WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE CASABLANCA: THE LIFE,LEGEND AND AFTERLIFE OF HOLLYWOOD’S MOST BELOVED MOVIE
Kenneth Tynan may have given the film, Casablanca, its most backhanded compliment when he called it “a masterpiece of light entertainment”.
The film is certainly a masterpiece of endurance, as Noah Isenberg‘s book title, WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE CASABLANCA, confers. Seventy-five years after it was released, CASABLANCA maintains a mantle of popularity, Bogart might wear tuxedos and trench-coats in the movie, but Casablanca comforts us like a cosy old cardigan.
In seven captivating pages, Isenberg illustrates the life, legend and afterlife of Hollywood’s most beloved movie. Each chapter is named for a line from the film, or an allusion to the line at least, easily identifiable as they have all passed into the fabric of universal vernacular.
Isenberg systematically looks at the conception of the film, from it’s beginnings as a stage play called Everybody Comes to Rick’s, written in 1940 by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison through its gestation at Warner Brothers. The writing team brothers, Julius and Philip Epstein, took it from there, with added scripting by Howard Koch. Other writers were called in, uncredited, most notably Casey Robinson, to assist with the romantic clinches.
The script continued to be a work in progress when shooting commenced under the direction of Michael Curtiz, who had rounded up the usual suspects of Bogart, Bergman,Raines, Lorre, Greenstreet et al. The story of its making is just as remarkable as the movie itself, not the least of which the indisputable and indispensable role that refugee’s from Hitler’s Europe had in making it.
WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE CASABLANCA exuberantly examines and explores why Casablanca continues to live on in our collective consciousness, as affecting to our hearts and minds now as it was from the start three quarters of a century ago. As hugely entertaining as the film it delves into, WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE CASABLANCA factors in the tangible attributions of its success on release – good fortune of historical timing, the prodigious talent brimming over the project, – with the host of factors that often elude classification – the glorious black and white shadows of our imagination.
Irresistibly readable, WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE CASABLANCA, is an anecdotal almanac, serious in its scholarship but playful in its presentation, and presses home the reasons for its endurance – the parallels between its time and ours are poignant. It seems as time goes by Casablanca grows in stature and meaning.
Umberto Eco once quipped, “Casablanca is not a movie, it is all movies.”
WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE CASABLANCA triggered me to rewatch the film and he’s not wrong. It is all in one a tragedy, a romantic comedy, a thriller, an adventure, a musical, even a Western. In today’s popular culture the journey between fast buck and sheer greed has a stopover called the sequel. CASABLANCA doesn’t need one.
Here’s looking at it, kid. Play it again.
WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE CASABLANCA by Noah Isenberg is published by Faber and distributed by Allen and Unwin, Australia.