Although it was an A-list film, with established stars and first-rate writers 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 leading 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.
Monday, November 26 we wish a happy birthday to this iconic film as we celebrate the release date plus 70 years - 'here's watching you, Casablanca!'
The film was based on Murray Burnett and Joan Alison's then-unproduced play Everybody Comes to Rick's. The Warner Bros. story analyst who read the play, Stephen Karnot, called it (approvingly) "sophisticated hokum", and story editor Irene Diamond convinced producer Hal Wallis to buy the rights in January 1942 for $20,000, the most anyone in Hollywood had ever paid for an unproduced play.
The project was renamed Casablanca, apparently in imitation of the 1938 hit Algiers. Although an initial filming date was selected for April 10, 1942, delays led to a start of production on May 25. Filming was completed on August 3, and the production cost $1,039,000 ($75,000 over budget), above average for the time. The film was shot in sequence, mainly because only the first half of the script was ready when filming began.
The entire picture was shot at Warner Brothers studio, except for the sequence showing Major Strasser's arrival, which was filmed at Van Nuys Airport, and a few short clips of stock footage views of Paris. 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 little people extras and a proportionate cardboard plane. Fog was used to mask the model's unconvincing appearance.
Nevertheless, the Disney's Hollywood 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 called Hal 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).
The difference between Bergman's and Bogart's height caused some problems. She was some two inches taller than Bogart, and claimed Curtiz had Bogart stand on blocks or sit on cushions in their scenes together.
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."
When you look at how movies were produced so quickly in that time and consider that the writing team for the movie changed twice, it's amazing how well Casablanca came together. Furthermore, these 70 years later, it's still a fun movie to enjoy - perhaps in a spa tub with a bit of bubble bath inside a caboose bearing the same name?