“I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”
In this week where I feel tethered to uncertainty, I turned to my old friend “Casablanca” (1942) – and how lovely it was to be reminded of the film’s values of love and sacrifice and of joining in solidarity over common ideals to bring change for the good. Hopefully there will come a time very soon where the United States will once again be unified.
“Casablanca” is just perfect. It has such great dialogue, wonderful music, an exquisite cast with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman at its center, and it’s richly atmospheric and romantic – a story against a backdrop of historical relevance. Its characters are driven to a predicament that pushes them to make selfless and moral decisions – and we’re so invested in it all. It’s done with precision and heart.
After repeated viewings, it’s the group dynamic that moves me so much. It’s those moments when the protagonists decide to help one another – foregoing nationalities – that make me so emotional. The scene that always gets to me is when the German soldiers have started to sing “Die Wacht am Rhein,” and Victor Laszlo – the fugitive Czech resistance leader – asks the band to play “La Marseillaise.” The refugees in the room join their voices and drown out the Germans. The camera focuses on Yvonne and there are tears coming down her cheeks, and as the music ends, she cries out “Vive La France, Vive la démocratie!” Most of the actors performing in that scene were real-life refugees from the war.
Hungarian director Michael Curtiz – who won the Oscar for best director for the film – creates rich expressionistic scenes. I get lost in the detail inside Rick’s Café Americain. From almost every angle there are patterns behind the characters — from staircases, from the gates, from the shutters — that create lines suggesting a feeling of imprisonment and enhancing their turbulent and emotional state. Pay attention when Sam brings his piano over to Ilsa. Above him there’s the grid from a balcony with bars across it and when the camera cuts to her, on either side of her face there are grids as well.
When Laszlo and Ilsa arrive at Ricks, a French resistance contact – Berger – approaches them and pretends to be selling a ring. Berger opens the ring and displays the Lorraine cross. During that period it served as a symbol of Free France. Throughout the film, the emblem is subliminally used – and it is found in the reflections and in the shadows in the walls. It is very noticeable when Ilsa and Laszlo go to the Blue Parrot to inquire for the letters of transit. As Lazlo and Rick cross paths outside the establishment shadows cross their faces. The same takes place when Rick encounters her in the open market outside in daylight. And there’s a big outline of a cross as Lazlo and Ilsa stand in front of Ferrari. It all serves as a representation of their inner struggles.
Curtiz also uses a film noir camera technique to bring out the features of Bogart’s face. “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine,” he says after seeing Ilsa again. Surrounded by darkness, only half his face is visible. Rick’s struggle – between cynicism and romanticism – is on display in the composition. “I stick my neck out for nobody,” has become his mantra – and that belief will soon be challenged.
As for her face – gorgeous Ingrid Bergman – she is shot in close-ups with a gossamer filter that makes her look ethereal and melancholic at once. A catchlight is used so there’s a spectacular highlight in her eyes – giving you the impression that she’s constantly fighting back tears. It’s all so spectacularly beautiful.
The camera moves sensitively throughout this film. I’m so aware of its movement as I watch.
Last holiday, I bought a bluray of this film for my mother. She sat and watched it dubbed in Spanish five times. I asked her what she loved about it. “It’s all about love and endurance.”
Renault: “Mademoiselle, you’re in Rick’s, and Rick is, uh…well he’s the kind of man that if I were a woman, and I were not around, I should be in love with Rick.”
Available to stream on HBO Max and to rent on Microsoft, Google Play, YouTube, iTunes, Vudu, FandangoNOW, Apple TV, Redbox, Amazon, DIRECTV and AMC Theatres on Demand.
