“Casablanca” will take the b.o.’s of America just as swiftly and certainly as the AEF took North Africa. Despite the fact that the fortunate turn or military events has removed the city of Casablanca, in French Morocco, from the Vichyfrance sphere and has thus in one respect dated the film, the combination of fine performances, engrossing story and neat direction make that easily forgotten. Film should be a solid moneymaker everywhere.
Heavy advertising — exploitation campaign being given the picture by Warners should also count at the b.o. It’s designed — as was the quick release of the film after General Eisenhower’s forces marched into the African city — to take advantage of the publicity attendant to military events involving Casablanca. In other words, WB, instead of being dismayed at the town’s changed status, is wisely cashing in on America’s newborn familiarity with the title.
Exhibs, in selling the picture, will do well to bear in mind that it goes heavy on the love theme. Although the title and Humphrey Bogart’s name convey the impression of high adventure rather than romance, there’s plenty of the latter for the femme trade. Adventure is there, too, but it’s more as exciting background to the Bogart-Bergman heart department. Bogart, incidentally, as a tender lover (in addition to being a cold-as-ice nitery operator) is a novel characterization that, properly billed, might itself be good for some coin in the trough.
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Casablanca is pictured as a superficially gay town to which flee the monied refugees from Axis terror. There they await visas to Lisbon and then transportation to the United States. The waits are frequently interminable while arrangements for papers are being made with corrupt Vichy officials and the wealthy help to allay their impatience with chemin-de-fer and other games at Rick’s. Rick is Bogart, who has opened his fancy joint after being ‘jilted’ by Bergman in Paris.
Bergman turns up one evening with her husband (Paul Henreid) whom she thought was dead during the period of her romance with Bogart. Henreid is leader of the underground in Europe and it is vital that he get to America. Bogart has two visas that will do the trick and the choice is between going off himself with Bergman – their torch still aflame – or sending her off with Henreid, who can do so much for the United Nations cause.
Bogart, as might be expected, is more at ease as the bitter and cynical operator of a joint than as a lover, but handles both assignments with superb finesse. Bergman, in a torn-between-love-and-duty role, lives up to her reputation as a fine actress. Henreid is well cast and does an excellent job too.
Superb is the lineup of lesser players. Some of the characterizations are a bit on the overdone side, but each is a memorable addition to the whole. There’s Claude Rains, as the charmingly-corrupt prefect of police; Sydney Greenstreet, as the polite and insidious boss of Casablanca’s underground traffic in visas; Peter Lorre, as a sinister runner of phony papers; Conrad Veidt, as the usual German officer; S. Z. Sakall, as a waiter in Rick’s and a participant in the anti-Axis underground; and Leonid Kinskey as Rick’s bartender.
Deserving of special mention among the lesser characters is Dooley Wilson, making his film debut. A Negro, he appears as the devoted friend and confidante of Bogart, as well as the piano player at Rick’s. He sings with great effectiveness “As Time Goes By,” the theme song of the Bogart-Bergman affair, and otherwise entertainingly massages the keys and sings some old blues numbers. He was last seen on Broadway in “Cabin in the Sky” and before that was a singing drummer in vaude for many years.
Film is splendid anti-Axis propaganda, particularly inasmuch as the propaganda is strictly a by-product of the principal action and contributes to it instead of getting in the way. There will be few more touching scenes to be found than when a group of German officers in Rick’s begins to sing Nazi tunes and Henreid instructs the orchestra to go into “La Marseillaise.” A bit frightenedly at first, but then with a might that completely drowns out the Germans, the patrons and help in Rick’s give voice to the anthem of the France of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” It is just another facet of the variety of moods, action, suspense, comedy and drama that makes “Casablanca” an A-1 entry at the b.o.
1943: Best Picture, Director, Screenplay
Nominations: Best Actor (Humphrey Bogart), Supp. Actor (Claude Rains), B&W Cinematography, Editing, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture