It was 75 years ago in New York City that America's most beloved movie, "Casablanca," first was shown to American audiences. Since its release the movie has achieved iconic status, and would have no trouble being named as America's most beloved movie.
What is it about this movie that so resonated with audiences, even today?
Usually with classic movies you have all the top notch talent all working remarkably together like a well-run machine. Yet "Casablanca" was somewhat of a mess when they were filming it. Even after the shooting started, the writers still were not sure how the film would end. That look of confusion on Ingrid Bergman's face as the movie went on was not just acting; she wasn't told who she would end up with since the writers themselves were not sure.
One reason I think the movie so resonated with audiences is that the movie is about refugees fleeing Nazi Germany and winding up in Casablanca, the last stop before making it to the free world. Yet many of the actors in the film were themselves actors who had fled Hitler's Germany and wound up in America. There was Peter Lorre, was born Laszlo Lowenstein from Austria-Hungary. Paul Henreid, who played the freedom fighter Victor Lazlo, was from Vienna; Conrad Veidt, who played General Strasser, was a major German cinema story who denounced Hitler and fled to America. He spent most of the rest of his career playing Nazis, not because those were the only roles he could get, but he felt it important to let the world know the threat Nazis posed.
Even the director, Michael Curtiz, took refuge in Hungary during the Communist revolution before coming to America.
So for this most uniquely American film, almost all the cast were foreign-born.
Humphrey Bogart was new to playing romantic leads and was very uncomfortable with the love scenes. While a total professional on set, he was going through a messy divorce at the time and was drinking somewhat heavily, it was said, adding an realistic poignancy to scenes of romantic abandonment.
Ingrid Bergman was not very excited about the movie, and her real goal was landing the lead role in "For Whom the Bell Tolls" with Gary Cooper, which she did get and won an Academy Award for. Although the characters of Rick and Ilsa seemed to perfectly complement each other's character, in real life the actors did not care much for each other and they never worked together again.
Yet I believe "Casablanca" would not have the emotional impact it still has today without the real backstory of the actors themselves, who had lived the very experiences that so many of the characters on screen were themselves portraying.