Casablanca (1942)
November 3, 2015 4:08 PM - Subscribe

Set in Casablanca, Morocco during the early days of World War II: An American expatriate meets a former lover, with unforeseen complications.

Extensive Goofs and Triva items at IMDb provide delightful background reading.

AMC's Filmsite has much information about this classic film, here's a taste:

"Directed by the talented Hungarian-accented Michael Curtiz and shot almost entirely on studio sets, the film moves quickly through a surprisingly tightly constructed plot, even though the script was written from day to day as the filming progressed and no one knew how the film would end - who would use the two exit visas? [Would Ilsa, Rick's lover from a past romance in Paris, depart with him or leave with her husband Victor, the leader of the underground resistance movement?] And three weeks after shooting ended, producer Hal Wallis contributed the film's famous final line - delivered on a fog-shrouded runway.

"The sentimental love story, originally structured as a one-set play, was based on an unproduced play entitled Everybody Comes to Rick's by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison - the film's original title. Its collaborative screenplay was mainly the result of the efforts of Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch. In all, six writers took the play's script, and with the models of Algiers (1938) and Only Angels Have Wings (1939) to follow, they transformed the romantic tale into this quintessential classic that samples almost every film genre.

"Except for the initial airport sequence, the entire studio-oriented film was shot in a Warner Bros. Hollywood/Burbank studio. Many other 40s stars were considered for the lead roles: Hedy Lamarr, 'Oomph Girl' Ann Sheridan, French actress Michele Morgan, and George Raft.

"[It's an 'urban legend' that Ronald Reagan was seriously considered for a role in the film. The Warner Bros. publicity office famously planted a pre-production press release in The Hollywood Reporter on January 5, 1942 (it was also released to dozens of newspapers across the country two days later), stating that Reagan would co-star with Ann Sheridan for the third time in Casablanca (1942) - in order to actually encourage support for the soon-to-be-released film Kings Row (1942) with the two stars.]

"And pianist Sam's role (portrayed by 'Dooley' Wilson - who was actually a drummer) was originally to be taken by a female (either Hazel Scott, Lena Horne, or Ella Fitzgerald). The lead male part went to Humphrey Bogart in his first romantic lead as the tough and cynical on-the-outside, morally-principled, sentimental on-the-inside cafe owner in Casablanca, Morocco. His appearance with co-star Ingrid Bergman was their first - and last. As a hardened American expatriate, Bogart runs a bar/casino (Rick's Cafe Americain) - a way-station to freedom in WWII French-occupied Morocco, where a former lover (Bergman) who previously 'jilted' him comes back into his life. She is married to a heroic French Resistance leader (Henreid). Stubbornly isolationist, the hero is inspired to support the Resistance movement and give up personal happiness with his past love.

"The Hollywood fairy-tale was actually filmed during a time of US ties with Vichy France when President Roosevelt equivocated and vacillated between pro-Vichy or pro-Gaullist support. And it was rushed into general release almost three weeks after the Allied landing at the Axis-occupied, North African city of Casablanca, when Eisenhower's forces marched into the African city. Due to the military action, Warner Bros. Studios was able to capitalize on the free publicity and the nation's familiarity with the city's name when the film opened."

Much more here; Wikipedia of course has good reading on this film.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (37 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
One of the classics that really is classic, great movie.
posted by Chrysostom at 4:59 PM on November 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Play it again, Sam.
posted by Bringer Tom at 5:58 PM on November 3, 2015

Play it again
posted by sammyo at 5:58 PM on November 3, 2015

I saw this film for the first time when I was in eighth grade on a class trip. I don't know what our teachers were thinking: most of it flew over our heads. I had a resentment against classic cinema for a few years after that. It took "White Heat" and "Double Indemnity" to turn the tide.

Whew. Glad I could rewatch this movie as a "grownup." What really appeals to me now? Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, the singing of the Marseillaise. Such a smart screenplay and unbelievable cast.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 5:59 PM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Claude Rains was having a great deal of fun on camera. I love him.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:04 PM on November 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

There are a lot of classic movies that fall victim to what I've called the Hitchcock Recurrence (when my then-spouse first watched a bunch of Hitchcock movies with me, their reaction was "Oh, I have seen these -- they just weren't Hitchcock movies when I saw them") -- even if you've never seen them, you've essentially seen them, just because you've seen the innovations they introduced or the parodies they inspired or the references they spun off. So sometimes, when you see one, you recognize that it's good, but it doesn't really grab you, like the second time you saw a film that relies on a twist too heavily.

