Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Casablanca 101





Everybody Comes To Rick's...


Rick's

Cafe Americain bar and casino, is the meeting place for all those fabulous characters. The setting is entirely outside the U.S.. The cafe owner, 'Rick Blaine' (Humphrey Bogart), a world weary cynical American expatriate, who, for unexplained reasons, can't return home was perfect casting. Practically all the characters were foreign, as were the actors who played them. Hollywood of 1942 was awash in out-of-work European refugees. Of the 14 actors receiving screen credit, 11 were foreign born. This was a time of massive, world-wide population shifts. Even Casablanca's Director, Michael Curtiz, began acting in and then directing films in his native Hungary in 1912 (Click Here).

Context is foremost in looking back at this wonderful movie. Before the internet, TV or cell phones you got your news from the Radio, Newspapers and Movietone News. It was the year of Guadalcanal and Bataan in the pacific while Rommel's Afrika Korps recaptures Benghazi, Libya in his drive east. Take a look at some of the Newspaper Headlines greeting you in the morning when you walked out on your front lawn to pick up the paper (Click Here). As the family gathered around the radio in the evening to hear all the latest world news it sounded like this:


The Evening News from the front.

'Casablanca' was just one of many fine classic films released in 1942. Here is the list of the 1,375 titles released that year. (Click Here). Just in case you have never seen 'Casablanca' on the big screen or know the story, just below is the radio version for you to listen too as you read along or you can read the TCM synopsis of the story (Click Here).

The selection just above is a one hour radio broadcast in January of 1944. CASABLANCA starring Alan Ladd as Rick and Hedy Lamarr as Ilsa Lund.

War was hovering over every aspect of life in 1942. There were restrictions on some travel, shortages of practically everything and an overwhelming sense of uncertainty in daily life. Studio workers and actors were suddenly disappearing into the military. Jimmy Stewart and Ronald Regan had already left by this time. Clark Gable enlisted while 'Casablanca' was being filmed in the summer of '42. Rationing was causing production problems. Silk and wool for costumes, nails for hammering together a set, even celluloid for film stock was in very short supply. Sets were re-cycled. The Paris train station in which Rick finds himself jilted had recently served as Boston's Back Bay Station in 'Now, Voyager'.

The plane to Lisbon has become legendary. In typical 'CanDo' American spirit of the times, for the final scene at the airport Director Michael Curtiz had a scaled down plane constructed of cardboard, surounded by smoke and midgets and slightly out of focus to make the plane look bigger and obscure detail. (Click Here)

It was a masterful stroke to save money on the production costs.

They didn't know what a hit they were making. In 2014, Bonhams Auction House auctioned many of the props used in the making of 'Casablanca' including the painted piano played by Dooley Wilson at Rick's Cafe. Little did they know this piano alone would be worth $3,413,000.00 in 2014. Over three times the cost of the entire production. (Click Here)

At the same 2014 auction the 'transit papers' hidden in the piano brought $118,750.00 while the exterior doors of 'Rick's Cafe' harvested $115,000.00. A metal floor lamp and a Moroccan inlaid three panel floor screen sold for $25,000.00 each. A black tuxedo jacket worn by Carl (S.Z. Sakall) sold for $3,700.00. A single casino chip was snatched up for $3,125.00 ! It's hard to gauge the inluence of 'Casablanca' on so many people around the globe. The 1940 Buick Phaeton used in the final scene, the car Captain Louis Renault drove to the airport with Bogart sitting in the front seat pointing a gun at him, while Bergman and Paul Henreid sat in the back: $461,000.00.


...Above: the completely restored 1940 Buick Phaeton from Casablanca...
Other vehicles in 'Casablanca': Click Here


A single poker chip from this table sold in 2014 at Bonhams Auction for $3,125.00

In a case of life imitating art, the most valuable item according to the movie’s plot, those transit papers that people were willing to die for, and did, sold for $118,750. Unlike the doors or the piano, this is a movie prop that has no intrinsic value; in fact, no such document ever really existed then or now, it was a complete fabrication of Hollywood imagination.


...the infamous 'Transit Papers from the murdered couriers...

The Marx Brothers wrote a parody of 'Casablanca' shortly after it was released, even naming Groucho's character 'Humphrey Bogus' but they changed the storyline after Warner Bros. issued a formal inquiry concerning the script and the title: 'A Night in Casablanca'. In the end, the matter died without legal action, and the storyline of 'A Night in Casablanca' was changed to be a send-up of the genre rather than 'Casablanca' specifically.


Rick: And remember, this gun is pointed right at your heart.
Captain Renault: That is my least vulnerable spot.



Lots of things like this went on 'old' Hollywood. A Chicago newspaper reported in 1943 that funnyman Jack Benny visited the set when Bogart and Bergman were shooting a cafe scene. "There were about 50 extras seated at tables, with a number of waiters scurrying around,", the paper reported. "There's where you'll see Jack Benny, among the waiters: He borrowed a white coat and appears in the background." This story has been much debated locally but Benny's daughter, Joan, said that it was true.

