Once a film reaches the status of Casablanca -- retired to the vault of such designations as "classic," "legendary," "timeless" -- fans begin looking at the picture through the lens of their own memory. As with Star Wars or The Big Lebowski, devotees of Casablanca will always remember the first time they saw the movie -- and the many times throughout their lives that they viewed it again and again.
Tomorrow, March 21, Turner Classic Movies will provide both longtime fans and first-time viewers the rare chance to see Casablanca on the big screen. In celebration of the film's seventieth anniversary, TCM will host evening screenings in 450 theaters nationwide -- as well as matinees in select theaters. While many of you will have your own memories of the first time you saw Rick tear up over Ilsa, and Victor Laszlo run from the Nazis, here's a list of five things you may not know about Casablanca.
5.) Casablanca the TV Series
As with M*A*S*H* and The Odd Couple, the popularity of Casablanca drove television producers to ask the ultimate, million-dollar question: Could it work on TV? They ultimately decided that it could -- not once, but twice. But unlike the TV versions of M*A*S*H* and The Odd Couple, neither attempt to adapt Casablanca to the small screen got beyond a single season. When It was first tried in 1955, the series was intended to be a kind of prequal to the film, set before Rick was reunited with Ilsa -- but the story never caught on with audiences and the show was canceled after ten episodes . Twenty-eight years later, a color version of Casablanca was attempted starring Starsky & Hutch's David Soul (the blonde one) as Rick and a pre-Goodfellas Ray Liota as Sacha, and presenting the smoky, noir world of Casablanca in early '80s color. This show didn't make it even as far as the first attempt, and was shut down after only seven episodes.
4.) Never in the film does anyone say "Play it again, Sam."
Despite the success of Woody Allen's 1972 film about a Casablanca- obsessed neurotic, Play It Again, Sam, the now iconic phrase is absent from the original film. Used in posters and on the covers of film anthology books, those four words have become one of the most memorable lines in cinematic history -- even though in the scene where Ilsa Lund asks the jolly piano player (played brilliantly by Dooley Wilson) to play the melancholy song "As Time Goes By," she simply states, "Play it, Sam," neglecting the word "again." In the book Casablanca: Script & Legend, the film's co-author Howard Koch hypothesizes in the introduction essay that "the 'again' simply underlined the average person's nostalgic memory of the scene." So perhaps the misnomer should be thought of as more of a tribute to our sentimental feelings for the film than an historic flub.
3.) Ronald Reagan instead of Humphrey Bogart as Rick?
Another erroneous legend of Casablanca is that Humphrey Bogart almost wasn't cast in the career-defining role of Rick Blaine in favor of then small time actor and future President Ronald Reagan. This little tidbit has been scattered across trivia games, quiz shows and books throughout the years, but it's mostly based on a false rumor spread by the studio behind the film. Before the script for Casablanca was even completed, the publicity office at Warner Bros. dropped a press release to The Hollywood Reporter stating that "Ann Sheridan and Ronald Reagan will co-star in Casablanca," a detail that they knew to be false, but spilled anyway in order to keep the stars' names in the papers in advance of the release of another film they were really in, Kings Row. The truth was that director Hal Wallis never considered anyone but Bogart for the role, and the studio knew Reagan was about to be called into active duty for the U.S. Army -- due to a little overseas skirmish the military was dealing with.
2.) Bogie was a Shorty
While Casablanca had to take a second-place seat behind Citizen Kane in the American Film Institute's 100 Years 100 Movies series, Humphrey Bogart was awarded the top male slot in the AFI's 100 Years 100 Stars list. Although he was often type-cast as a heartless gangster, Casablanca would cement Bogie's reputation as the ultimate male lead, the "I stick my neck out for nobody" cynic that men would emulate and women would swoon over. The fact that this symbol of masculinity was only five feet, eight inches tall was not a factor for movie posters, but offered some practical challenges on the set. After going to a terrific amount of trouble to get fresh-faced Ingrid Bergman into the role of Ilsa (on loan from David O. Selznick), the crew was dismayed to find that Bergman was a good two inches taller than Bogart. Legend has it that for many scenes the rugged leading man was asked to stand on blocks or sit atop cushions during scenes opposite Bergman.
1.) The Ending
Although the screenplay is now considered one of the most well-paced, perfectly structured of all time, the process of writing Casablanca was tumultuous. While most film production schedules center around location and accessibility to talent, Casablanca was shot in sequential order for the sole reason that the script was not finished; often writer Howard Koch would deliver recently typed scenes the same day they would be shot. Having established a gripping love triangle between Bogart, Bergman and Paul Henreid as the revolutionary Victor Laszlo, the writers struggled with the quandary of who would get the girl? In the play on which the film is based, Everybody Comes To Rick's, Bogart's character is arrested in the end for shooting Nazi officer Major Strasser. This was much too dark for 1940s Hollywood -- he doesn't get the girl and he goes to jail? At one point the Epstein brothers (the other two-thirds of Casabanca's writing team) toyed with the idea of Laszlo being shot to death -- freeing up Ilsa to be with Rick. "Which one do I go with?" Bergman began to ask the director as they neared the final days of shooting. In a fury of rewrites and last-minute inspiration, it was decided that while Laszlo would get the girl (as in the original play), Rick would avoid jail for shooting the Nazi general -- because Claude Rains would utter the memorable "round up the usual suspects" to his officers. The film closes with an intricate dance of the bad guy defeated, a happy couple flying into the moonlight, and two hardened cynics strolling into the fog and commenting on what lay ahead for them: "a beautiful friendship."
Find more details on where Casablanca will be playing tomorrow here.
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