By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com November 26, 2012 at 1:57PM
A little over 70 years ago, Allied troops had invaded and freed French North Africa from Nazi occupation. And aside from helping to turn the tide of the war, it proved to be something of a boon for Warner Bros. as the company had just completed a film called "Casablanca," which was set among the resistance movement in the Moroccan city under German occupation. The film hadn't been greenlit with high hopes and was generally seen as something of filler material, intended to cash in on the recent success of the now-mostly-forgotten "Algiers."
But thanks to the link with current events, the film was rushed into release with screenings taking place in New York City 70 years ago today, on November 26th, 1942. By the time it landed in theaters the following January, it was a genuine hit, proving the seventh biggest film of 1943 and going on to be nominated for eight Oscars at the 1944 Academy Awards, winning Best Picture, Best Director for Michael Curtiz, and Best Screenplay, though stars Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains lost out and female lead Ingrid Bergman wasn't even nominated (though she was for "For Whom The Bell Tolls," which was shot just afterwards).
And of course, 70 years on, it's regarded as an enduring classic, constantly placing high on lists of the greatest films ever made. And rightly so. Despite a troubled production (only half the script was complete when it began shooting), it's virtually a perfect film -- complex, funny, thrilling and swooningly, tragically romantic in its depiction of the love triange between seemingly apathetic bar owner Rick (Bogart), his lost love Ilsa (Bergman) and her French resistance hero husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). Oft-imitated and parodied but never bettered, it feels as fresh today as when it was first shown seven decades ago, and as such, we wanted to mark the occasion by digging up five facts you might not know about the film. Read them below.
One of cinema's most enduring urban legends is that Ronald Reagan was originally cast as Rick in the project. In fact, it was never true, but there is at least fair basis for the rumors. Reagan was named, along with Ann Sheridan ("Angels With Dirty Faces") and Dennis Morgan ("River's End") in a studio press release as taking the lead roles in the project in early 1942. But in fact, none were actually involved. Reagan had been ruled out, having been called up to active army duty after Pearl Harbor but was seemingly mentioned by publicists along with Sheridan and Morgan in an attempt to keep their names out there. George Raft also famously turned the project down, but again, the truth of that is in doubt. The studio's records suggest that Bogart had always been producer Hal Wallis' first choice for the part, though Jack Warner may have preferred Raft. There were other actors considered for other parts, though. Hedy Lamarr -- who also starred in "Algiers" -- was mentioned for the role of Ilsa, but MGM wouldn't release her from her contract (Lamarr went on to play the role in a 1944 radio adaptation opposite Alan Ladd as Rick). French actress Michele Morgan ("Le Quaid des brumes") did test for the part, but RKO wanted a whopping $55,000 to loan her to Warners, so the studio went for Bergman as David O. Selznick was asking half as much money for her, so long as Warners would lend him Olivia de Haviland in exchange. Meanwhile, Joseph Cotten was among the names considered to play Victor Laszlo before it was decided to go with the authentically European Paul Henreid, while Otto Preminger was the first choice to play Colonel Strasser, but again, he was under contract to Fox, who wouldn't release him. Meanwhile, there was a brief thought of turning Sam into a female character, with Lena Horne and Ella Fitzgerald among the names suggested. Even director Michael Curtiz wasn't the first choice; William Wyler was originally wanted by Wallis, but was unavailable. However, director Howard Hawks has a different story. He said in an interview that he was originally meant to direct "Casablanca," with Curtiz on "Sergeant York," but the pair had lunch, and decided they'd be better suited to each other's projects. Hawks got his own chance at similar material a few years later with "To Have and Have Not." Another legendary director was also involved, with future "Dirty Harry" helmer Don Siegel shooting second-unit on the picture.
It's almost impossible to separate the film from its unofficial theme tune, "As Time Goes By" -- it's inextricably associated with the movie, giving its name to the 1998 novel sequel, and since "Casablanca" was released, playing before the logo on most Warner Bros. movies. But interestingly, there were some last-minute attempts to take it out of "Casablanca" altogether. The song had been penned back in 1931 by Herman Hupfeld for the Broadway musical "Everybody's Welcome," and was included in the stage play on which the film was based, "Everybody Comes To Rick's." It was shot by Curtiz as part of the movie, but when composer Max Steiner ("Gone with the Wind") came on board, he asked to replace it with an original piece. He was given the thumbs up, but Ingrid Bergman had already moved on to her next film, "For Whom the Bell Tolls," and had cut her hair short, and wasn't able to reshoot the relevant scenes. In the end, Steiner based his score around the song, along with French national anthem "La Marseillaise." The latter features in one of the film's most memorable scenes, where Laszlo leads a rendition of it against Strasser singing a Nazi anthem. But in fact, the film doesn't use the actual Nazi anthem -- "Horst Wessel Lied" -- which was still under copyright in many countries, with the filmmakers forced to use 19th century patriotic tune "Die Wacht am Rhein" instead.