Directed by Michael Curtiz
Release Date: Saturday, January 23, 1943
Director: Michael Curtiz
Producer(s): Julius J. Epstein (screenplay), Philip G. Epstein (screenplay)
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid
By Nell Minow
The story behind the movie deserves a movie of its own. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman are iconic in the roles of Rick and Ilsa, but the parts were originally supposed to go to Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan. George Raft and James Cagney were also considered to play the owner of Rick's Cafe Americain. Bogart was an up and coming star, but he had never played the lead in a romance. Another key character is Sam, the black piano player who unforgettably plays "As Time Goes By." At one point they were going to give the role to a woman, possibly Lena Horne. Dooley Wilson got the part, but he was a drummer who could not play the piano. Oh, and the film's composer did not want the song to be in the film at all. They had to keep it in because Bergman had already cut her hair for her next role, so she could not return to reshoot scenes with a different song.
The studio scrambled to put it together as quickly as possible to be timely following the Allied invasion of North Africa. Several different people were rewriting the film as they shot and no one knew how it was going to end. No one at the studio expected it to be anything special. It violates one of the central principles of film criticism, the "auteur theory," which says that one person, usually the director, is the singular author of a film. "Casablanca" had a superb director in Michael Curtiz, who also directed Errol Flynn's "Adventures of Robin Hood." But this movie was thrown together in something of a creative frenzy.
It could have been a disaster but in this case all of the pieces came together brilliantly. Indeed, the chaos is part of what makes the movie work. Ingrid Bergman, like her character, had no idea which man she would choose at the end of the story. As great an actress as she was, she could not have avoided signaling her intention if she knew where it was going. Her uncertainty gives the movie extra tension and poignancy as we feel her struggle with her allegiance to the man who has her loyalty and the man who has her heart.
There are few films with as many inimitably quotable lines: “Round up the usual suspects.” “I’m shocked to find gambling going on in Casablanca.” “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” “This gun is pointed at your heart.” “That’s my least vulnerable spot.” “Here’s looking at you, kid.” “We’ll always have Paris.”
But what makes this movie a classic for all time is the way it tells the story of love awakening heroism, sacrifice, and purpose in the hearts of Rick and Ilsa. And that’s a story that’s never out of date.