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Monday, January 21, 2013

Casablanca...Behind The Scenes

I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m kind of disenchanted with the movie industry as of late.  In fact, the last time that I went to a movie theatre to watch a film was all the way back in the summer of 2010...and it was a movie marketed for children at that!

It’s not that I don’t like going to the movie theatre.  I’ll admit that I do like the experience of going to the movie theatre and watching a film in a giant theatre with a huge screen.  I may have to take out a bank loan just to afford the movie theatre concessions, but I do enjoy the experience.

It’s just a shame that movies these days don’t seem to interest me.

In the last couple of years, we’ve seen sequels, prequels, re-makes, movies inspired by vampire books, movies inspired by board games, and movies that appear to be nothing more than two hour commercials.  It’s a really bleak time for the movie industry, and I’m sorry to say that the movie theatres aren’t getting my money simply because I’m not that thrilled by the current selection of films out there.

Now, if my movie theatre showed films that were released in 1989 and earlier, then maybe I would shell out the dough for the overpriced popcorn and Junior Mints, and enjoy the picture.  I’ve always preferred older movies, and would rather watch a movie from 1973 instead of 2013. 

I think a part of the love that I have for vintage films came from the film studies class that I took when I was in school.  Mind you, I took the class from 2000-2001, but the most recent film in that class that we watched was from 1997 or 1998...and it was a foreign film at that.  The majority of the movies we watched in my film studies class were released between 1930 and 1980, and that suited me just fine.

There’s just something magical about vintage Hollywood productions that I have always found wonderful.  From “The Wizard of Oz” to “Citizen Kane”, from “On The Waterfront” to “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, I would rather watch a marathon of those films instead of watching all of the various “Saw” movies.

But, I’ve always have had a love affair with retro pop culture.

So, why am I telling you this?  Simple.  Today’s Monday Matinee will be focusing on a film that has been critically acclaimed as one of the best films of the 1940s.  It’s music score is memorable, the film lines are quotable, and with huge names like Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman starring in the film, it definitely has the star power of Hollywood’s finest.

Of course, I am talking about the 1942 classic movie “Casablanca”, a film directed by Michael Curtiz, and was based on a unpublished play “Everybody Comes To Rick’s”, written by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison.

When “Casablanca” was filmed, it was filmed on a $964,000 budget, and featured A-list actors, and the best writers that were employable at the time.  Despite this, nobody believed that it would become a huge hit when it had its world premiere on November 26, 1942 in New York City.  Two months later, “Casablanca” was released nationwide, and became a runaway hit.  Now, part of that could have been the timing that the film was released.  After all, it came out smack dab in the middle of World War II, and debuted just shortly after the Allied invasion of Africa in 1942.

The film’s main plot was also set during World War II, where the main character of Rick Blaine (Bogart) is put into a rather precarious position.  He is forced to make a difficult choice...does he choose the love of a woman named Ilsa Lund (Bergman), with whom he shared a previous relationship with?  Or does he put those feelings aside to help Ilsa’s husband escape Casablanca to continue his fight against the Nazis.

And, guess what?   Because I love this movie so much, I want all of you to go and watch the movie yourselves.  And because I want you to watch this movie, that’s all the plot information that I will be doling out!  No spoilers for you this week!

So, to make up for it, I thought that it would be fun if we did an entire feature on the behind the scenes trivia and secrets associated with “Casablanca”.  There may be some minor spoilers that pop up every now and again, but none will spoil the ending.  This much I promise you.

So, let’s begin with the behind the scenes trivia, shall we?

01 – You might not have realized this, but “Casablanca” was the very first film in which Humphrey Bogart had a romantic lead role.

02 – You know the iconic song that was associated with “Casablanca”?  The title of it was “As Time Goes By”.  Here...why not have a listen to it below?

Well, after shooting wrapped up, there were second thoughts about using it as the theme song for Rick and Ilsa.  Composer Max Steiner in particular wanted to use an original song to qualify for royalties.  But by then, it was too late, as Ingrid Bergman had already signed on to film the movie “For Whom The Bell Tolls”, in which her hair was cut super short!

