Although it was an A-list movie, 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 dozens of pictures being churned out 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. Yet, 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 Casablanca has grown in popularity to the point that it now consistently ranks near the top of lists of the greatest films of all time.
Ugarte (Peter Lorre), a petty criminal, arrives in Rick's club with "letters of transit" obtained through the murder of two German couriers. The papers allow the bearer to travel freely around German-controlled Europe and to neutral Portugal, and from there to America. The letters are almost priceless to any of the continual stream of refugees who end up stranded in Casablanca. Ugarte plans to make his fortune by selling them to the highest bidder, who is due to arrive at the club later that night. However, before the exchange can take place, Ugarte is arrested by the local police, under the command of Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains), a corrupt opportunist who says of himself, "I have no convictions ... I blow with the wind, and the prevailing wind happens to be from Vichy." Unbeknownst to Renault and the Nazis, Ugarte had entrusted the letters to Rick because "... somehow, just because you despise me, you are the only one I trust."
At this point, the reason for Rick's bitterness re-enters his life. His ex-lover Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) arrives with her husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), a fugitive Czech Resistance leader long sought by the Nazis. The couple need the letters to leave Casablanca to "reach America and continue [his] work." German Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) arrives to ensure that Laszlo does not succeed.
When Laszlo speaks with Signor Ferrari (Sidney Greenstreet), a major figure in the criminal underworld and Rick's business rival, Ferrari divulges his suspicion that Rick has the letters. Laszlo meets with Rick privately, but Rick refuses to part with the documents, telling Laszlo to ask his wife for the reason. They are interrupted when a group of Nazi officers led by Strasser begins to sing "Die Wacht am Rhein", a German patriotic song. In response, Laszlo tells the house band to play "La Marseillaise", the French national anthem. The band looks to Rick for permission, and he nods his head. Laszlo starts singing, alone at first, then long-suppressed patriotic fervor grips the crowd and everyone joins in, drowning out the Germans. In retaliation, Strasser orders Renault to close the club.
That night, Ilsa confronts Rick in the deserted cafe. When he refuses to give her the letters, she threatens him with a gun, but is unable to shoot, confessing that she still loves him. She explains that when she first met and fell in love with him in Paris, she believed that her husband had been killed trying to escape from a Nazi concentration camp. Later, with the German army on the verge of capturing the city, she learned that Laszlo was in fact alive and in hiding. She left Rick without explanation to tend to an ill Laszlo.
With the revelation, Rick's bitterness dissolves and the lovers are reconciled. Rick agrees to help, leading her to believe that she will stay behind with him when Laszlo leaves. When Laszlo unexpectedly shows up, after having narrowly escaped a police raid on a Resistance meeting, Rick has Ilsa hide while the two men talk.
Laszlo reveals that he is aware of Rick's love for Ilsa and tries to get Rick to use the letters to take her to safety. However, the police arrive and arrest Laszlo on a petty charge. Rick convinces Renault to release Laszlo by promising to set him up for a much more serious crime: possession of the letters of transit. To allay Renault's suspicions about his motives, Rick explains that he and Ilsa will be leaving for America.
However, when Renault tries to arrest Laszlo for accepting the letters, Rick double crosses Renault, forcing him at gunpoint to assist in the escape. At the last moment, Rick makes Ilsa board the plane to Lisbon with her husband, telling her that she would regret it if she stayed, "Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life."
Major Strasser drives up by himself, having been tipped off by Renault, but Rick shoots him when he tries to intervene. When police reinforcements arrive, Renault pauses, then tells his men to "Round up the usual suspects." Once alone, Renault suggests that he and Rick leave Casablanca and join the Free French at Brazzaville. They walk off into the fog with one of the most memorable exit lines in movie history: "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
The entire picture was shot in the studio, except for the sequence showing Major Strasser's arrival, which was filmed at Van Nuys Airport. The street used for the exterior shots had recently been built for another film, The Desert Song, and redressed for the Paris flashbacks. It remained on the Warners backlot until the 1960s. The set for Rick's was built in three unconnected parts, so the internal layout of the building is indeterminate. In a number of scenes, the camera looks through a wall from the cafe area into Rick's office. The background of the final scene, which shows a Lockheed Model 12 Electra Junior airplane with personnel walking around it, was staged using midget extras and a proportionate cardboard plane. Fog was used to mask the model's unconvincing appearance. Nevertheless, the Disney-MGM Studios theme park in Orlando, Florida purchased a Lockheed 12A for its Great Movie Ride attraction, and initially claimed that it was the actual plane used in the film. Film critic Roger Ebert calls Wallis the "key creative force" for his attention to the details of production (down to insisting on a real parrot in the Blue Parrot bar).
