Bring up the name Casablanca to movie buffs today, and you’ll hear them talk about one of the greatest films of all time. The classic became the template for film noir – a stylish picture that was often imitated but never duplicated. It featured Humphrey Bogart at his very best and is as quotable as any movie ever made. But did you know that at the time it was filmed, its future success wasn’t assured? Here’s the story of Casablanca behind the scenes, where not everything was as positive as the film’s finished product.
What is ‘Casablanca’ about?
Casablanca is the story of a nihilistic man that’s given up all hope only to have his spark for life reignited both by a woman he loves and a worthy cause. Bogart plays the lead role of Rick Blaine, the expatriate owner of an African cafe in a remote French outpost during World War II. When the former love of his life returns joined by her husband, he has to decide whether to help the two of them escape or if he should only save her.
The film is full of iconic lines. “Here’s looking at you, kid” ranks as one of the most memorable of a remarkable bunch. It’s rare to see a classic film do so many things well. Along with being expertly shot, it also features phenomenal acting. What might also surprise a first-time viewer is how funny the film is. Despite being known for its suspense, romance, and drama, it also has its fair share of witty repartee between characters. But just how great is Casablanca? Where do moviegoers rank it on their list of the best films of all time?
Where ‘Casablanca’ ranks among the greatest films of all time
What made Casablanca so great? There are so many factors it’s nearly impossible to count. For one, it was perfectly cast. Yes, Bogart was sublime, but the entire troupe of performers was on point as well. Ingrid Bergman and Bogart had electric chemistry, and it’s not a ridiculous notion to think the film wouldn’t be nearly as strong with her supporting performance. Both Claude Rains and Conrad Veidt as Captain Renault and Major Strasser, respectively, also helped carry the film to greatness. The film has received much critical acclaim. But just how good is it believed to be?
Along with the legions of cinema lovers who sing its praises, one noted authority on film weighed in on the movie’s quality: the American Film Institute, or AFI. This body ranked its 100 greatest American films of all time. Casablanca ranked second overall, behind only the legendary Citizen Kane. But the success of the film was hardly a sure thing during the production.
Why ‘Casablanca’ was such a mess behind the scenes
The New York Post referred to the film as an “accidental classic.” It was a troubled shoot, to say the least, for multiple reasons: Bogart was in the midst of a painful, crumbling third marriage during filming. He was drinking heavily at the time and often grew cantankerous. He got into a fight with the director during the movie’s final scene. For one thing, Bergman had no idea which of the actors her character was going to end up with at the film’s conclusion, as the script wasn’t complete when the shooting began and with seven writers working on the script, going back and forth on multiple versions, it was hard to keep up.
In addition, the film’s iconic song, “As Time Goes By,” was not well-liked by the movie’s composer. For all the problems the film went through, its quality persevered. Casablanca received eight Oscar nominations, winning three, including Best Picture, Actor, and Screenplay. It propelled Bogart from being a down on his luck actor into an absolute Hollywood legend. There’s no denying that no matter how bad it got behind the scenes, the result was pure cinematic magic.