03 – Hedy Lamarr was briefly considered for the role of Ilsa by producer Hal B. Wallis, but MGM refused to let Lamarr out of her contract.  Besides, at the time she was asked, the screenplay for “Casablanca” was still unfinished, and she didn’t want to make a commitment to a project with an unfinished script.

04 – There’s quite a few bits of interesting trivia regarding the iconic character of Sam (Dooley Wilson).  Did you know that the producers considered casting a female in the part of Sam instead of a man?  The people that they considered bringing onto the project?  Ella Fitzgerald, Hazel Scott, and Lena Horne!

05 – Another interesting fact about Dooley Wilson was that he was not able to play the piano!  As a result, Dooley pretended to play the piano along with the recording of the piano music which was actually played by Elliot Carpenter.  Dooley memorized and mimicked Carpenter’s hand positions almost perfectly.

06 – Paul Henreid (who played Victor Lazlo) was loaned to Warner Brothers by Selznick International Pictures.  Unfortunately, the decision was not one that Henreid would have made if it was up to him.  He was worried that appearing as a secondary character in a film would jeopardize his career as a romantic lead.

07 – Henreid also had less than flattering words to say about the two leads of the movie, stating that Bogart was a mediocre actor, while Bergman shot back that Henreid was nothing more than a “prima donna”.  Ouch.

08 – Only three of the sixteen actors that were cast in “Casablanca” were born in the United States.

09 – The film ended up winning three Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

10 – The movie had a record six movie quotes appear on the American Film Institute’s special “100 Years...100 Movie Quotes”.  Among them...

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”

“Play it, Sam.  Play ‘As Time Goes By’.”

“We’ll always have Paris.”

“Louis...I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

11 – There was one memorable moment behind the scenes that involved director Michael Curtiz.  He had asked a prop man to create a puddle of water on the stage.  Unfortunately, the prop man couldn’t quite understand Curtiz’s Hungarian accent, and came back to the set with a poodle!

12 – Although the film contained several scenes at an airport, due to the film being shot during World War II, the airports were blocked from filming after the sun went down.  As a result, a makeshift soundstage was constructed with a cardboard cutout of an airplane with forced perspective.  Little people were hired specifically for the scene to give the illusion that a full-sized crew were working on the airplane.

13 – When the crew were able to film at an airport, the airport that they chose was Metropolitan Airport (later renamed Van Nuys Airport).

14 – The actors who were playing Nazis were in reality German Jews who had escaped from Nazi Germany.

15 – When Julius and Philip Epstein won the Academy Award for their script, they became the first set of twins to win an Oscar!

16 – The chemistry between Bogart and Bergman was undeniably present.  They certainly did share a spark.  Unfortunately, this also caused Bogart’s then wife Mayo Methot to suspect that Bergman and Bogart were having an affair!  This, of course, was false, but Bergman and Bogart rarely spoke after filming wrapped up.

17 – Ingrid Bergman was actually taller than Bogart.  To help camouflage this, Curtiz tried to have Bogart standing on boxes, or had Bergman slouch down.  Therefore, you may notice that there are height inconsistencies between the two actors throughout the movie.

18 – Only one cast member had visited the city of Casablanca at the time the film was being made...Dooley Wilson.

19 – Believe it or not, despite the big screen stars Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet appearing in the film, a minor character played by S.Z. Sakall had more screen time than either of them!

20 – The letters of transit heavily featured in the movie didn’t actually exist in Vichy-controlled France at the time.  It was purely a device planted by the screenwriters to advance the plot.

21 – When Casablanca won Best Picture, it left a bad taste in Hal B. Wallis’ mouth when Jack L. Warner beat him to the stage to accept it instead.  Wallis never forgave Warner, and he left Warner Brothers shortly after.

22 – Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid don’t make their first appearance in the film until the twenty-four minute mark.

23 – Ingrid Bergman watched “The Maltese Falcon” dozens of times to help her prepare for working alongside Bogart.

24 – The Writers Guild of America named Casablanca’s screenplay the best of all time in 2006.

25 – There was a $100,000 life insurance policy taken out on Bogart in case he died during the production of the film.

26 - Casablanca was colourized and aired on TBS back in the 1980s, but the response to it was overwhelmingly negative.

27 – On December 14, 2012, the piano that Sam “played” in Casablanca sold at auction for $600,000!

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