Bergman's height caused some problems. She was some two inches (5 cm) taller than Bogart, and claimed Curtiz had Bogart stand on blocks or sit on cushions in their scenes together.
Wallis wrote the final line ("Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship") after shooting had been completed. Bogart had to be called in a month after the end of filming to dub it.
Later, there were plans for a further scene, showing Rick, Renault and a detachment of Free French soldiers on a ship, to incorporate the Allies' 1942 invasion of North Africa; however it proved too difficult to get Claude Rains for the shoot, and the scene was finally abandoned after David O. Selznick judged "it would be a terrible mistake to change the ending.
The first writers to work on the script were the Epstein twins, Julius and Philip, who removed Rick's background and added more elements of comedy. The other credited writer, Howard Koch, came later, but worked in parallel with them, despite their differing emphases; Koch highlighted the political and melodramatic elements. The uncredited Casey Robinson contributed to the series of meetings between Rick and Ilsa in the cafe. Curtiz seems to have favored the romantic parts, insisting on retaining the Paris flashbacks. Despite the many writers, the film has what Ebert describes as a "wonderfully unified and consistent" script. Koch later claimed it was the tension between his own approach and Curtiz's which accounted for this: "Surprisingly, these disparate approaches somehow meshed, and perhaps it was partly this tug of war between Curtiz and me that gave the film a certain balance. Julius Epstein would later note the screenplay contained "more corn than in the states of Kansas and Iowa combined. But when corn works, there's nothing better.
The film ran into some trouble from Joseph Breen of the Production Code Administration (the Hollywood self-censorship body), who opposed the suggestions that Captain Renault extorted sexual favors from his supplicants, and that Rick and Ilsa had slept together in Paris. Both, however, remained strongly implied in the finished version.
The cinematographer was Arthur Edeson, a veteran who had previously shot The Maltese Falcon and Frankenstein. Particular attention was paid to photographing Bergman. She was shot mainly from her preferred left side, often with a softening gauze filter and with catch lights to make her eyes sparkle; the whole effect was designed to make her face seem "ineffably sad and tender and nostalgic". Bars of shadow across the characters and in the background variously imply imprisonment, the crucifix, the symbol of the Free French and emotional turmoil. Dark film noir and expressionist lighting is used in several scenes, particularly towards the end of the picture. Rosenzweig argues these shadow and lighting effects are classic elements of the Curtiz style, along with the fluid camera work and the use of the environment as a framing device.
Particularly notable is the "duel of the songs". At Rick's cafe Strasser and a small group of his officers start singing "Die Wacht am Rhein" ("The Watch on the Rhine") around Sam's piano. At the behest of Laszlo, the band at Rick's cafe start playing "La Marseillaise", this rouses the whole cafe to stand and sing defiantly against the Germans drowning them out. In the soundtrack the "La Marseillaise" is played by a full orchestra. Originally, the piece intended for this iconic sequence was the "Horst Wessel Lied", the de facto second national anthem of Nazi Germany, but this was still under international copyright in non-Allied countries.
Other songs in the film include "It Had to Be You" from 1924 (music by Isham Jones, lyrics by Gus Kahn), "Knock on Wood" (music by M.K. Jerome, lyrics by Jack Scholl), and "Shine" from 1910 (music by Ford Dabney, lyrics by Cecil Mack and Lew Brown).
The second-billed actors were:
Also credited were:
Notable uncredited actors were:
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 songs" 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 foreign actors were:
The film premiered at the Hollywood Theater in New York City on November 26, 1942, to coincide with the Allied invasion of North Africa and the capture of Casablanca; it went into general release on January 23, 1943, to take advantage of the Casablanca conference, a high-level meeting between Churchill and Roosevelt in the city. It was a substantial but not spectacular box-office success, taking $3.7 million on its initial U.S. release (making it the seventh best-selling film of 1943). Initial critical reaction was generally positive, with Variety describing it as "splendid anti-Axis propaganda"; as Koch later said, "it was a picture the audiences needed... there were values... worth making sacrifices for. And it said it in a very entertaining way. Other reviews were less enthusiastic: The New Yorker rated it only "pretty tolerable". The Office of War Information prevented screening of the film to troops in North Africa, believing it would cause resentment among Vichy supporters in the region.
At the 1944 Oscars, the film won three awards: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture. Wallis was resentful when Jack Warner, rather than he, collected the best picture award; the slight led to Wallis severing his ties with the studio in April that year.