Screenplay by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch
Based on the play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre
“Studio 7” and the Making of “Casablanca”
In 1942, the World War II romance Casablanca brought glory to Warner Bros., and stardom to its leading actors. The Burbank, Calif., soundstage where the movie was made doesn’t look like much, but it has taken on a legendary status of its own. Stage 7 is known as Lucky Seven…That’s because three Warner Bros. best picture winners “The Life of Emile Zola,” “My Fair Lady” and “Casablanca” – and 10 best picture nominees were shot here…Most, but not all, of Casablanca was made on Stage 7. Since most of the story takes place in Rick’s Café, that $76,000 set remained in Stage 7 throughout the filming. Other scenes had to be done on different soundstages. Because of World War II, and the sighting of a Japanese submarine off the coast of California, the movie was mostly shot indoors. “People were terrified that the Japanese would attack the mainland,” says Aljean Harmetz, author of the 1992 book ‘Round Up the Usual Suspects: The Making of Casablanca.’ So no location shooting, no nighttime shooting, no car chases. Shortages meant they had to do without movie-making basics, such as rubber and aluminum. “Costumes had to be made differently,” Harmetz explains. “You couldn’t have nylons any longer. Bergman couldn’t wear silk — she had to wear cotton. A lot of what Hollywood took for granted — particularly the luxurious things — that dressed its female stars didn’t exist in the war years.” The war affected casting. Paul Henreid, who plays resistance fighter Victor Laszlo, was Austrian. Half the film’s small and medium roles were played by war refugees. It’s ironic, says Harmetz. “All of these refugees from Nazi Europe found a lot of roles for the next four years playing Nazis in the movies.” Bergman had also come from across the Atlantic. Born in Sweden, she’d made a few films there, and a few more in the U.S., but Harmetz says this was the movie that made her an American star. Bogart — a native New Yorker — had been cast as a gangster in several Warner films. Now he was playing a cynic, unwilling to get involved in a wretched war, still missing his lost love. Bogart wasn’t crazy about the part. “He thought his character was too full of self pity,” Harmetz says. Bogart was a loner — a tough, avid drinker, unhappily married to his third wife (the one who came right before Lauren Bacall). “She drank an immense amount and she threw things a lot,” Harmetz says. (npr.org)
About Cinematographer Arthur Edeson
Born in New York City on October 24, 1891, Edeson was barely making a living as a portrait photographer in 1910 when he decided to try his hand at the movies. “I went to the old Eclair Studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and applied for a job. While I was waiting in the outer office, a man came in and stabbed his finger around the crowded room, saying: ‘I’ll take you — and you, and you. Come with me.’ I couldn’t tell whether or not I was one of those selected, but I joined the group anyway. Once inside the mysterious recesses of the studio, I found I’d been hired — as an actor.” Edeson never lost his interest in photography, and began shooting portraits of his fellow actors. His photos caught the attention of cinematographer John Van den Broeck, and when a cameraman was taken ill, Van den Broeck suggested that Edeson fill in. “In those times, flat lighting was the rule of the day,” Edeson wrote. “However, I began to introduce some of the lighting ideas I had learned in my portrait work — a suggestion of modeling here, an artistically placed shadow there — and soon my efforts tended to show a softer, portrait-like quality on the motion picture screen. This was so completely out of line with what was considered ‘good cinematography’ in those days that I had to use my best salesmanship to convince everyone it was good camerawork.”
When American Eclair was reorganized as the World Film Corporation, Edeson stayed on to become chief cinematographer for star Clara Kimball Young, and when she left World to come to Hollywood in 1917, Edeson followed. In 1919, Edeson became one of the founding members of the American Society of Cinematographers, later serving as the ASC president in 1953-’54. In 1920, Douglas Fairbanks saw “For the Soul of Rafael,” one of Edeson’s films for Young, and signed the cinematographer for three of his biggest pictures – “The Three Musketeers” (1921), Douglas Fairbanks in “Robin Hood” (1922) and “The Thief of Bagdad” (1924). Of Fairbanks, Edeson would say, “To anyone who worked with him, moviemaking today seems prosaic and cramped by comparison.” Among Edeson credits in the 1920s were “Stella Dallas,” “The Lost World” (both 1925) and the atmospheric old-dark-house thriller “The Bat” (1926). At Fox, Edeson shot the first all-outdoor, 100% talkie, “In Old Arizona” (1929) and the first Fox Grandeur 70mm film, “The Big Trail” (1930). He later worked at Universal and M-G-M, and eventually settled in at Warner Bros., where he would remain until his 1949 retirement. (ascmag.com)
About Ingrid Bergman
