Casablanca: The Film
Memorable performances, a haunting signature song and a sensational script by Julius J Epstein, Philip G Epstein and Howard Koch make the 1942 film Casablanca one of Hollywood’s greatest achievements. Inspired by Murray Burnett and Joan Allison’s unproduced stage play Everybody Comes to Rick’s, producer Hal B Wallis and director Michael Curtiz put together a stellar cast and crew and shot the film in just over two months at the Warner Bros studio in Burbank, California. No scenes were filmed in Casablanca itself, but the city and its cosmopolitan wartime population were wonderfully evoked, and images of Rick’s Café Américain, street cafes and the souq gave many cinema-goers their first-ever visual introduction to the Maghreb.
Watching the film today, it’s both fascinating and sobering to consider how its story of refugees and lost souls stranded in a foreign place mirrors the contemporary geopolitical situation and the plight of refugees from Syria and other war-torn countries.
It has become almost obligatory for travellers visiting modern-day Casablanca to pop into Rick’s Café on the edge of the old medina for a cocktail or meal while being serenaded by pianist Issam. When quizzed, Issam says that he can’t imagine how many times he has played ‘As Time Goes By’, but admits that he still enjoys doing so. Here’s looking at him.
The first French resident-general, Louis Hubert Gonzalve Lyautey, hired French architect Henri Prost to redesign Casablanca in the early 20th century as the economic centre of the new protectorate and, indeed, as the jewel of the French colonies. His wide boulevards and modern urban planning still survive, as does a rich and unique heritage of Moorish architecture, melding French-colonial design and traditional Moroccan style. However, Lyautey underestimated the success of his own plans and the city grew far beyond his elaborate schemes. By the end of WWII, Casablanca had a population of 700,000 and was surrounded by heaving shanty towns. These have only recently been demolished – often controversially – and their residents rehoused on the outer urban edge of the city.
Casablancais are cosmopolitan, and are more open to Western ways than people elsewhere in Morocco. This is reflected in their dress, and in the way men and women hang out together in restaurants, bars, beaches and nightclubs.