Skip to main content

All a person has to do is say “Here’s looking at you, kid,” or “We’ll always have Paris,” and images of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman instantly come to mind. Casablanca has been beloved for nearly 80 years. Even people who don’t normally like old movies will admit they like Casablanca.

If someone had told this to Bogart, Bergman, or anyone else when they were making the movie, they would have thought that was crazy. The making of Casablanca was so chaotic that the script was still being written while they were filming – including the ending. It goes to show that movies are more likely to be classics if they’re not intended to be.  

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in movie art for the film 'Casablanca'
Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in movie art for the film Casablanca | Warner Brothers/Getty Images

How did ‘Casablanca’ get started? 

The New York Post called Casablanca an “accidental classic.” No one who made it thought it would endure for five years, much less 80. The play the script was based on, Everybody Comes to Rick’s, had never been staged. It was picked up by producer Hal Wallis, with the play having caught Warner Bros. attention on December 8, 1941 – the day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. 

That turned out to be one of the few fortuitous things that happened to Casablanca before it came out. Stories have circulated that Ronald Reagan, who was under contract to Warner Bros., was going to play the lead role of Rick. Reagan had appeared with Bogart and Bette Davis in the Academy Award-nominated movie Dark Victory. However, per the IMDb trivia section, the story was likely a maneuver to keep Reagan’s name in the press, and the future president was never truly considered for the part. Wallis knew the part was ideal for Bogart, and that was that. 

For the female lead, the role was originally conceived as an American divorcee of questionable morals. However, given the war, it was decided to make her a European refugee. Actor Hedy Lamarr, later famous for inventing the technology that made Wi-Fi possible, was pursued, but MGM would not loan her to Warner Bros., so Wallis got Bergman through producer David O. Selznick, who had just triumphed with Gone with the Wind and Rebecca

Why were there problems with the ‘Casablanca’ script?

While casting the movie turned out to be something of a tangle, the actual making of the film was an out-and-out mess. According to Today, all three leads, the third being Paul Henreid (Victor Laszlo), weren’t pleased with their prospects. Bergman biographer Charlotte Chandler found out that Bergman and Bogart had lunch before filming, and Chandler said, “Ingrid remembered that the only subject they found in common was how much they both wanted to get out of Casablanca.”

The problem the actors had that the script wasn’t finished and was being rewritten as filming continued. Nowadays, with social media and the 24/7 news cycle, the talk of a script being rewritten during filming is considered a sign of a troubled project. In the 1940s, however, this circumstance was relatively rare, and the actors took it as a sign that the powers that be didn’t have their act together. 

At particular issue was the ending and whom Ilsa would end-up with — her husband Victor, or Rick, whom Ilsa had to abandon when she found out Victor was alive? It was pointed out that the Production Code that governed morality in pictures would not allow Ilsa, a married woman, to run off with Bogart, even if that was the “happy” ending. So instead Rick got the “beginning of a beautiful friendship” with police captain Claude Rains. 

What is ‘Casablanca’s’ legacy?


Humphrey Bogart Filmed ‘The Harder They Fall’ While Quietly Dying of Cancer

Casablanca’s legacy got sealed fairly quickly when it won Best Picture, Best Director, and ironically enough, Best Screenplay at the Academy Awards in 1944. In the picture race, it beat For Whom the Bell Tolls, Heaven Can Wait, The Human Comedy, In Which We Serve, Madame Curie, The More the Merrier, The Ox-Bow Incident, The Song of Bernadette and Watch on the Rhine.

By now, few people, if any dispute Casablanca’s status as a classic. On the American Film Institute list of the best movies of all time, it’s number 3, behind Citizen Kane and The Godfather, and it’s number 49 on the IMDb ranking. Its ending was even joked about in the 1990 film Gremlins 2, when a PA announcer can be heard saying, “Tonight, on the Clamp Cable Classic Movie Channel, don’t miss Casablanca, now in full color with a happier ending!”