The film has grown in popularity. Murray Burnett has called it "true yesterday, true today, true tomorrow". By 1955, the film had brought in $6.8 million, making it only the third most successful of Warners' wartime movies (behind Shine On, Harvest Moon and This is the Army). On April 21, 1957, the Brattle Theater of Cambridge, Massachusetts showed the film as part of a season of old movies. It was so popular that it began a tradition of screening Casablanca during the week of final exams at Harvard University which continues to the present day, and is emulated by many colleges across the United States. Todd Gitlin, a professor of sociology who himself attended one of these screenings, had said that the experience was, "the acting out of my own personal rite of passage". The tradition helped the movie remain popular while other famous films of the 1940s have faded away, and by 1977, Casablanca was the most frequently broadcast film on American television.
However, there has been anecdotal evidence that Casablanca may have made a deeper impression among film-lovers than within the professional movie-making establishment. In the November/December 1982 issue of American Film, Chuck Ross claimed that he retyped the screenplay to Casablanca, only changing the title back to Everybody Comes to Rick's and the name of the piano player to Dooley Wilson, and submitted it to 217 agencies. Eighty-five of them read it; of those, thirty-eight rejected it outright, thirty-three generally recognized it (but only eight specifically as Casablanca), three declared it commercially viable, and one suggested turning it into a novel.
Ebert has said that the film is popular because "the people in it are all so good". As the Resistance hero, Laszlo is ostensibly the most noble, although he is so stiff that he is hard to like. The other characters, in Behlmer's words, are "not cut and dried": they come into their goodness in the course of the film. Renault begins the film as a collaborator with the Nazis, who extorts sexual favors from refugees and has Ugarte killed. Rick, according to Behlmer, is "not a hero, ... not a bad guy": he does what is necessary to get along with the authorities and "sticks his neck out for nobody". Even Ilsa, the least active of the main characters, is "caught in the emotional struggle" over which man she really loves. By the end of the film, however, "everybody is sacrificing."
A dissenting note comes from Umberto Eco, who wrote that "by any strict critical standards... Casablanca is a very mediocre film." He viewed the changes the characters undergo as inconsistent rather than complex: "It is a comic strip, a hotch-potch, low on psychological credibility, and with little continuity in its dramatic effects." However, he argued that it is this inconsistency which accounts for the film's popularity by allowing it to include a whole series of archetypes (unhappy love, flight, passage, waiting, desire, the triumph of purity, the faithful servant, the love triangle, beauty and the beast, the enigmatic woman, the ambiguous adventurer and the redeemed drunkard):
Eco singles out sacrifice as one of the film's key themes: "the myth of sacrifice runs through the whole film. It was this theme which resonated with a wartime audience that was reassured by the idea that painful sacrifice and going off to war could be romantic gestures done for the greater good.
Casablanca itself was a plot device in the science-fiction television movie Overdrawn at the Memory Bank based on John Varley's story, and made a similar, though much less pivotal, appearance in Terry Gilliam's dystopian Brazil (). Warner Bros. produced its own parody of the film in the homage Carrotblanca, a Bugs Bunny cartoon included on the special edition DVD release. It also figured prominently in Black Cat, White Cat, where one of the characters is obsessed with the closing line.
Steven Soderbergh paid homage to Casablanca with The Good German a post-World War II Berlin-set murder mystery shot in black and white using technology from the period in which Casablanca was made. The film ends with a scene between two former lovers (played by George Clooney and Cate Blanchett) at an airport. The film's poster echoes the iconic one for Casablanca.
In literature, Robert Coover's short story "You Must Remember This" (from the book A Night at the Movies or, You Must Remember This) uses exact quotes from the movie and includes an explicit sex scene between Rick and Ilsa, while the science-fiction novella "The Children's Hour" in the series The Man-Kzin Wars, created and edited by Larry Niven, has a plot which draws many elements from Casablanca.
It was also nominated for another five Oscars:
In 1989, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In 2005 it was also named one of the 100 greatest films of the last 80 years by Time.com (the selected films were not ranked). In 2006, the Writers Guild of America, west voted the screenplay of Casablanca the best of all time in its list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays.
An HD-DVD was released on November 14 , containing the same special features as the 2003 DVD. DVD Reviewers were extremely impressed with the new high-definition transfer of the film.
A Blu-ray release with new special features has been announced for December 2 ; it will also be available on DVD.
