Old is Gold
We'll Always Have Casablanca

Celebrating 75 years of one of the most loved films of all times!

In the history of cinema, there has been masterpieces that has stood the test of time to become classics. In my opinion, there are classics and then there is 'Casablanca'. Though released in 1942 in the time of uncertainties, it became a cult classic. Completing 75 years of release this year, 'Casablanca' reignites the passion of love again and again. Through ages classics have inspired many and have been redefined as well. One of them is the most successful film of last year was 'La La Land' which swept the Oscars with six awards. The musical draws heavily from the musicals of yesteryears and was able to assemblage them to pay a tribute. It draws a lot from 'Singin’ in the Rain,' 'The Young Girls of Rochefort', 'The Umbrellas of Cherbourg','West Side Story','Moulin Rouge!' and many more. But if we see a little less microscopically, we find a different homage altogether. It mostly resonates ‘Casablanca’. How could one miss Mia being a fan of Bergman, Bergman's poster in her bedroom and the coincident that Mia works at a coffee shop on the Warner Bros. Studio. If you still don't agree, this will make you crossover to my side. In the penultimate scene, Sebastian's jazz club is called 'Chicken on a stick' and of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, Mia walks into his. It feels like a deja vu because it is a serendipity. When the acclaimed director Damien Chazelle was confronted he gladly accepted saying, “It wasn’t intentional but it ended up that way [as a reworking], with the window and her fascination with Ingrid Bergman and the ending in his club.”

I treat 'Casablanca' more than a classic as it gave more than it had. Every viewing enriches you with new emotions, new discoveries etc. It may be the story or the backdrop on which the movie is built on. Another viewing made me believe that the dialogue delivery of the actors or the way they expressed themselves with those melancholic eyes make the movie an everlasting one. End of the day the it came down to unrequited love, quotable dialogues,ultra cool jazz style, actors who can only play Rick and Ilsa and a great assemblage of supporting casts as mentionable elements to create a classic. I say it a classic as it needed Bogart's death in 1955 to catapult it to a cult classic! Classics and masterpieces are recognized upon the death of the master. It has been with Vincent van Gogh and 'Casablanca' followed the tradition.

If one explores the beginning of the making of the film, one will encounter a complete different picture. In the era when every studio made a picture a week with an assembly line production house, 'Casablanca' was just one of the pictures at the Warner Bros. assembly line. From being an unproduced play called 'Everybody Comes To Rick’s' to a cinematic classic, 'Casablanca' has travelled a lot. It tells a story of a breathtaking romance in a world engulfed in war. The play saw the day as the studio wanted to produce patriotic movies when the World War II was on. Leaving the backdrop aside the making and writing of Casablanca went through a lot of uncertainties. It is a wide known fact that Ingrid Bergman was confused and to a level frustrated at not knowing how the story would end. The writers of 'Casablanca', Howard Koch and the Epstein brothers were struggling with this well into the shooting schedule. In an interview in 1995, Howard Koch revealed that Bergman cautioned that she could shade her performance by not knowing whom she’d end up with. She said, "Which man should I love more...?" to which Koch replied to her, "I don't know...play them both evenly....you see we didn't have an ending, so we didn't know what was going to happen!" Miraculously, out of all this a masterpiece emerged and swam through such uncertainties in it's course.

The film tries to cover all - the colourful characters, melodramatic moments, cynical humour, witty one liners and romantic triangle - all taking place in the exotic locale of Casablanca in the backdrop of Nazi oppression. All these have helped to make the film a classic, scintillating through ages. It was a mere straightforward romantic story about Ingrid Bergman fleeing Nazis along with Paul Henreid ,a legendary hero of the French Resistance and arriving in Casablanca only to find ex- boyfriend Humphrey Bogart. The plot is not only elevated to greatness but also rescued from being another one in the lot by a superb supporting cast. Peter Lorre as Ugarte, Sydney Greenstreet as a crooked club owner Signor Ferrari and Claude Rains as Capt. Louis Renault to name a few. Then there is Humphrey Bogart going out of his comfort zone to play Rick. Every scene of his evokes a thousand seas inside us. This doesn't stop here but takes a leap with the beautiful damsel, Ingrid Bergman! She knew how to play the camera and their love for each other grew. The breathtaking scene with Ilsa and Sam, a heart could only say – 'What a beauty!'

Viewing 'Casablanca' over and over again is like listening to a piano and the increasing yearning to play it one day. In my case, write something like 'Casablanca' one day. By the way, a few years ago, a prankster changed the names of the characters in the original script of 'Casablanca', renamed it and approached to the studios. Every studio in Hollywood turned it down!

The dialogues are so witty, direct and cynical that it has not grown old-fashioned or out of place or context. One could easily quote – 'We all try, you succeed.' in daily life. The script is filled with dozens upon dozens of quotable lines like that. Bogart supplied his famous line, 'Here’s looking at you, kid' and it was producer Hal Wallis who supposedly came up with, 'Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship' and had it dubbed in after shooting was complete. The epitome of the movie is the gradual set up which makes the audience get into the soft heart behind the hard exterior of Rick, never revealing his true-self to the others. The film went on to be nominated for eight Academy Awards. It won three: Best Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture out the top five categories. Lead actor and actress failed to impress the judges to win an oscar.

Here’s looking at you, 'Casablanca'...As time goes by. 


- Deepanjan Roy

Deepanjan is a cinema lover and a film student, currently learning screenwriting at Whistling Woods International. 

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