The Best Book about the Best Movie Ever
I have to admit at the outset that I am a sucker for Casablanca. It has always been my favorite movie and one of the defining moments when I was dating my wife was the time we watched it on a small black and white TV while she was suffering from a very bad cold. Reading Isenberg’s book brought back memories of that moment and all of the quotes from the movie that I still know by heart.
Isenberg begins at the beginning with the never produced Broadway play, “Everybody Comes to Rick’s” which is picked up by Warner Brothers for the then astounding sum of $20,000. In the Warner factory the Epstein twins, Howard Koch and others turn it into the movie we now know. Director Richard Curtiz as is most of the cast are emigres from Nazi-occupied Europe. The movie stars Humphrey Bogart as Rick, Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund, who never looked more beautiful, and Paul Henreid as Victor Laszlo.
Casablanca opened to rave notices in late 1942 and Warner Brothers was helped by General Eisenhower landing troops in North Africa a few weeks later and then with Roosevelt holding a summit meeting with Churchill in early 1943 in Casablanca. Jack Warner never had better advance men. It would go on to win the academy award for best picture of that year.
But this book is more than about the history of making Casablanca, it is about what made so popular to this day. For example, why did a movie about World War II become so popular with the anti-Vietnam War college generation of the late 1960s. As Isenberg tells us, it is about the universal themes of love, glory and making the right moral choices in a very difficult environment. Further Rick Blaine is the typical American hero, a loner who rises to the challenge with just the right amount of comic relief.
Isenberg also tells us that Casablanca had to end with Ilsa ending up with Victor. Simply put the Production Code at the time would not have allowed a married woman to run off with another man and the Code forgives Ilsa’s adultery in Paris because she thought Victor was dead and allows it in Casablanca in the service of the war effort. Also of note is Casablanca’s treatment of the African American piano player Sam (“As Time Goes Bye”), played by Dooley Wilson. The black-owned Amsterdam News wrote, “…no picture has given as much sympathetic treatment and prominence to a Negro character…”
To sum up to any lover of Casablanca, Isenberg’s book is a must read!
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