max understood more about drama than any of us.”
It’s still the same old story A fight for love and glory A case of do or die
The world will always welcome lovers As time goes by.
Here’s looking at you, Rick & Ilsa, then, now and forever.
John C. Wohlstetter is the author of Sleepwalking With The Bomb, Discovery Institute Press, 2d. ed., 2014)