Tuesday, November 21, 2023

We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie

Title: We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie
Author: Noah Isenberg
Publication: W.W. Norton & Co., hardcover, 2017
Genre: Nonfiction/Film
Description: This well-researched and lively book about the making of Casablanca was a fun read, covering the evolution of the original play (never produced) to the screenplay (written by Theo Epstein’s grandfather and great-uncle). It is also fascinating to read about the casting and the fact that many of those involved – in speaking and background parts – were recent immigrants fleeing from Hitler:   
[a]mong the fourteen who earned a screen credit, only three were born in the United States: Humphrey Bogart, Dooley Wilson, and Joy Page, Jack Warner’s stepdaughter, who plays the Bulgarian refugee Annina Brandel” (127).

As with Gone With the Wind, the decisions regarding casting are part of Casablanca's history. Isenberg describes how the studio floated the idea of Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan as the leads, although this was merely for publicity and Bogart was identified early as the actor wanted for Rick. At the time, he was an established lead best known for playing gangsters and thugs while Ingrid Bergman had only been in Hollywood for three years and had not yet had a breakout film. However, producer Hal Wallis wrote in his autobiography that Bergman had always been his choice, “She had just made a tremendous success in Intermezzo, and I felt that she was the only actress with the luminous quality, the warmth and tenderness for the role” (51).

Many of those involved in the movie produced memoirs later. Bergman wrote, “Perhaps the essential reason why Casablanca is now a classic, a cult, and a legend . . . is that it was concerned with our war! Rarely, if ever, have an actor and actress had the opportunity to work so dramatically, if unknowingly, on our emotions, when defeat seemed a possibility and victory far away. Casablanca had a major impact on the Allied war effort” (p. 114). Film historian Aljean Harmetz, author of her own book on Casablanca, observed, “There are better movies than Casablanca, but no other movie better demonstrates America’s mythological vision of itself – tough on the outside and moral within, capable of sacrifice and romance without sacrificing the individualism that conquered a continent, sticking its neck out for everyone when circumstances demand heroism. No other movie has so reflected both the moment it was made – the early days of World War II – and the psychological needs of audiences decades later” (pp. 114-115).
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The movie premiered in 1942, very soon after the city of Casablanca had surrendered to General Patton, which delighted the Warner Brothers Studio marketing staff because it was more or less free publicity and made Casablanca more accessible to those following war news. It went on to win Oscars for best picture, best director, and best adapted screenplay (the latter must have been excruciatingly painful for the original playwrights to see). I came across the book at the library and was intrigued enough to bring it home for Nonfiction November.  This was an absorbing book and would be enjoyed by classic film buffs and casual fans of Casablanca.

Source: Library


JaneGS said...

Love the movie and love your review of this book about it. In particular, the quote about why it has become a classic rings true for me

TracyK said...

Glen and I have always been fans of Casablanca, since before we met when we were both in our late 20s. We have watched it a lot of times since then. This book sounds good, I wonder why we never got a copy.