Study Guide

Casablanca

Casablanca Introduction


Release Year: 1942

Genre: Drama, Romance, War

Director: Michael Curtiz

Writers: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, Howard Koch; Murray Burnett and Joan Alison (play)

Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman


  

To those of you who like a good love story—Casablanca is considered to be one of the greatest love stories ever told.

To those of you who think love stories are ooky and gross—Casablanca has murder, deceit, intrigue, Nazis, and gambling.

Either way—it's in black and white. Sorry.

But honestly, this is just one of those movies you have to see if you want to be considered a complete human being. Not only is it brilliantly written, directed and acted, but it's one of the most formative films in Hollywood's illustrious history. It set the stage and opened doors for many others to come, in the subjects it broached as well as in the cinematic techniques employed. 

Plus, it's Bogie. Come on.

Casablanca was produced by Warner Brothers and released in 1942; the studio didn't see it as particularly special. But it was an instant hit with audiences and critics alike (can you say three Oscars, including Best Picture?). What was not to like? It had a little bit of everything, and all of it was well done. Okay, so maybe Peter Lorre's acting was hammier than a Christmas dinner, but what else is new?

The story resonated with anyone who had ever loved and lost, or felt passionately about a cause, or believed in their country, or just plain hated Nazis. As WWII is heating up in Europe, a man who was long ago deserted by the only woman he ever loved sees her show up years later in his own Casablanca nightclub, only to find out she's married…and was when he met her.

With the Gestapo closing in on Casablanca, people are scrambling to flee to America, and this man finds himself in a position to help his ex-flame—and her husband—do just that. He must find a way to balance his own feelings with his nagging conscience, which keeps insisting he do what's right.

Dang consciences.

It probably didn't hurt the movie's prospects one bit that it was first released right around the time of the Allied capture of Casablanca in November of 1942. Who wouldn't want to check it out? Let's do it.

What is Casablanca About and Why Should I Care?

If you want to become well-versed in literature, you study The Great Gatsby. If you want to learn everything there is to learn about classical music, you study Mozart. And if you're interested in being a world-renowned expert on people with serious social disorders, you study the Kardashians.

But if you want to know film, you study Casablanca

Simple as that. 

Along with Citizen Kane and The Godfather, it's one of the most important movies you'll ever see—at least when it comes to understanding the history of film. It may not explain how we went from such universally acclaimed classics to flicks like Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, but it will certainly instill in you an appreciation for the craft.

(That's "craft" with an "ft" rather than with a "p.")

First, while Casablanca is a love story at its core, it also has deep and serious political overtones (and undertones). Each year, we get a handful of WWII movies, but this one was written, shot, and released during the war. It gives us a unique perspective on the sensibilities of the time. It shows us how people were genuinely reacting to the situation at hand, what it was like to have to flee from your home not knowing where to go next or how to get there. It also shows us that the Nazis were, in fact, scarier than snakes.

The film was well received when it came out, but ever since, it has only carved out a deeper hole in our collective heart. It makes it onto every "Top 100 of All Time" list that comes out—heck, it's almost always in the top three. It has been referenced, borrowed from, or outright stolen by a number of films that came after, which is nothing other than a huge compliment to the source material.

Why all the love?

Well, Casablanca expertly combined everything we look for in a piece of entertainment: romance, war, witty repartee, friendship, betrayal, deceit, suspense; about the only thing it didn't have was an animated rabbit working behind the bar, singing show tunes. (Note to whoever eventually does the remake—that one's on the house.)

Umberto Eco, the famous semiotician whose writing we usually just can't understand, called the film "a hodgepodge of sensational scenes strung together implausibly; its characters are psychologically incredible, its actors act in a manneristic way." He concludes:

"Casablanca is not one movie, it is the movies." (Source)

Trivia

It sure would have been rough if Humphrey Bogart had died during filming. Well the producers thought so too, which is why they took out a $100,000 insurance policy in case he died before shooting was completed. It must be tough to be told you're only worth $100,000 when you look like a million bucks. (Source.)

They didn't actually use a full-sized plane in the airport scene. To maintain proper perspective, little people were cast as the crew members. (Source.)

The piano played by Dooley Wilson in Casablanca sold at auction for $3.4 million in 2014. And that's without the transit papers. They sold separately for $118,750. (Source.)

Bergman's daughter says that things were a little tense on the set of Casablanca. (Source.)

That plane at the end taking Victor Lazlo and Isla to freedom? It's a scale model in order to fit on the set. The crew seen around it are little people, there to help sell the forced perspective illusion. (Source)

Casablanca Resources

WEBSITES

Rotten Tomatoes
Check out what all the critics think of the film. And find out who the two jerks are that didn't like it.

Vincent's Casablanca HomePage
Here's one fan's homage to the classic film. Be sure to sign Vincent's guestbook. He'd really appreciate it.

BOOK OR TV ADAPTATIONS

Casablanca: The TV Show
You better believe it. They actually tried making a television prequel. It didn't even last as long as Strasser did after he arrived at the airport.

10 Crazy Attempts to Continue the Casablanca Story
Hollywood always wants to milk a success for everything it's worth. Here are some other less than stellar ideas people had to keep the cash cow juicing.

ARTICLES AND INTERVIEWS

TCM Casablanca Articles
A bunch of articles and archived materials from Turner Classic Movies. These guys know their black n' whites.

"Rich, suave, and exciting"
Here's the original movie review from the New York Times in 1942. They liked it, they really liked it.

The Lessons of Casablanca Still Apply, As Time Goes By
CNN talks about how the film affects today's film-goers as opposed to its original audiences.

Casablanca at 70
Genius film reviewer David Denby of The New Yorker magazine gives us an affectionate look back.

The Cult of Casablanca
Why generations of filmgoers can't get enough.

Thumbs Up
The late great Roger Ebert on the 50th anniversary of the film.

VIDEO

Play It, Sam
Or, "Play it again, Sam," as some people like to misquote it.

Here's Looking at You, Kid
The film's pivotal, climactic scene. Get out the handkerchiefs.

Not Quite Bogie
Woody Allen's take on the film's final scene.

All About the Classic Movie Casablanca
Various film critics, screenwriters, etc. talk about the making of the film. At least these people are in color.

IMAGES

He's Looking at Her, Kid
Talk about having a moment.

Original Movie Poster
The original movie poster from the days where all you needed to sell a movie were the huge heads of the stars and huge, sweepy texts

On the Set
A cool shot of the filming in progress.

The Piano That Went For $3.4 Mil
Check out this great snapshot of the piano in action during the movie.

Not Your Grandfather's Casablanca
A look at the city today.