Friday, July 6, 2012

Casablanca



Casablanca (70th Anniversary Limited Collector's Edition Blu-ray/DVD Combo)

#2 (1998) and #3 (2007) on the AFI Top 100 Movies List
Casablanca is a 1942 American romantic drama film directed by Michael Curtiz, starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid
Bergman and Paul Henreid, and featuring Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and Dooley Wilson. Set during World War II, it focuses on a man torn between, in the words of one character, love and virtue. He must choose between his love for a woman and helping her and her Czech Resistance leader husband escape from the Vichy-controlled Moroccan city of Casablanca to continue his fight against the Nazis.

Although it was an A-list film, with established stars and first-rate writers—Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch received credit for the screenplay—no one involved with its production expected Casablanca to be anything out of the ordinary; it was just one of hundreds of pictures produced by Hollywood every year. The film was a solid, if unspectacular, success in its initial run, rushed into release to take advantage of the publicity from the Allied invasion of North Africa a few weeks earlier. Despite a changing assortment of screenwriters frantically adapting an unstaged play and barely keeping ahead of production, and Bogart attempting his first romantic lead role, Casablanca won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Its characters, dialogue, and music have become iconic, and the film has grown in popularity to the point that it now consistently ranks near the top of lists of the greatest films of all time.

The play's cast consisted of 16 speaking parts and several extras; the film script enlarged it to 22 speaking parts and hundreds of extras. The cast is notable for its internationalism: only three of the credited actors were born in the U.S. The top-billed actors were:

* Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine. Earlier in his career, he had been typecast as a gangster. High Sierra (1941) had allowed him to play a character with some warmth, but Rick was his first truly romantic role.
* Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund. Bergman's official website calls Ilsa her "most famous and enduring role". The Swedish actress's Hollywood debut in Intermezzo had been well received, but her subsequent films were not major successes—until Casablanca. Film critic Roger Ebert calls her "luminous", and comments on the chemistry between her and Bogart: "she paints his face with her eyes". Other actresses considered for the role of Ilsa included Ann Sheridan, Hedy Lamarr and Michèle Morgan. Wallis obtained the services of Bergman, who was contracted to David O. Selznick, by lending Olivia de Havilland in exchange.
* Paul Henreid as Victor Laszlo. Henreid, an Austrian actor who emigrated in 1935, was reluctant to take the role (it "set [him] as a stiff forever", according to Pauline Kael), until he was promised top billing along with Bogart and Bergman. Henreid did not get on well with his fellow actors; he considered Bogart "a mediocre actor", while Bergman called Henreid a "prima donna".

The second-billed actors were:

* Sydney Greenstreet as Signor Ferrari, a rival nightclub owner. Another Englishman, Greenstreet had previously starred with Lorre and Bogart in his film debut in The Maltese Falcon.
* Peter Lorre as Signor Ugarte. Lorre, who was born in Austria-Hungary, had left Germany in 1933.
* Claude Rains as Captain Louis Renault. Rains was an English actor born in London. He had previously worked with Michael Curtiz on The Adventures of Robin Hood. He later appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious with Ingrid Bergman.
* Conrad Veidt as Major Heinrich Strasser. He was a German actor who had appeared in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari before fleeing from the Nazis and ironically was best known for playing Nazis in U.S. films.

Also credited were:

* Curt Bois as the pickpocket. Bois was a German Jewish actor and another refugee. He had one of the longest careers in film, making his first appearance in 1907 and his last in 1987.
* Leonid Kinskey as Sascha, the Russian bartender infatuated with Yvonne. He was actually born in Russia.
* Madeleine LeBeau as Yvonne, Rick's soon-discarded girlfriend. The French actress was Marcel Dalio's wife until their divorce in 1942.
* Joy Page as Annina Brandel, the young Bulgarian refugee. The third credited American, she was studio head Jack Warner's stepdaughter.
* John Qualen as Berger, Laszlo's Resistance contact. He was born in Canada, but grew up in America. He appeared in many of John Ford's movies.
* S. Z. Sakall (credited as S. K. Sakall) as Carl, the waiter. He was a Hungarian actor who fled from Germany in 1939. His three sisters later died in a concentration camp.
* Dooley Wilson as Sam. He was one of the few American members of the cast. A drummer, he could not play the piano. Hal Wallis had considered changing Sam to a female character (Hazel Scott and Ella Fitzgerald were candidates), and even after shooting had been completed, Wallis considered dubbing over Wilson's voice for the songs.

