On January 23, 1943, romantic war drama Casablanca was released in United States theaters. The iconic film tops many “greatest films of all time” lists, and has grown in popularity over the years as a generational touchstone, referenced countless times in other areas of popular culture.
The film was made and is set during World War II in French-occupied Morocco. The story line follows Humphrey Bogart‘s character, Rick, an American and owner of “Rick’s Café Américain,” which is known as a place for expatriates and refugees. Trouble arises when Rick’s ex-lover, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), and her seemingly new husband and fugitive Czech resistance leader (Paul Henreid) arrive in Casablanca, searching for exit visas to escape to the United States. The three then become wrapped up in a volatile web of political and romantic espionage. Rick is forced to choose between love and the greater good. The film was Bogart’s first time to play the part of romantic leading man, and it has since become one of his most celebrated roles. His character’s tough exterior and sentimental and wounded heart combine to make him a quintessential part of Hollywood’s golden age of renowned players.
No one involved in the production of Casablanca expected the movie to be anything extraordinary. It was one of hundreds of films that came out every year in Hollywood, and was not thought to have a huge impact. This belief was held despite the fact that producer Hal B. Wallis paid $20,000, the most anyone had ever paid, for the rights to the play Casablanca was based on, Everybody Comes to Rick’s. After it’s release, Casablanca was met with mostly good reviews, though many were still unenthusiastic about the film. The New Yorker called it just “pretty tolerable.”
In spite of unfavorable reviews from some audiences, Casablanca grossed a substantial, though not incredible, $3.7 million during its initial release. The release also coincided with the Casablanca Conference, which was an important meeting between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The film studio utilized this as a type of free publicity. Casablanca was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won three – Best Writing, Screenplay; Best Director, and Outstanding Motion Picture.
Over the years, where other movies of the era faded into the past, Casablanca‘s popularity has continued to grow, turning it into a timeless classic which has a legendary status that propels it above other cinema. It’s combination of romance, comedy, and patriotism in a time of war resonate with audiences of the past and present. The film had grossed $6.8 million by 1955, making it the third most successful wartime movie of Warner Bros. Studios. It also became the most broadcasted film on American television by 1977.
The movie has become such a large part of popular culture over the years, that even those who have not seen the movie are still able to quote some of it’s most famous lines like, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” which was improvised by Bogart during filming, and “Play it, Sam,” which is probably the most misquoted line in film history, largely due to the Woody Allen movie titled Play it Again, Sam. Six memorable quotes from the movie made it onto the American Film Institues 100 Years… 100 Movie Quotes.
Though many have tried to recreate this masterpiece of American cinema in their own way, few have succeeded in receiving favorable reviews. A few examples include the ill-fated 1980 rip-off, Caboblanco, featuring Charles Bronson as a Peruvian barkeeper and 1996′s Barb Wire with Baywatch‘s Pamela Anderson giving a failed attempt at a futuristic version of Bogie’s role. Some remakes and spoofs have received applause though, including Carrotblanca, a short Looney Tune’s version of the famous film with Bugs Bunny filling Bogart’s shoes.
In the over 70 years since the release of this American classic, the film continues to win over the hearts of viewers young and old, remaining a piece of cinematic history that, as playwright Murray Burnett said is “true yesterday, true today, true tomorrow.”