Casablanca – A History

Casablanca poster Guest blogger Alexis writes:

On December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the play, Everybody Goes to Rick’s, was purchased by Warner Bros. Producer Hal Wallis for $20,000. This was the most money ever spent on an un-produced play and would start on of the most perfectly timed cinematic events in film history.

The original story was discovered by Irene Lee, the story department head who felt like it had potential. There is always talk about the way Casablanca was written, I’ll try and bring forth what seems to be the way it ended up the way it did. The title was changed from Everybody Goes to Rick’s to Casablanca because it was catchy and relevant. People at the time would have seen the word “Casablanca” in the news and were mostly aware of where it is

The original story break down was: “The heroine in the play was Lois, a wanton American and classic femme noire. Her earlier affair with Rick in Paris had broken up his marriage, and as the story opens she arrives in Casablanca as the mistress, not the wife, of Resistance leader Victor Laszlo.” (The Genius of the System, 315) Aeneas Mackenzie and Wally Kline worked on a treatment in January of 1942, but their rendition was changed because Wallis was unhappy with the Lois character. Wallis took the two writers off the film in February 1942 and hired Casey Robinson who was a notable melodrama writer. During this month, the Epstein twins (Philip and Julius) were officially hired for the job. It was also at this time that Louis Renault (Claude Rains’ character) was reworked to be an ally of Rick’s at certain points of the story.

Robinson received no formal recognition for his writing because he refused to share billing. He therefore was left out of the credits and eventually out of the Oscar run. Robinson is who we can credit with changing Lois into Ilsa, the innocent European played by Ingrid Bergman.

Thanks to the trade of Warner Bros.’ Olivia de Havilland for David O. Selznick’s Ingrid Bergman, Ingrid was cast on April 24, 1942. Selznick, who thought it was good for Ingrid’s image to be in a pro-United States, war-time film (due to “possibility of Sweden’s alliance with Germany and Italy” [Notorious: the Ingrid Bergman Story, 122]) traded Ingrid for $125,000 of which she received her standard salary of $3500. (122) Humphrey Bogart also didn’t profit much out of his starring in the film, only earning his Warner Bros.’ allotted salary of $2,750.

Ingrid wrote her friend Ruth Roberts on the subject of being cast for Casablanca, “The picture is called Casablanca and I really don’t know what it’s all about.” (122) Ingrid joined the production (physically in Hollywood) on May 2, 1942. Now, watch this video for Ingrid’s take on how the script was done and how confused she was- then we can continue with the myths and different casting things that went on during the pre-through-post production times.

Though Ingrid felt like the writing was confusing as well as the direction, it wasn’t uncommon in those times, as well as on some sets today, to have a lot of things changed or not finished. Though this movie was unique in the fact that they didn’t know what ending they were going to use until they shot the version we see today. There were a lot of rewrites and a lot of undecided factors- including who Ilsa would follow in the end. Some books suggest that her performance was enhanced by the fact that, just like her character, she was in an internal turmoil between the men.

The collaboration was that of an open one. Everyone contributed ideas. Some of the more famous lines like “Here’s looking at you kid.” were actually brought to the film or the writer’s attention by Humphrey Bogart.

Back to the historical significance and wonderful timing:

  • The movie’s initiation was the day after “Pearl Harbor Day (Dec. 7, 1941)”
  • The film was named for its geographical location, much like the Hedy Lamarr/Charles Boyer film Algiers which audiences would have related to the times and settings they already were familiar with (thanks to the news and reels).
  • The film went into general release (January 1943) just as the Allies opened a summit conference in Casablanca. Adding to curiosity, relevance, ticket sales and popularity.
  • Was seen as the first film to show “America’s commitment to the war” (The Genius of the System, 317).
  • In April of 1942 Howard Koch (one of the credited writers) was told to increase talk of Rick’s political standings as well as occupation in Casablanca in the script. This was all at a time when it was a part of France but was infiltrated by all types of people (as seen in the film).
  • Hal Wallis was going to make many retakes and shoot more scenes but was halted by various events including, not being able to reshoot with Ingrid who had cut her hair for For Whom The Bell Tolls and because when they were about to reshoot, the Allies landed in Casablanca for the North African campaign.
  • This story was one of the first, if not the first, to re-write United States melodrama towards benefiting the war. The leads were to give up certain understood notions like ending up together; being only with one another and selfishly disregarding others for sacrificing self for the greater good (i.e. Ilsa goes off with Laszlo and Rick stays to fight for the country he initially couldn’t care less about).

The film was released on November 26, 1942- which was a pushed premiere date because it was another timing issue. They felt it would be better off considering the Allies were doing well and everyone was getting involved. Plus no one knew what could happen next…

Just a couple of other tidbits:

  • As Time Goes By was almost cut from the movie completely. They found that they’d have to reshoot all the scenes with it, including major bar scenes and scenes with Ingrid, so they left it in. It was an unexpected, now iconic, hit.
  • Both in November of ’42 and January ’43 Casablanca was a hit. Ingrid never understood this until she saw the film later in life. She was admittedly focused on her next film.
  • “Even when spoken by supporting actors, the dialog is filled with innuendoes, ambiguities and ironies. In fact, many of the men and women playing waiters, refugees or nameless customers were Europeans who had immigrated to Hollywood to escape Nazism. Feverously hopeful, coldly indifferent or patient and resigned the presence of minor characters intensifies the oppressive atmosphere of the film”-Reclams Filmklassiker (100 Greatest Films of All Time, 210)
  • Paul Henreid was not sure he wanted to play the 2nd man in this film because he was concerned about typecasting as well as playing second fiddle to the stars and not being remembered.
  • On their relationship, Ingrid stated about Bogie that “I kissed Bogie, but I never got to know him.” (Ingrid, 82)
  • The line at the end of the film “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” was added in post production and was written by Hal Wallis. It is ranked #20 on the AFI’s Top 100 Movie Quotes.

An avid Ingrid Bergman fan, Alexis is a student of the actress’s life and work . She is also a student at USC SCA earning an M.F.A. in Film/Television Production. If you hadn’t guessed it yet, she loves movies! For more information, check out her blog Ingrid Bergman Life and Films.

MovieFanfare writer Gary Cahall presents “10 Things I hate about Casablanca“: A closer look at what we might have missed in the film.