Almost from the moment Casablanca became a hit, talk began of producing a sequel. One titled Brazzaville (in the final scene, Renault recommends fleeing to that Free French-held city) was planned, but never produced. Since then, no studio has seriously considered filming a sequel or outright remake. François Truffaut refused an invitation to remake the film in 1974, citing its cult status among American students as his reason. However, it has been reported that Bollywood filmmaker Rajeev Nath is remaking the film, describing it as a "tribute to the original.
The novel, As Time Goes By, written by Michael Walsh and published in , was authorized by Warner. The novel picks up where the movie leaves off, and also tells of Rick's mysterious past in America. The book met with little success. David Thomson provided an unofficial sequel in his novel Suspects.
There have been two short-lived television series based upon Casablanca, both considered prequels to the movie. The first aired from to , with Charles McGraw as Rick and Marcel Dalio, who played Emil the croupier in the movie, as Renault; it aired on ABC as part of the wheel series Warner Bros. Presents. It produced a total of 10 hour-long episodes. Another series, briefly broadcast on NBC in , starred David Soul as Rick, Ray Liotta as Sacha and Scatman Crothers as a somewhat elderly Sam. A total of 5 hour-long episodes were produced.
There were several radio adaptations of the film. The two best-known were a thirty-minute adaptation on The Screen Guild Theater on April 26, 1943, starring Bogart, Bergman and Henreid, and an hour-long version on the Lux Radio Theater on January 24, 1944, featuring Alan Ladd as Rick, Hedy Lamarr as Ilsa, and John Loder as Victor Laszlo. Two other thirty-minute adaptations were aired: on the Philip Morris Playhouse on September 3, 1943 and on the Theater of Romance on December 19, 1944, in which Dooley Wilson reprised his role as Sam.
Julius Epstein made two attempts to turn the film into a Broadway musical, in 1951 and 1967, but neither made it to the stage. The original play, Everybody Comes to Rick's, was produced in Newport, Rhode Island in August 1946, and again in London in April 1991, but met with no success.
Casablanca was also part of the film colorization controversy during the 1980s, when a colorized version aired on television. This was briefly available on home video, but it was unpopular with purists. Bogart's son Stephen said, "if you're going to colorize Casablanca, why not put arms on the Venus de Milo?
Another well-known story is that the actors did not know until the last day of shooting how the film was to end. The original play (set entirely in the cafe) ended with Rick sending Ilsa and Victor to the airport. During scriptwriting, the possibility was discussed of Laszlo being killed in Casablanca, allowing Rick and Ilsa to leave together, but as Casey Robinson wrote to Hal Wallis before filming began, the ending of the film "set up for a swell twist when Rick sends her away on the plane with Victor. For now, in doing so, he is not just solving a love triangle. He is forcing the girl to live up to the idealism of her nature, forcing her to carry on with the work that in these days is far more important than the love of two little people. It was certainly impossible for Ilsa to leave Laszlo for Rick, as the production code forbade showing a woman leaving her husband for another man. Such dispute as there was concerned not whether Ilsa would leave with Laszlo, but how this result could be engineered. The confusion was most probably caused by Bergman's later statement that she did not know which man she was meant to be in love with. While rewrites did occur during the filming, Aljean Harmetz' examination of the scripts has shown that many of the key scenes were shot after Bergman knew how the film would end: any confusion was, in Ebert's words, "emotional", not "factual".
In the same vein, though Laszlo asserts that the Nazis cannot arrest him as "This is still unoccupied France; any violation of neutrality would reflect on Captain Renault," Ebert points out that "It makes no sense that he could walk around freely....He would be arrested on sight." Harmetz, however, suggests that Strasser intentionally allows Laszlo to move about, hoping that he will tell them the names of Resistance leaders in occupied Europe in exchange for Ilsa being allowed to leave for Lisbon.
Other mistakes include the wrong version of the flag for French Morocco, Renault's claim that "I was with them [the Americans] when they 'blundered' into Berlin in 1918" (the German capital was not captured in World War I), and no uniformed German troops ever set foot in Casablanca during the Second World War. There are also the inevitable continuity errors; for example, in the final scene, Major Strasser's military overcoat is seen both with and without epaulets. Also, during the scene where Rick leaves Paris on the train, it can clearly be seen that Rick's coat gets sopping wet from the heavy rain, but when he boards the train, the coat suddenly appears dry. Curtiz's attitude towards such details was clear: he said "I make it go so fast, nobody notices."
Rick's remark to Ilsa, "Here's looking at you, kid", 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 in the 2005 poll by the American Film Institute as the fifth most memorable line in cinema history. Six lines from Casablanca appeared in the top 100, by far the most of any film (Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz were next, with three apiece). The others were: "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), and "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine." (67th).