Notable uncredited actors were:

* Leon Belasco as a dealer in Rick's Cafe. A Russian-American character actor, he appeared in 13 films the year Casablanca was released.
* Marcel Dalio as Emil the croupier. He had been a star in French cinema, appearing in Jean Renoir's La Grande Illusion and La Regle de Jeu, but after he fled the fall of France, he was reduced to bit parts in Hollywood. He had a key role in another of Bogart's films, To Have and Have Not.
* Helmut Dantine as Jan Brandel, the Bulgarian roulette player married to Annina Brandel. Another Austrian, he had spent time in a concentration camp after the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria.
* William Edmunds as a contact man at Rick's. He usually played characters with heavy accents, such as Martini in It's a Wonderful Life (1946).
* Gregory Gaye as the German banker who is refused entry to the casino by Rick. Gaye was a Russian-born actor who went to the United States in 1917 after the Russian Revolution.
* Torben Meyer as the Dutch banker who runs "the second largest banking house in Amsterdam". Meyer was a Danish actor.
* Georges Renavent as Conspirator.
* Dan Seymour as Abdul the doorman. He was an American actor who, at 265 pounds, often played villains, including the principal one in To Have and Have Not, and one of the secondary ones in Key Largo, both opposite Bogart.
* Norma Varden as the Englishwoman whose husband has his wallet stolen. She was a famous English character actress.
* Jean Del Val as the French police radio announcer who (following the opening montage sequence) reports the news of the murder of the two German couriers.
* Leo White as the waiter Emile (not to be confused with the croupier Emil), from whom Renault orders a drink when he sits down with the Laszlos. White was a familiar face in many Charlie Chaplin two-reelers in the 1910s, usually playing an upper-class antagonist.
* Jack Benny may have had an unbilled cameo role (claimed by a contemporary newspaper advertisement and reportedly in the Casablanca press book). When asked in his column "Movie Answer Man", critic Roger Ebert first replied, "It looks something like him. That's all I can say." In response to a follow-up question in his next column, he stated, "I think you're right."

Part of the emotional impact of the film has been attributed to the large proportion of European exiles and refugees among the extras and in the minor roles. A witness to the filming of the "duel of the anthems" sequence said he saw many of the actors crying and "realized that they were all real refugees". Harmetz argues that they "brought to a dozen small roles in Casablanca an understanding and a desperation that could never have come from Central Casting". The German citizens among them nevertheless had to keep curfew as enemy aliens. Ironically, they were frequently cast as the Nazis from whom they had fled.

Some of the exiled actors were:

* Louis V. Arco as another refugee in Rick's. Born Lutz Altschul in Austria, he moved to America shortly after the Anschluss and changed his name.
* Trude Berliner as a baccarat player in Rick's. Born in Berlin, she was a famous cabaret performer and film actress. Being Jewish, she left Germany in 1933.
* Ilka Grünig as Mrs. Leuchtag. Born in Vienna, she was a silent movie star in Germany who came to America after the Anschluss.
* Lotte Palfi as the refugee trying to sell her diamonds. Born in Germany, she played stage roles at a prestigious theater in Darmstadt, Germany. She journeyed to America after the Nazis came to power in 1933. She later married another Casablanca actor, Wolfgang Zilzer.
* Richard Ryen as Strasser's aide, Captain Heinze. The Austrian Jew acted in German films, but fled the Nazis.
* Ludwig Stössel as Mr. Leuchtag, the German refugee whose English is "not so good". Born in Austria, the Jewish actor was imprisoned following the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria. When he was released, he left for England and then America. Stössel became famous for doing a long series of commercials for Italian Swiss Colony wine producers. Dressed in an Alpine hat and lederhosen, Stössel was their spokesman with the slogan, "That Little Old Winemaker, Me!"
* Hans Twardowski as a Nazi officer who argues with a French officer over Yvonne. He was born in Stettin, Germany (now Szczecin, Poland).
* Wolfgang Zilzer as a Free French agent who is shot in the opening scene of the movie, was a silent movie actor in Germany who left when the Nazis took over. He later married Casablanca actress Lotte Palfi.

One of the lines most closely associated with the film — "Play it again, Sam" — is a misquotation. When Ilsa first enters the Café Americain, she spots Sam and asks him to "Play it once, Sam, for old times' sake." After he feigns ignorance, she responds, "Play it, Sam. Play 'As Time Goes By'." Later that night, alone with Sam, Rick says, "You played it for her, you can play it for me," and "If she can stand it, I can! Play it!"

Rick's toast to Ilsa, "Here's looking at you, kid", used several times, is not in the draft screenplays, but has been attributed to something Bogart said to Bergman as he taught her poker between takes. It was voted the 5th most memorable line in cinema in AFI's 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes by the American Film Institute.

Six lines from Casablanca appeared in the AFI list, the most of any film (Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz tied for second with three apiece). The other five are:

* "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship" – 20th
* "Play it, Sam. Play 'As Time Goes By'" – 28th
* "Round up the usual suspects" – 32nd
* "We'll always have Paris" – 43rd
* "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine" – 67th

No comments: