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Publisher's Summary

Critically acclaimed when published in 1992 as Round Up the Usual SuspectsThe Making of Casablanca offers the ultimate insider's look at the politics and personalities behind the most celebrated movie of all time - Casablanca

Updated and timed for the 60th anniversary (Thanksgiving Day, 1942) of this movie, this critically acclaimed book draws upon years of research, including access to Ingrid Bergman's personal acting diaries and the vast Warner Brothers archives, as well as interviews with many of those close to the film, including the late Paul Henreid, Lauren Bacall, and scriptwriters Howard Koch and Julius Epstein. 

Richly detailed and full of surprises, The Making of Casablanca debunks many cherished myths about the casting, script, story, and stars, to reveal the realities of the highly pressured Hollywood studio system during World War II.

©2017 Aljean Harmetz (P)2020 Oasis Audio

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European St. Bernards make the book worthwhile

A lot of this book is well-trodden ground, personalities of the stars, and the conflicts between one another. It's necessary and a book claiming to comprehensively cover the film absolutely needs such information. But it does run a bit thin after a while, The petty prissiness of Paul Henreid, the vanity and aloofness of Ingrid Bergman, the marital battles of Bogart. Where the book really shines however is the coverage of the various European cast and crew on the production, and more widely in Hollywood at the time. The reference in the headline being that of the story of European dachsunds meeting up in Hollywood and claiming that in Europe they were St. Bernards. Some of them were, but some of them were just creating a false image of themselves. But those chapters, along with the background work of the OWI (Office of War Information) both positive and negative, are easily the most entertaining and enlightening of the book.

Personally, I love the film and have for as long as I can remember. I disagree with the author about the perfection of the cast however. Among the indispensable elements are, of course, Bogart, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Conrad Veidt, Dooley Wilson and the likes of Leonid Kinskey and S.Z. Sakall, as Sascha and Carl, respectively. But if I'm being honest, I never felt that the role of Ilsa was undeniably Bergman's. In part, perhaps due to the inferiority of the writing afforded to female characters, it's not a thoroughly engaging role. A more dynamic actress could very well have ruined the delicate balance set up by the Koch, the Epsteins and Curtiz, but I don't doubt that several others could have played the role of Ilsa in the understated manner equally as well. The same with Laszlo. He, along with Bergman, are ingrained in our memory of the film, but a stiff is a stiff. And a stiff that can't adequately bandage his own wound, at that.

The other part that is a bit problematic is that, while the author acknowledges the film as a classic, there is almost an apologetic quality to the praise, as if to mitigate the claims of the film as melodrama or romantic propaganda. I think to dismiss Casablanca as mere melodrama, or romance, or propaganda, does the film an enormous disservice. Underneath the surface, it is has a deeply conflicted core. While I wouldn’t classify it as pure film noir (though many a film noir discussion group has grappled with this issue), in its heart there are classically noir-ish features, embodied primarily in Claude Raines’ portrayal of Renaud, and of course, the initial cynicism of Bogart’s Rick Blaine. In a way, it's even more noir than standard noir. For a start, why isn’t Rick in America? The subject is just touched on, giving vague reasons for comic effect, and proceed to recount Rick’s anti-fascist, though mercenary, leanings in the past. Could it be that Richard Blaine sees through the fog and can recognize the truth, that this cotton candy dream of “America” is a false promise? I don’t think it’s a coincidence that references to going to America are occasionally rebuffed or marginalized, as in Blaine’s advice the young woman, “Go back to Bulgaria”, or Karl’s remark that “You’ll get along beautiful in America”, to the elderly couple and their butchered English. It may seem trivial, but the nature and censorship of the time would not have allowed an honest appraisal of the American dream, so only slight moments can be glimpsed. The book recognizes this and notes the pressures brought to bear on the filmmakers. The recent film "Curtiz" also shows how this battle played out. I don’t see this as anti-American, but merely a recognition that while America offers a life better than what the Nazi party has created, the world is broken in a way that a naive concept like that of the America dream cannot fix. Regardless of political leanings, as detailed in the book, filmmakers, particularly the European emigres, would recognize the hardship, inequities, misogyny and racism to be found in their new country. The film surely conveys the picture postcard dream of America, but it also hints at its shortcomings, most notably through Rick.

Finally, a few notes on the text. The book was written in the 90s apparently, but this is still enough time to recognize that Woody Allen *didn't* misunderstand the line in the film when he wrote the play and film "Play It Again, Sam". It's the nature of his film, that Allen's character is emulating Bogart's Rick Blaine, in essence, doing it "again". And "Conflict" was not a second rate picture, regardless of what the author or, if true, Bogart himself, thought. It's a superior variation of the film "Gaslight". Sorry to pick in Ingrid again. And, sorry no, Clint Eastwood was not carrying on the aura of Bogie, nor Mel Gibson, or anyone else. Or if they were, they were pale imitations.