But this one? Nope. It's been thoroughly dissected and constantly spoofed and lovingly incorporated and misquoted so many times that the quotes somehow feel more real than the actual lines, and yet... every goddamn time he lets her go, I die.
posted by Etrigan at 6:17 PM on November 3, 2015 [16 favorites]

Incredible film. Would you believe it was remade 50 years later as Barb Wire, with Pam Anderson in the Bogart role?? Needless to say, it was terrible.
posted by ubiquity at 6:19 PM on November 3, 2015

I once spent a week with an animator storyboarding a TV show. The room had an enormous rear-projection screen and for the entire week, the only thing we had on was Casablanca. We became quite intimate with the film. There's a lot going on in that movie, and it's all done really well and very economically. It's a real masterclass on movie making in the old studio factory system.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:56 PM on November 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

"Play la Marseillaise. Play it."

Gets me every time.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:04 PM on November 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

This movie also contributed one of my favorite anecdotes from film school. It's apocryphal, and probably too good to be true. but supposedly at one point Bogart was not happy at all about the way a scene was being done - he thought it was too static and talky and went on too long.

Finally, he supposedly said to Curtiz, "Look, if we have to do it this way, at least put two camels fucking in the background so the people have something to look at."

So in our critiques, "2 camels" or "you need some camels here" became shorthand for, "your scene is too much talking heads dialog and nothing's really happening."
posted by Naberius at 7:56 PM on November 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

"Play la Marseillaise. Play it." (Version Originale)
posted by Omon Ra at 8:16 PM on November 3, 2015

This movie is almost hard to discuss because it's so perfect. Humphrey Bogart may well be my favorite actor of all time and I'll watch pretty much anything he's in, but I'm always especially glad if that "anything" happens to be Casablanca or Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
posted by town of cats at 9:09 PM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Three little factoids I adore:

* In the Paris flashback Rick and Ilsa go for a drive, and at one point the rear projected background behind the car actually changes in the middle of the scene. I assume it was a mistake, but perhaps not. It gives that whole sequence an extra dreamy quality. (You can see it here at about the 15-second mark.)

* Corinna Mura, the woman playing the guitar and singing "La Marseillaise", was Edward Gorey's stepmother.

* In the final scene at the airport, the men working on the plane in the background were little people working on a cardboard plane. That's pretty widely known by now, but I find it endlessly delightful.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:55 PM on November 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was going through old papers a while back and found a review of Casablanca I wrote when I was 14. Apparently I hated the movie. I don't remember when I finally started seeing sense or what the movie's crime was; I'm guessing not enough Peter Lorre.
posted by thetortoise at 10:22 PM on November 3, 2015

One of the very best. (Plot holes be damned!) Some of the sharpest, wittiest dialog ever. The most glaring exception ever to the warning against starting to shoot without a completed script. Perfect casting from top to bottom. Bergman may have griped about not knowing how to play it, but her dilemma adds to the ending's punch. I love this movie and plead with people that they must see it.
posted by pmurray63 at 11:03 PM on November 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

I've seen Casablanca probably close to 100 times. Somewhere in the middle of all those times, I saw it with a big audience in a proper movie theatre and learned something I hadn't realized when I watched it alone or with one or two people: it's really funny. I had never noticed just how many great laugh lines there are in it. None of the laughs undercut the drama though, it's just that all the supporting players happen to be very funny.

The other big revelation for me came when they released the Special Edition restored DVD (the one with the Ebert commentary). I was blown away by that restoration. It was flawless, beautiful, silver and black and I'm really glad to live in a time where that sort of thing is possible. Also Ebert's commentary is one of the best commentary tracks ever.
posted by wabbittwax at 4:46 AM on November 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

I have always wondered why American expatriates don't create little versions of America wherever they go, in the same way that there are Koreatowns or China Towns or Mexican neighborhoods in America. It's probably unnecessary, as we have so thoroughly colonized the world with American stuff that everywhere is sort of like America.

But Rick's Cafe Americain is close. And I love the fact that Bogie's expatriate American bar is jazz, champagne cocktails, white double breasted dinner jackets, and pretty much nothing else. It's a strange, minimal summary of America, but, then, the patrons are mostly Europeans trying to get to America, and I suspect Rick is showing them the America they hope to see.
posted by maxsparber at 6:09 AM on November 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

I have always wondered why American expatriates don't create little versions of America wherever they go, in the same way that there are Koreatowns or China Towns or Mexican neighborhoods in America.