Ingrid Bergman was born in Stockholm, Sweden on August 29, 1915. Her mother, Friedel Adler Bergman, a Hamburg, Germany native, died when Ingrid was just three years old. Ingrid’s father, Justus Samuel Bergman, a Swede, raised Ingrid until his death, when she was 12. Justus, who owned a photography shop, encouraged Ingrid’s artistic pursuits and even caught some scenes of her as a small child with a motion picture camera. Many years later, the famous director Ingmar Bergman (no relation), with whom Ingrid worked, compiled and edited these home movies. After her father’s death, Ingrid was left to the care of an unmarried aunt, who died within months, and she eventually spent her teenage years with an uncle and his family. As a teenager, Ingrid appeared as a film extra, in addition to acting in productions at the private school she attended. After graduating in 1933, she attended the Royal Dramatic Theater School in Stockholm for a year, during which time she made her professional stage debut. Her first speaking role in a film came in Swedish director Gustaf Molander’s “Munkbrogreven” in 1935, in which she played the maid of a hotel that sold illegal liquor. In 1936, Ingrid made the film that would change her life. The picture “Intermezzo,” written and directed by Molander, tells the story of a famous violinist who has an affair with his daughter’s piano teacher, played by Ingrid. Her performance caught the attention of Hollywood film producer David O. Selznick, who bought the rights to remake the film in Hollywood with Ingrid in the starring role. Between making the two versions of “Intermezzo,” Ingrid worked on the Swedish films “En Enda Natt” (“Only One Night”) and “En Kvinnas Ansikte” (“A Woman’s Face”), among others, and the German film, “Die Vier Gesellen.” In 1939, at David O. Selznick’s request, Ingrid made the transition to Hollywood. With this move she began a career that would span five decades, win her three Oscars, two Emmys, and a Tony Award, and see her image go “from saint to whore and back to saint again,” as Ingrid once described it herself. The Hollywood version of “Intermezzo: A Love Story” was a success, and resulted in Selznick signing Ingrid to a seven-year contract. While she only made two movies with Selznick during the duration of their contract, Ingrid made several other movies and starred in some stage productions during those years as well…Ingrid married Swedish dentist and later neurosurgeon Petter Lindstrom in 1937, and gave birth to a daughter, Friedel Pia, in 1938…Ingrid’s roles in Hollywood films, including “Adam Had Four Sons” and “Rage in Heaven,” both in 1941, helped to create this pure persona…She was originally cast as Dr. Jekyll’s fiancée in the 1941 version of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” with Lana Turner as a barmaid named Ivy Peterson. Ingrid approached Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and the movie’s director, Victor Fleming, and asked to switch parts with Lana. The change allowed both Ingrid and Lana to portray characters very different from the ones they usually played…She had also been showing her range in different media, debuting on Broadway in Liliom in 1940 and starring in a production of Eugene O’Neill’s “Anna Christie” in 1941.
Ingrid’s most famous and enduring role came in 1942 when she played Humphrey Bogart’s long-lost love, Ilsa, in the wartime romance “Casablanca.” The film was a box office success at the time and has become an enduring classic, giving Ingrid a place in the hearts of fans for years to come. She then took the role of Maria in the film version of Ernest Hemingway’s novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls” in 1942, beating out Norwegian ballet dancer Vera Zorina. While she had not been nominated for “Casablanca,” Ingrid was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in For Whom the Bell Tolls. The Oscar still proved elusive, however: she lost the award to Jennifer Jones for “The Song of Bernadette.” Ingrid was to win her first Best Actress Academy Award for her portrayal of a Victorian housewife who was being driven to insanity by her husband in the 1944 film “Gaslight.” The next year, she was nominated for Best Actress again for the film “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” but lost to Joan Crawford. Then, Ingrid worked on two films with Alfred Hitchcock: “Spellbound” (1945), and “Notorious” (1946), opposite Cary Grant. Many consider this second Hitchcock film to be Ingrid’s finest work. Ingrid returned to Broadway in 1946, playing Joan of Arc for 25 weeks in the play Joan of Lorraine, to much acclaim. It also won her a Tony Award for Best Actress. In 1948, she starred in the film version of this play and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, although the film itself was not a commercial success. In 1949, Ingrid wrote a fan letter to Italian director Roberto Rossellini, expressing her desire to work in one of his films. He responded by writing a part for her in his 1949 film “Stromboli.” During the production of this film, Ingrid and Rossellini began an affair that would change her previous wholesome image forever and cause her to lose many fans in America. Ingrid was still married to Petter Lindstrom at the time, although their marriage had not been happy for many years. Rossellini was still married to another woman as well, although they were separated. Ingrid became pregnant, and she and Rossellini sought divorces from their respective spouses so they could marry each other. Ingrid gave birth to a son, Roberto, before the couple were married in 1950. Moralists and fans in America expressed outrage at this seeming downfall of their former idol and denounced her as immoral.
