Casablanca has been called one of the greatest films of the Golden Age of Hollywood, with its combination of suspense, politics, humour and romance.
The source of some of the most most quotable moments in cinema history, the film cemented Ingrid Bergman’s place in the acting hall of fame, and popularised the classic song ‘As Time Goes By’.
But when the film was made 75 years ago – it was released between November 1942 and January 1943 – no one involved in its production imagined that it would go on to become such a big success.
The rights to the play on which it was based were the most expensive ever purchased at the time, but the start of filming was delayed, and it had to be shot in sequence, an unusual move that was necessary because only the first half of the script was written when shooting began.
(The creation of the script itself was difficult – it was written by three different people over several months, with the conclusion so open-ended that Bergman was advised to play off her two love interests in an even-handed style because it wasn’t clear who she’d end up with. And then it attracted the attention of the censors and had to be amended.)
Stock footage was used to show the actors in Paris, while in reality the entire film was shot on a set that had been repurposed from an earlier movie. And it had to be shot in less than a year – an unheard-of speed for the era. This caused tensions to run so high that star Humphrey Bogart ended up getting into a physical fight with the director, while he had to stand on blocks or sit on cushions to make him taller than Bergman.
Even the film’s composer Max Steiner reportedly hated ‘As Time Goes By’, which came with the original play rights, and wanted to replace it but couldn’t because it would’ve involved reshooting scenes and Bergman had already cut her hair for her next role.
Despite all that, the film was extremely topical in its day because of its World War II setting. In fact, the premiere of Casablanca was brought forward to coincide with the Allies’ actual capture of Casablanca, making it seem even more real.
It got reasonable reviews and was a big hit with audiences worldwide, as well as garnering eight Academy Award nominations. And some critics say that the many cliches in the film, and its haphazard production are actually what makes it.
As writer Umberto Eco said of Casablanca: “Two clichés make us laugh. A hundred clichés move us.”