Ingrid Bergman (5'9") was slightly taller than Humphrey Bogart (5'8") so how did they make Rick Blaine appear taller ? There on the right are the shoe lifts Humphrey wore when they had to appear standing next to each other in the same scene. This was an age in which strong men had to protect weaker women from the harsher realities of life. To do that, the man, had to be taller and more powerful, looking down on their smaller weaker female counterparts and place females on a pedestal to worship and protect. It's another stereotype that's been done away with in this age of robot cars, bitcoin, Uber and non-binary sexual orientation (whatever the hell that is). You will have to decide which is better.

Bogie looked back on 'Casablanca' proudly, but at the time he wasn't confident about his ability to be a romantic lead, something he hadn't been before. While shooting the film he gave an interview in which he admitted, "I've always gotten out of my scrapes in front of the camera with a handy little black automatic. But this, I'm not up on this love stuff and don't know just what to do." His friends knew he wasn't very comfortable with this new situation; one of them, Mel Baker, told him "This is the first time you've played the romantic lead. You stand still, and always make her come to you. Mike (the director) probably won't notice it, if she complains, you can tell her it's tacit in the script. You've got something she wants (the exit visas), so she has to come to you." It was advice he took to heart and served him well in this and subsequent films.


Captain Renault: Rick, there are many exit visas sold in this cafe, but we know that you've never sold one. That is the reason we permit you to remain open.
Rick: Oh? I thought it was because I let you win at roulette.
Captain Renault: That is another reason.

Hollywood gave birth to this movie the same year my mother gave birth to me. 'Casablanca' has been around my entire life and every couple of years I watch it again. I live in 'Bogie' territory today. Just about everyone around here is my age and we all know who Jack Benny was. We have very diverse views on just about everything from world politics, religion, society, etc. except this movie, on this one thing we all agree. About a mile and a half away from here is the Hotel/Bar in which Bogey filmed 'Key Largo' (1948), while across the street, about a five minute walk, is 'The African Queen' (1951). I don't mean a replica, I mean the actual African Queen used in the movie. One of the old guys around here went up to Ocala and bought the old dilapidated neglected shell that had been discarded and it's now been restored to it's full glory. I've taken many an afternoon cruise through the mangroves in the African Queen (Click Here). We also have an annual Humphrey Bogart Film Festival, take a look (Click Here).

The Players

The dark and sinister larceny of Ugarte (Peter Lorre), the aloof idealism and bravery of Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), the cynical altruism of Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), the insatiable greed of Signor Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet), the vices and deceitful duplicity of Captain Louis Renault (Claude Raines), the naive youthful love of innocent Yvonne (Madeline Lebeau) for the unobtainable Rick Blaine, the devotion and talent of Sam (Dooley Wilson), the desperate pleas of Joy Page (Annina Brandel), the unrequited love of the bartender Sascha (Leonid Kinskey) for Madeline Lebeau, even the desperation of the sleazy pickpocket (Curt Bois), the loyalty, sacrifice and betrayal by Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), the forbidding threat of cold hearted evil domination of Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) and all the other complex characters. For me, it's like looking in a mirror, having experienced most of these vices, virtues and feelings of these characters in my long life. And that's the intriguing hook of this movie.

One of the problems during filming was Bogie's then-wife Mayo Methot. Married for almost four years when the movie was filmed, Methot had become a heavy drinker and was infamous for her jealously and insecurity. She became convinced Bogie was having an affair with Ingrid Bergman and started showing up on the set everyday to make sure he wasn't cheating. Although Bogie's publicist, Bob Williams, said "I had a feeling Bogie was kind of smitten with her", neither Bogie or Bergman were ever terribly comfortable with each other throughout the shoot. There were no cozy rhearsals, no tight clinches, keeping their distance from each other until shooting wrapped up on Aug. 3, 1942.

Captain Renault: Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects.


Bogie was one of the few Americans in the cast. Even when the film was finally wrapped up and in the can, there was trouble, as censors went after the movie and Warner Bros. for suggesting illicit sex between Rick and Ilsa during their Paris affair, as well as Capt. Renault and female refugees who needed help in getting exit visas. Both were softened for the eventual release, though it's not hard to use your imagination in either case.

In spite of all the problems before, after and during shooting once it was wrapped up and in the can by Aug. '42, the original plan was to rlease it the following spring of '43. Real life events intruded on these plans and the film was rushed into postproduction. The Allied forces had invaded North Africa and liberated the city of Casablanca (Click Here). Studio head Jack Warner saw an opportunity for some free publicity and premiered the movie three weeks later on Nov. 26. at the Hollywood Theater in New York City.

