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Casablanca

One of the tenets of the arts section of the Rust is that if something is popular then that that does not follow it’s of poor quality.  Thus Melanie Gay advocates Daphne du Maurier as novelist, Alice Mansfield, the painters Ted Seago and Ken Howard, who are not esteemed by the critics but continue to be collectible, and I argue that Casablanca is the greatest film ever made. We film critics can be a pretentious lot and at film festivals there will always be some holding the torch of a film of some obscure Iranian director and downgrading Casablanca.

Outside the circus and the circuit at dinner parties when conversation turns to the great films and I cite Casablanca I pretty much know that some smart Alec will tell me something I already know, namely that right to the end when the script was being delivered to the set daily, none of the 3 main actors knew whether Ilse Lund (Ingrid Bergman) would go with Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) or Victor Laszlo (Paul Heinreid); or that Dooley Wilson never actually says “Play it again Sam”, the title of the Woody Allen film.

I can generally come up with a piece of trivia that the gathering does not know. That there were only 3 Americans in the cast, the rest were émigrés which made the singing of the Marseillaise to drown out the Germans all the more stirring or that As Time Goes By was written and composed in 1931 as a modest success and not for the movie. Warner Bros were turning out a picture a week and had no idea that Casablanca would be such a success . Admirers of it often point to the contemporaneous Allied invasion of North Africa (1942) which gave the film context but more likely the success of Algiers with Hedy Lamarr, who turned down the Ilse Lund part, and Pepe le Moko with Jean Gabin, both released immediately prior to Casablanca, are more likely reasons for the making of the film.

I watched the film the other evening. As with every classic I thought I would give it five minutes but was drawn in. I tried to avoid concentrating on the magnetic screen presence of Bogey and rather the soft beauty of Ingrid Bergman or on the quality of the minor roles – Sydney Greenstreet as Signor Ferrari, the dishonest but not disreputable owner of the Blue Parrot ( ” as the leader of all illegal activities in Casablanca, I am an influential and respected man”), and the shifty Peter Lorre as Ugarte.

A great romance when the cynical Rick puts moral value above love; superb acting; excellent music are the features of this film but above all I love the dialogue. When the rakish Capatin Renault superbly played by Claude Rains asks Rick why he came to Casablanca, Rick replies he came here for the waters “… but Rick there are no waters in Casablanca” ” I know, I was misinformed.” Had I ever interviewed Bogey I would have loved to have asked him if he had any say in the first shot of him playing chess. He was a keen and competent player and was it possible that director Michael Curtiz saw him at the chessboard on set ?

About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts