A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1942 – Casablanca
I probably could just end the article there, but, these stupid rules I’ve imposed upon myself prevent me from doing so.
It’s one of the greatest movies ever made, everyone will tell you so. One of the most quotable movies of all time. The list goes on and on. It’s the only choice for 1942.
So now… what are we going to talk about?
The film was based on an unproduced stage play. That’s not something that’s always out there. It was called Everybody Comes to Rick’s. Which actually does sound familiar. I guess I always thought it was a short story or novella that was the basis.
William Wyler was the first choice to direct, but was unavailable, so they gave it to Curtiz, who is the quintessential workingman’s director. Man made hundreds of movies, a lot of them actually classics. He’s one of those filmmakers who doesn’t have a style, because he was a studio filmmaker for so long. So he learned to work within the styles of the studios, and his filmography became his stamp.
The other thing I love about the movie is that no one expected it to be anything except a regular film. It was an A-picture and all that, but they just figured it would be run of the mill. That amuses me. Plus this was the first time Bogart was given a romantic role.
Also, the guys who wrote the film… were twins. Stranger was the fact that one died in 1952, and the other lived until he was 91.
The real important thing about this film, in terms of what I’m really going for with this list, is what it actually represents, culturally, for 1942. I’m going to deliberately not choose a film with similar themes in the coming years, so this is my opportunity to talk about it. Mrs. Miniver, the film that won Best Picture this year (because Casablanca was ruled eligible for the year after this, and won for 1943), essentially has the same themes as this film, just without the love story and all the cool shit this film has. (Still a great film in it’s own right, though.) The big thing about films during this era is supporting the war. So a common narrative in films is the person who doesn’t support the war, who, over the course of the film, becomes a patriot and chooses a side. And that’s entirely what this movie is.
Everybody remembers, at the beginning of the film, Rick doesn’t stick his neck out for nobody. He’s out for himself, and that’s it. He doesn’t care about either side. But…. over the course of the film, he chooses a side. And that’s a very important theme for film in the war years. This is actually a very patriotic film. Of course, that’s not how we remember it, but in 1942, this was pretty apparent to everyone watching. And in a way, this was done to get people at home, who may not have been in support of the war, to nudge over to the side of supporting the cause. Of course, this theme is more overt in other films of the era, but since I haven’t put those on this list, Casablanca is the film I’m going to use to talk about that.
The story I’m gonna leave you with is the one about the ending. The story is that they didn’t know until the last day of shooting how it was going to end. The play ends with Rick sending Victor and Ilsa to the airport. The filmmakers thought about having Victor die so Rick and Ilsa could be together, but they realized that it actually works out, Rick sending Ilsa off with Victor, as it solves the love triangle, puts forth the message they wanted in the war era, and also because the production code would have never allowed her to leave her husband for him. So their real problem was how they could have this all work out. And the story goes that the Epstein brothers were driving down Sunset Boulevard, and at a stop light, turned to each other at the exact same moment and said, “Round up the usual suspects!” And by the time they got to Warner Bros., they had the entire ending ready.
And the rest is history.