It was then put into nationwide release two months later, on Jan. 23, 1943, in order to take advantage of the Casablanca Conference, a vital meeting in the Moroccon capital between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill. There was some fear from the studio it may well anger the French Vichy Govt. and it's supporters so it was decided to NOT show the movie in the city of Casablanca or to the U.S. Troops stationed there. You could see the movie everywhere but in Casablanca.

The Set

When writer Bill Murray took his wife to Europe in 1938, the pair made their way through Vienna and were struck by the enormous amount of anti-semitism on display. Making their way to the south of France, they visited a nightclub overlooking the Mediterranean that was filled with a multinational clientele, with plenty of exiles and refugees mixed in. Also there? A black piano player and bandleader. Just like that, the elements were in play for Burnett to help create something magical.

By the time 'Casablanca' was moving forward at Warner Bros., Carl Jules Weyl had been hired as the production designer. He got busy putting together the club that would become perhaps the most famous in movie history. It was one of the few original sets built for the film, many others were recycled from films including 'The Desert Song' and 'Now, Voyager' due to wartime restrictions on building supplies.


Ilsa: I wasn't sure you were the same. Let's see, the last time we met...
Rick: Was La Belle Aurora.
Ilsa: How nice, you remembered. But of course, that was the day the Germans marched into Paris.
Rick: Not an easy day to forget?
Ilsa: No.
Rick: I remember every detail. The Germans wore gray, you wore blue.


Using influences like the Cinema Vox movie theater, which was the largest and most energetic movie theater and bar in Africa when it opened in 1935 in Tangier. Weyl built the club as an oasis for anyone who might be able to find their way inside. Taking inspiration from the luxury hotel, El Minzah, in Tangiers. Creating curved arches, sculpted bar, balconies, beaded and stenciled brass lighting, plants that would cast defined shadows on white walls all served to create an oasis from the war raging outside. Spending a total of $9,200 on the set for Rick's Cafe Americain was well worth the money.


the interior set of Rick's Cafe Americain

The Script:

Everybody Comes to Rick's was an unproduced American stage play bought by Warner Bros. for a record figure of $20,000. It was adapted for the movie ‘Casablanca’ and written by Americans Murray Burnett and Joan Alison in 1940 (Click Here).

Warner Bros. Story editor Irene Diamond came across the unproduced stage play on a trip to New York, and even though the play had never made it to the stage (despite the writers having spent years trying to get it financed), Irene convinced producer Hal Wallis to buy the rights in Jan. '42 for the unheard of sum of $20,000. Wallis renamed the project 'Casablanca', in what was thought to be a reference to the 1938 hit movie 'Algiers'. A filming start date was set for Apr. 10, 1942, though delays kept the cameras from rolling until May 25.

Captain Renault: What in heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?
Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.
Captain Renault: The waters? What waters? We're in the desert.
Rick: I was misinformed.


The budget and financing had been secured, the set was deigned and in place, the start date for filming had been set, the cast hired and assembled, The man who sets the whole plot in motion was Peter Lorre playing Ugarte and the intoduction of the 'letters of transit', the only thing NOT ready to go and finished was the script. It was this one thing that, in my opinion, added enormously to the final product.

This means the movie had to be shot in chronological order, which is very unusual for any film. Generally, a schedule is made and scenes that take place in one location are combined together and shot, then the production moves to another location or set, and so on. It's left to the editors to assemble the finished product in proper order. It was this element which added so much to the flow of the movie, everyone involved could follow the storyline from start to finish in chronological order because the entire production could only work from day to day with the pages of script that were actually finished at the time.

The delays that pushed filming from early April to late May involved continous rewrites to the screenplay, which was being handled by a series of writers. First there was Julius and Phillip Epstein, hired by Warner Bros. but left in early '42 to work on Frank Capra's 'Why We Fight' series of patriotic documentaries. The twins were gone for about a month when the movie's other writer, Howard Koch, cranked out about 30 or 40 pages of script (though none of that work was actually used). Koch's contribution seems to be the political and melodramatic elements, even though his pages were completely overhauled.

In the original play, Ilsa was an American named Lois Meredith, and didn't meet Laszlo until after her relationship with Rick in Paris. Also, Rick was a lawyer. In addition to these obvious changes, the writers had set the film prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor (Dec. 7, 1941). Another writer, Casey Robinson, did three weeks worth of uncredited work on the script, including the scenes of Rick and Ilsa meeting in the cafe. Michael Curtiz (Director) insisted on highlighting the film's romantic aspects and keeping the Paris flashbacks. Producer Hal Wallis got his two cent in as it was his idea to end the movie with one of the greatest closing lines in movie history: "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."


For those of you that have stuck with me through this Blog, here is a gift, the final completed script. ( Click Here) Here's another little cherry that may be fun for you as long as the link lasts Click Here. Enjoy !

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We love Vintage Hollywood! The likes of Errol Flynn, Richard Widmark, Cary Grant, Sterling Hayden and those magnificent ladies of yesteryear!
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