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In the six decades since its 1942 release, Casablanca has grown into such a legend that it almost transcends mere cinema. Its lines of dialogue can be quoted by people who have not even seen the film: "Here's looking at you, kid," "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship," and the oft-misquoted "Play it, Sam."
The production design of Casablanca has come to represent the aesthetics of romantic longing. Its smoky casino, fog-shrouded runway, trench coats, potted palms and gruff-voiced pianist repeatedly surface in contemporary films, commercials, television programs and even restaurant decor as respects are paid to this quintessential Hollywood classic.
If Citizen Kane (1941) represents the pinnacle of artistic derring-do and Gone With the Wind (1939) epitomizes the colorful bombast of the American epic, then Casablanca is surely the film that defines cinematic cool.
The plot revolves around "Rick's Cafe Americain", a bar and casino in Northern Africa which serves as a way station for expatriates and political refugees at the dawn of World War II. Rick (Humphrey Bogart) refuses to take sides with any nationality, but when a former lover (Ingrid Bergman) and her new husband (Paul Henried) arrive in Casablanca, desperate for visas, he is drawn into the volatile web of political and romantic espionage.
The ingredients that have made Casablanca such a timeless classic are not easy to pinpoint. Produced by Warner Bros. at the height of the Hollywood studio system, Casablanca embraced what is now known as "invisible style." Rather than dazzling the eye with eye-catching visuals and histrionic acting, it seduces the viewer by creating a seamless, lush universe that gradually envelops the audience. Hardly an effortless accomplishment, "invisible style" required an absolute mastery of the various cinematic elements by its collaborators, including Hungarian director Michael Curtiz (Mildred Pierce, 1945), director of photography Arthur Edeson (The Maltese Falcon, 1941), Art Director Carl Jules Weyl (The Big Sleep, 1946), composer Max Steiner (Gone With the Wind) and soon-to-be-director Don Siegel (Dirty Harry, 1972), whose dynamic opening montage invests the film with a sense of political urgency.
It took no less than six writers to transform Murray Burnett and Joan Alison's unproduced play Everybody Comes to Rick's into Casablanca, taking a conventional exotic romance (patterned after Algiers (1938) and Only Angels Have Wings, 1939) and investing it with a subtle, richly-textured brand of drama all its own.
Although George Raft and Ronald Reagan were rumored to have been considered for the starring role, only Humphrey Bogart could have endowed the character with such emotional depth in so few words. Tight-lipped and tough on the outside, while wounded and sentimental within, Bogart's nuanced performance as Rick Blaine is the capstone to this extraordinary cinematic achievement that shows no sign of succumbing to the frailties of age.
Producer: Hal B.Wallis
Director: Michael Curtiz
Screenplay: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, Howard Koch, based on the play Everybody Comes to Rick's by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison
Art Direction: Carl Jules Weyl
Cinematography: Arthur Edeson
Costume Design: Orry-Kelly
Film Editing: Owen Marks
Original Music: Max Steiner
Principal Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Richard "Rick" Blaine), Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa Lund Laszlo), Paul Henreid (Victor Laszlo), Claude Rains (Captain Louis Renault), Conrad Veidt (Maj. Heinrich Strasser), Sydney Greenstreet (Senor Ferrari), Peter Lorre (Ugarte)
BW-103m. Closed captioning. Descriptive video.
by Bret Wood