We'll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood's Most Beloved Movie
By Noah Isenberg
Review by Robert Morris
As I often do, I read this book in combination with another, in this instance Glenn Frankel’s High Noon: The Hollywood Black List and the Making of an American Classic. Both are undeniably “classics” but for different reasons. For example, whereas High Noon is about the era in which it was produced (i.e. 1945-1960 and the infamous “Red Scare”), We’ll Always Have Paris explains the cross-generational and global as well as enduring appeal of “Hollywood’s most beloved movie.”
To be sure, everyone in the film is well-aware of World War Two, underway as the film begins, and loyalties are mixed or non-existent among those who play leading roles, notably Humphrey Bogart (Rick Blaine, an American, owner of a restaurant/nightclub/casino), Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa Lund, wife of a leader of the Czech Resistance, Paul Henreid, (her husband, Victor Laszlo) Peter Lorre (Duarte, a predatory opportunist), and Claude Rains (Captain Louis Renault, head of local police).
Here are a few of what I consider to be Isenberg’s key points:
1. During wartime, everyone involved is a refugee of some kind, preoccupied with survival. Death can be only a moment away. Who can you trust? Who can you depend on?
2. Therefore, cynicism is a fact of life (for some, a way of life) and a defense against hopes and expectations that can so easily by obliterated.
3. Seize each moment of tenderness that comes along. Hang onto it as long as you can.
4. Courage during a moral crisis is rare and of great value. Some do what is right; most do what is expedient.
5. “Trust but verify” is sound advice but sometimes it is necessary to trust the heart and cherish it like a beautiful but fragile flower that has somehow appeared on as battlefield amidst the carnage
The screenplay (by Julius and Philip Epstein with Howard Koch) was somewhat based on an unfinished play, “Everyone Comes to Rick’s,” co-authored by Murray Bennett and Joan Alison. The film was directed by Michael Curtiz and released in 1942.
Interesting item of trivia from IMDb: Conrad Veidt, who plays Maj. Strasser, was well known in the theatrical community in Germany for his hatred of the Nazis, and his friendship with Jews (including his Jewish wife), and in fact was forced to hurriedly escape the country when he found out that the SS had sent a death squad after him because of his anti-Nazi activities. Veidt had it in his contract that he only played villains because he was convinced that playing suave Nazi baddies would help the war effort.
What follows is a portion of the final conversation between Rick and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) before she boards a plane and flies out of his life.
Rick: Inside of us, we both know you belong with Victor. You're part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you're not with him, you'll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.
Ilsa: But what about us?
Rick: We'll always have Paris. We didn't have, we, we lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.
Ilsa: When I said I would never leave you.
Rick: And you never will. But I've got a job to do, too. Where I'm going, you can't follow. What I've got to do, you can't be any part of. Ilsa, I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.
[Ilsa lowers her head and begins to cry]
Rick: Now, now…
[Rick gently places his hand under her chin and raises it so their eyes meet]
Rick: Here’s looking at you kid.
Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Robert Morris. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.