Play it again, Alex.
Even if you’ve seen “Casablanca” (1943) half a dozen times--and who hasn’t?--you may want to see it again this Saturday in a real theater--Glendale’s handsomely restored Alex--with a real audience. Not just any audience either: members of the Alex Film Society, most of whom hate the colorized version as much as you do.
Rudy Behlmer, a Studio City-based film historian and TV writer/producer, will introduce the classic story of love, intrigue and self-sacrifice. Behlmer has told the story of “Casablanca” and 15 other classic films, from “Frankenstein” (1931) to “High Noon” (1952), in his book, “Behind the Scenes: The Making of . . . “
Behlmer tells, for instance, how the film’s most famous line was born. “Casablanca” had begun shooting without a finished script, and new pages were always being delivered to the set. Director Michael Curtiz was only a week away from wrapping the picture, and the ending had still not been determined. Would Rick (Humphrey Bogart) be killed while helping Lazlo (Paul Henreid) and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) escape? Would Ilsa end up going off with Rick?
According to co-writer Julius Epstein, he and twin and partner Philip were driving down Sunset Boulevard toward Beverly Glen when they turned to each other at the same moment and cried: “Round up the usual suspects!”
Renault, the prefect of police (Claude Rains), had used the phrase disdainfully earlier in the picture. The Epsteins proposed that Rick shoot the Nazi official Strasser (Conrad Veidt) in front of Renault, then have Renault utter the line when the police arrive. The film’s kicker, spoken by Rick, was producer Hal Wallis’ contribution. “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” replaced “Louis, I might have known you’d mix your patriotism with a little larceny.”
Because everything about “Casablanca” is so right, it’s amusing to see how close it came to being wrong. The fact that Warner Bros. had already announced that Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan would play the war-crossed lovers is the best known of these near misses. But Behlmer tells of numerous others.
How about George Raft as Rick? Jack L. Warner proposed the screen gangster for the part, but Wallis balked. “Bogart is ideal for it,” Wallis told his boss in a memo, “and it is being written for him.” As to Raft, Wallis added: “Incidentally, he hasn’t done a picture here since I was a little boy, and I don’t think he should be able to put his fingers on just what he wants to do when he wants to do it.” The studio’s official memo form bears the printed message: “VERBAL MESSAGES CAUSE MISUNDERSTANDINGS AND DELAYS (PLEASE PUT THEM IN WRITING).
And try to imagine the movie without “As Time Goes By.” When studio composer Max Steiner sat down to score the finished picture, he didn’t like its signature song, written by Herman Hupfeld. Steiner wanted to substitute a song of his own composition, in part, perhaps because he hoped to earn royalties as time went by.
The studio was willing to make the change and was prepared to re-shoot several key scenes that featured the Hupfeld tune. But Ingrid Bergman, whose hair brushed her shoulders as Ilsa, had already had it cut short for her role as Maria in “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and so the song stayed. Steiner skillfully wove the tune into the score, which, as Behlmer reminds, also features a stirring use of the French anthem, “La Marseillaise.”
Dooley Wilson seems almost as inevitable as the song. But he, too, came close to missing his shot at screen immortality. Wallis had recently seen Hazel Scott perform in New York and proposed rewriting the role for an African-American woman. Wallis still wasn’t satisfied with Wilson’s singing style after filming began and asked the head of the studio’s music department, Leo Forbstein, to “begin looking immediately for a Negro with a good crooning voice to double all of Dooley Wilson’s songs” (Wilson’s piano playing was already being doubled out of camera range by staff musician Elliot Carpenter). Wallis came to his senses after hearing several of the proposed substitutes.
“Casablanca” made film history and made Bogart the best-paid star in Hollywood. As Behlmer points out, “Casablanca” has romance, great stars, wonderful character actors, a terrific score, “marvelous badinage, " and uplifting self-sacrifice against the background of a just war that had yet to be won.
“It captures everything you want in a movie, except fantasy,” Behlmer says. “It has no fantasy--except Casablanca and Rick’s Cafe.”
* WHAT: Screening by the Alex Film Society of “Casablanca.” (1943).
* WHERE: Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale.
* WHEN: 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday.
* HOW MUCH: $6 matinee, $7.50 evening.
* CALL: (818) 243-ALEX.