Although her marriage had been unhappy for quite some time, the public had only seen Ingrid’s saintly image before, and balked at the revelation of her affair. United States Senator Edwin C. Johnson of Colorado even criticized Ingrid, condemning her publicly as “a powerful influence for evil.” Ingrid lived in Italy with Rossellini, away from America’s outrage, and made five movies with him between 1950 and 1955. Among these films was “Europa ’51” in 1952, which was released the same year she bore twin daughters, Isabella, who later became a famous model and actress, and Isotta. Ingrid did not work with any filmmakers besides her husband until 1956, when she made the film “Elena et les hommes” with French director Jean Renoir. This film began to resurrect her career in the eyes of international audiences, although she had enjoyed success in Italy with her Rossellini films. Ingrid returned to Hollywood in 1956 to star in “Anastasia” and her marriage to Rossellini ended months later in 1957. This return to Hollywood further rejuvenated her career, and Ingrid began to regain much of her former popularity in America, in addition to winning another Oscar for Best Actress for Anastasia. Around this time she also married Lars Schmidt, a theatrical producer from Sweden. Over the next decade, Ingrid worked in films, television and on the stage. She won an Emmy in 1959 for the television miniseries adaptation of Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw.” She made her London theater debut in 1965 with the play “A Month in the Country.” Ingrid also starred in the play “More Stately Mansions” back in the States in 1967. In 1974, Ingrid won a Best Actress in a Supporting Role Oscar for “Murder on the Orient Express.” In the years since her separation from Rossellini, Ingrid regained much of her previous adoration from her American fans. Her career was coming to a close, however. In 1975, in the same year she divorced third husband Lars Schmidt, Ingrid found out that she had breast cancer. Despite her failing health she continued to work and completed her last film, Ingmar Bergman’s “Autumn Sonata” in 1978. Ingrid’s last acting role was in the 1982 television miniseries “A Woman Called Golda,” in which she portrayed Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, a role that won her both an Emmy and a Golden Globe. Then, on August 29, 1982, on her 67th birthday, Ingrid lost her seven-year battle with cancer, and died in her London home. Her funeral was held in the Swedish church in West London. Her remains were cremated and her ashes were scattered off the coast of Sweden except for a tiny part, which were kept to be interred in the Norra Begravningsplatsen cemetery in Stockholm. In her absence, Ingrid Bergman has left fans worldwide with an enduring legacy of over 50 films that are evidence of her lifelong dedication to the art of acting. (ingridbergman.com)
About Director Michael Curtiz
Michael Curtiz was one of Hollywood’s most prolific and colorful directors. Born to a well-to-do Jewish family in Budapest, he ran away from home at age 17 to join a circus, then trained for an acting career at the Royal Academy for Theater and Art. He worked as a leading man at the Hungarian Theatre before directing stage plays and then films. His first cinematic effort was “Az Utolsó Bohém” (1912), which was also the first feature-length film ever made in Hungary. Curtiz soon moved on to the more progressive Danish film industry, returning to his homeland in 1914 and serving a year in the Austro-Hungarian infantry before resuming his film career. While it may be arguable that Curtiz was Hungary’s finest director, he was certainly its busiest, making no fewer than 14 films in 1917, most of which starred his first wife, actress Lucy Dorraine. When the Hungarian film industry was nationalized by the new communist government in 1919, Curtiz packed his bags and headed for Sweden, France, Germany, and Austria. He directed 21 European pictures in a seven-year period, including the epic “Sodom and Gomorrah” (1923), which was also the film debut of Walter Slezak. In 1926, Curtiz was brought to Hollywood by Warner Bros.; going along for the ride was the director’s second wife, actress Lili Damita, who later married Curtiz’s frequent star Errol Flynn. (The director’s third and final wife was screenwriter Bess Meredyth).
Curtiz’s first few American films were stylish but only moderately expensive. But not so 1929’s “Noah’s Ark,” a super-spectacular production which bombed at the box office but also firmly established Curtiz as a “prestige” director. It also set the standard for an utter lack of concern for the well-being of actors; several extras died during the climactic flood sequence, reportedly because Curtiz, hoping to incur genuine panic in his performers, had failed to inform them that they’d be deluged with tons of water. Most leading actors despised the dictatorial filmmaker, but were willing to work with him time and again due to his uncanny knack for turning out top-notch movies. While his detractors have noted that Curtiz’s much-praised visual style was due more to Warner’s team of cinematographers and art directors than to the director himself, few can deny that his films were among the best and most profitable that the studio ever turned out. Listing his greatest sound films would require a book, in itself, but a representative cross-section of Curtiz’s creative contributions of the 1930s and ’40s include: “Captain Blood” (1935), “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938), “Angels With Dirty Faces” (1938), “Casablanca” (1942, and for which he won an Oscar), “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (1942), “Mildred Pierce” (1945), “Night and Day” (1946), and “Life With Father” (1947). Even in his professional dotage, he was responsible for one of the biggest box-office successes of the mid-’50s, “White Christmas” (1954). Curtiz died in 1962, one year after completing his final film, “The Comancheros” with John Wayne. (fandango.com)