The movie Casablanca — today considered a classic — has its origins in a play called Everybody Comes to Rick’s. It tells the story of Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), an American of dubious background, who owns and runs Rick’s Cafe Americain, the coolest/hottest nightclub in Casablanca.
The story is set in the early days of World War 2. Many refugees have made their way to Casablanca in a last, desperate attempt to flee Hitler’s Europe. They hope to do so legitimately, if possible, by getting official letters of transit from Captain Renault (Claude Rains), commander of the local French police. If that hope fails them, everybody comes to Rick’s night club to try to buy their way out by other — less official — means.
When production began on the movie, the hopes for it were not high — the script passed through the hands of many script writers and editors, and the story was being continuously rewritten even during the shooting schedule. But a buzz began to build around the studio towards the end of the production; people began to recognize that there was more to the movie than the sum of its parts.
The rest — as I’ve heard someone say — is history.
It’s a personal fancy of mine that some of the unexpected success of Casablanca comes from the casting of the movie — not specifically of the stars (Bogart, Rains, and Ingrid Bergman), but because of the actors cast in minor roles. Many of the supporting roles — refugees from Hitler’s Europe — were performed by actors who had actually fled from Hitler’s Europe.
These included Paul Henreid, the son of an aristocratic Viennese banker; Conrad Veidt, an outspoken anti-Nazi who supposedly had been the target of an assassination plot; Peter Lorre; S.Z. Sakall, whose three sisters died in concentration camps; Marcel Dalio and Madeleine Lebeau, who had fled Europe on forged visas; Helmut Dantine, the leader of an anti-Nazi youth movement, whose parents died in a concentration camp; and many others.
And so, to the clerihew:
More notes on the clerihew:
- In ancient Roman times, an haruspex was a diviner who practised his art by reading the entrails of chickens.
- One of the many classic lines uttered by the scene-stealing Claude Rains in the movie is : “Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects.”