There are a few reasons (in addition to your point that, culturally speaking, America has taken care of that for them). First and foremost, there aren't as many of them. There's some version of a "critical mass" of immigrants to a particular place necessary to form a cohesive, noticeable Koreatown/Chinatown. Americans don't tend to cluster up like that in most places. Second, it takes a while to form these places. NYC's Chinatown is considered to have started in the 1870s, but took about 100 years to really become Chinatown. But mostly, it's because Americans tend to live in other countries temporarily. I've lived in several different types of American enclaves (military bases and their surrounding communities in Europe; oil companies in Egypt, etc.), and the vast majority of Americans who live -- even long-term, full-time -- in these places are planning to move back to America some day. Or their kids are. And the ones who aren't planning to go back to America have so fully assimilated into the local scene that they wouldn't dream of starting "Bob's American Restaurant" or agitating for signs in English.
posted by Etrigan at 6:30 AM on November 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

it's really funny. I had never noticed just how many great laugh lines there are in it.

Not just lines. Acting, too. For instance, the scene where Renault closes Ricks because he's "shocked to find gambling". And, then, Emil comes out to give Louie his winnings. Watch in the background...The look Rick shoots at Emil is drop-dead hilarious. You can practically hear Rick saying "WTF, Emil???"

In general, the movie is chock-full of talented professionals doing what they're paid to do at their best.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:31 AM on November 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

One of my favorite movies, too. I remember the first time I watched it, when I was in high school, and I just kept thinking "Oh, so that's where that line comes from." A true classic.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:10 PM on November 4, 2015

Everyime I watch this movie, I wanna track down (on ebay) that big freaking grease pencil he uses to sign his name on the check. I always figured it was something they grabbed from the art department...because who uses those in real life? Unless, of course it was a thing and I'm just not aware.

The thunk it makes when he drops it back on the table is one of my fave foley sounds, ever.
posted by valkane at 1:42 PM on November 4, 2015

It probably was just a thing, on further thought, like the Bogart-era version of a Sharpie.
posted by valkane at 1:44 PM on November 4, 2015

A true classic.

I think we have our first Old Timey Movie Club repeat appearance with Peter Lorre as Ugarte? He appeared earlier as Dr. Einstein in Arsenic and Old Lace.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 1:57 PM on November 4, 2015

Like many others here, I love this movie. But one of the things I really adore about it is how well developed the minor characters are. They seem like fully fleshed out characters, even if they only have one scene or a few lines. It's a really nice bit of writing and acting all around. Take Sascha -- between "I love you, but he pays me" and "You have done a beautiful thing," you get a really good sense of him as a multi-faceted being. In a lesser movie, he'd just be a flirtatious bartender.

Also, Capt. Rennault is the best character in this movie. I get that Rick has the brooding, sarcastic anti-hero appeal, but Capt. Rennault is the character I've always had a crush on.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 2:34 PM on November 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

True Story: I first saw this movie as a tween, and was distracted by looking for the "boy" that Ilsa had mentioned. It wasn't until I was a little bit older and a little bit more familiar with how race plays out in America that I realized that she was talking about a man 29 years her senior.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 4:38 PM on November 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Everyone always remembers the "shocked, shocked to discover gambling" sequence, but the film is full of great lines:

Renault: What brought you to Casablanca?
Rick: I came for the waters.
Renault: What waters? We're in the desert.
Rick: I was misinformed.

Ugarte: You despise me, don't you, Rick?
Rick: I suppose if I gave you any thought, I would.

Herr: Liebchen -- what watch?
Frau: Ten watch.
Herr: Such much?
*  *  *

I was going to point out -- but you can read the details in Wiccuh Peedia and DB, therefore IM-- that many (most?) of the cast were European actors, and many of them were exiles and refugees. Most of the Nazi soldiers were Jews (see also Hogan's Heroes). Conrad Veidt actually had an arrest order out for him when he escaped to America.
*  *  *

Several sources claim that Dooley Wilson was the only person involved with the production who had actually ever been to Casablanca, though I haven't found one that says when, how, or why, though presumably it was while on tour with his band in the 1920s.

Wilson lives on, dispensing arcane wisdom and posing insoluble riddles as Mojo Sam, non-piano playing American expat devotee of yoodoo* in ZBS Media's Moon Over Morocco series. Sam also shows up wherever the going gets weird in other ZBS series, often far from Morocco.

* A discipline combining yoga and voodoo, natch.
posted by Herodios at 2:17 PM on November 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm having a hard time finding a cite for this, but isn't it the case that a Café American refers to a style of bar or café in Parisian French, and not a refuge for American expats?
posted by chrchr at 10:27 AM on November 6, 2015

La Marseillaise is the greatest national anthem going, and they used it so perfectly here.
posted by dry white toast at 3:17 PM on November 6, 2015

Herodios, is the line "Such much"? I always remembered it as, "Ach, such watch!"
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:12 PM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ugarte: You despise me, don't you, Rick?

The best thing about this line is Peter Lorre's delivery makes it sound like he'd be heartbroken if Rick said no.
posted by wabbittwax at 11:02 AM on November 7, 2015

Herodios, is the line "Such much"?

posted by Herodios at 7:09 AM on November 9, 2015

I still say "Ach, such watch?" I'm going to pretend it isn't "such much."

