Casablanca – Bogart’s Influence On The American Hero

The Spectacle of a Hero

The 1940’s was an incredibly significant time for not just the film industry, but the entire world as we knew it. The American film landscape became a mirror of what the American public were only hearing about through newspapers and radio broadcasts. The war changed American film, or at least film within Hollywood, to represent the deep patriotism that Americans felt they needed at such a time of constant conflict. One of the two most prominent, and famous American films from the 1940’s “Casablanca”, was a moralistic story, set during the war. It told a black and white story about Americans trumping over who was perceived to be the public enemy at the time, Germans. It is so blatantly war propaganda, yet that doesn’t stop the film from shining even when its intensions are so clear to anyone. But, it is those intensions that make it such a vital piece of Hollywood and American cinema. The 1930’s to 40’s saw the rise of the noir genre, and with it came an archetype so engrained within American society, that the very basis of America’s deep patriotism hinges on this archetype becoming a stereotype. This archetype would not only cement the noir genre for what it is, but would also translate over, and similarly cement a large part of what the Western genre would mean for America at its peak. In Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart portrays a less than reluctant American hero. The setting of Casablanca is important, as despite not being his home, Bogart is quick to defend the honour and status of those around him, even if it costs him his life. Bogart portrays the assumption that Americans have always wanted of themselves. The ideal American is a lover who is willing to defend those weaker. 

Casablanca would portray what you could consider an inherent manipulation of the truth, in both its characters and moralistic stands. These attributes of the American hero would go on to become the ideal for most American men, as something to stride for. Many of the biggest actors in Hollywood at the time, would shape their personality around these characteristics, with their own personal tweaks. There most certainly were performers who went against this ideal, such as Henry Fonda in his later years, and even Cary Grant in Hitchcock’s Suspicion, despite Grant having built his public persona around the idea of being the “ideal American”. But the pure mysticism and allure of the American hero clearly attracted many to make it as prolific of a spectacle as it was. 

I’ve toted Casablanca thus far as an integral piece of American propaganda, but its intended purpose feels more in line with a sense of hopefulness for such an uncertain period in the world, rather than what it comes across as in the end. Released in the early 1940’s, it was unclear where the direction of the war would ultimately end up, and it is pretty clear to assume that the direction of Casablanca’s narrative reflects that. Bogart’s Rick Blaine owns a bar in Casablanca. The establishment serves as the neutral ground zero for each faction within the city, and it is here that we can see the unease of the war’s outcome from an unnerved American public. The choice to revolve the film entirely around Blaine’s bar is vital, as it provides the foreign yet familiar grounds for the ensuing turmoil of the film’s conflict. There is an inherent comfort in the idea of Bogart’s character being the owner of the establishment, despite his grizzled demeanour. Like mentioned previously, his status as the hero provides an immediate relief, so to keep the tension satisfying yet impactful.  

Production Hell in Casablanca

Looking back onto the production process of Casablanca, by all means it should have failed hard. Yet just like the film’s love story between Bogart and Bergman, it persevered through impending odds. Michael Curtiz, born Hungarian had worked on almost 100 films both feature length and below before being handed the proverbial keys to Casablanca. Based on an unreleased play by Murray Burnett and Joan Allison, simply the rights to Casablanca would rack up a massive $20,000, which looked to be the largest price for the rights to any project of its ilk. With such a large expenditure, you’d expect that Warner had a massive amount of faith in the project, yet the production told a different story. Curtiz being Hungarian, had a thick accent, and was reported as to never truly get to grips with the English language. The confusion his accent caused among set even causing him to consider leaving right at the principal photography stage. Casablanca is also recorded as to have an incessant need to rewrite itself to death at each stage of production. Unlike most standard productions, the film had to be recorded in chronological order, as screenwriters Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch continually rewrote the screenplay on set, causing many lines to be improvised. One of the most iconic lines in cinematic history; “Here’s looking at you kid.” being just one example of such. Alongside the many production issues, Casablanca ended up expanding beyond what was its actual budget, leading to a total expenditure of $1,039,000, while the budget remained at $878,000.  

Despite its less than satisfactory production, it is simply evident how much Casablanca has achieved and succeeded since its inception. Upon premier, Casablanca moved on to be nominated for 8 total academy awards, with 3 of those winning the title. It may well have been a reactionary title to the events of the world at the time, but Casablanca still remains an increasingly inspiring story about the perseverance of love against all surmounting odds. Its inspirational aspirations shine through in not just its forefront, but in the background too, as Hungarian director Michael Cutiz was able to make the greatest American film of all time, despite not being able to fluently speak English. And for that, as well as its production issues, Casablanca stands as a huge feat in the history of film, and America as a whole. 

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