Most of the funny bits that I remember are Renault's. (If I were a woman, and if *I* were not here...) but this one between Rick and the desperate Bulgarian woman is funny because I didn't catch it the first time:

Young Woman: I came with Captain Renault.
Rick: I should've known...
Young Woman: My husband is with me too.
Rick: Oh, he is? Captain Renault is getting broad-minded.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:48 AM on November 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Ebert has an essay somewhere speculating on Renault's sexuality because of lines like that, doesn't he?
posted by thetortoise at 12:30 PM on November 13, 2015

I'm going to pretend it isn't "such much"

Oh, well, since it seems we're still talking about it, here's some more information that might help.

So the gag in the scene is not that the Leuchtags* have lost their minds, but that they've been studying English by translating word-for-word, and speak in literal translation from German, which misses the differences in idioms -- idii? -- in how individual languages are idiomatically spoken in the real world.

Herr Leuchtag starts out by addressing Frau Leuchtag by a badly translated endearment. First "Leibchen", then 'correcting' himself switches to 'English' -- "Sweetnessheart". So we're all set up.

In German, /uhr/ is either clock or watch.** You can see the etymological relationship between English /hour/ and German /uhr/. At some point, the term came to refer to a unit of or position in time in English, but to a time-piece in German. In some European languages, the word for time / hour and timepiece are the same.

In English we ask, "What is the time?" or "What time is it?" and answer "Ten o'clock" -- an idiom for "ten of the clock".

In German we ask, "Wieviel Uhr (ist es)"? and anwer "Zehn Uhr".***

Well you can see where this is going. Herr Leuchtag more or less translates his question word-for-word into English the way he'd've asked it in German:

"Wieviel uhr?" ("What's of the clock?") >> "What watch?"

Frau Leuchtag answers in kind (she happens to be wearing a watch not a clock, so):

"Zehn uhr." ("Ten of the clock.") >> "Ten watch."

Herr Leuchtag responds, again, using a German idiom translated into English word-for-word:

"Soviel?!" ("So much?!", or in this context, "Is it really so late?!") >> "Such much?!"

"Such watch", I believe, wouldn't be a common idiom in either language.

Now, what I'd like cleared up is why earlier in the scene does Herr Leuchtag refer to his wife as "Mareichtag"?


* Which, near as I can figure, translates to "Lightbulb-day".
** In modern German "hour" = /stunde/.
*** This movie was released in 1942; I haven't really looked into German much since the 1970s, at which time as far as I know, everyday Germans still asked "Wieviel Uhr?" and answered "Zehn Uhr." It's possible that usage may have changed since then.
posted by Herodios at 1:46 PM on November 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Thanks, Herodios. It makes sense like that, and makes me wonder if it was based on something that really happened, if somebody's grandfather used to talk about it being "ten watch" or something. It's a funny scene, but you really feel for those poor sweeties. They're a bit of comedic relief, but at the same time you know they're gonna have a tough time of it.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:22 PM on November 13, 2015

Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon were a couple of my dad's regular Sunday afternoon movie choices when I was a kid, so I grew up with this film and thought I had absorbed pretty much everything I could from it. I know this convo is old, but I just pulled the movie out and watched it for the first time in basically forever, and was really struck by something that clearly flew over my head as a younger person. Renault's character is gross. I love how Claude Rains plays him, and he's one of the most interesting characters in the entire movie, but he is not a good person. I think one could argue that his monetary extortion to provide exit visas to refugees is part and parcel with all the other shitty things that somebody escaping Europe would have to deal with and is much in keeping with his amoral, corrupt nature, but it was the scene in the bar where Rick helps the young Bulgarian couple to win at the roulette table that tipped it over the edge for me. Anninna, the wife, is explaining that if she provides Renault with sexual favours, he will give them the visas that they cannot afford to pay for; when Rick scuppers this by helping her husband to win that money, Renault is clearly pretty furious ("Why do you interfere with my little romances?"), but reassures himself that by the next day, he'll have another young woman lined up who he can coerce into sex.

I understand that thematically, he's the perfect foil for Rick, and their interactions allow Rick's decency to come to the fore again and again (putting the lie to his assertion that he "sticks [his] neck out for nobody"). But he's actually pretty sinister in a way I never picked up on, and it has changed the way I view the story now.
posted by catch as catch can at 6:38 AM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Captain Renault definitely has the best one-liners, and it's interesting how the film uses him as a villain to throw much more shade at collaborationist Vichy France than the effort they spend on the Nazi's.
posted by pwnguin at 2:50 AM on January 27

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