After 75 Years, Here's Looking At You, 'Casablanca' Did you know Humphrey Bogart had to stand on a box for scenes with tall Ingrid Bergman? NPR's Susan Stamberg visited the soundstage where the 1942 classic was filmed — and returned with stories.
NPR logo

After 75 Years, Here's Looking At You, 'Casablanca'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/515372794/516983833" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
After 75 Years, Here's Looking At You, 'Casablanca'

After 75 Years, Here's Looking At You, 'Casablanca'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/515372794/516983833" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Here in Southern California, Oscars night is almost here. And a beloved, Oscar-winning classic nears 75 years since its premiere. "Casablanca," the World War II romance about the fight for love and glory, brought glory to Warner Bros. and stardom to its leading actors. NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg toured the Burbank, Calif., studio where the magic was made.

JOHN KOUROUNIS: And we are off. Is this anybody's first time to Warner Bros. Studio?

SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: Tour guide John Kourounis drives us along streets lined with facades, banks, apartment buildings, the coffee shop where Emma Stone works in "La La Land." On one corner, a tan, nothing-special building.

KOUROUNIS: As far as we know, that is the last remaining exterior set from "Casablanca."

STAMBERG: On this corner, Rick Blaine - that's Humphrey Bogart - and Ilsa Lund - Ingrid Bergman - learned the Germans were approaching Paris. That was after we'd seen them spooning over champagne in Rick's apartment.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CASABLANCA")

HUMPHREY BOGART: (As Rick Blaine) Here's looking at you, kid.

KOUROUNIS: And now we approach Stage 7. Our nickname for it is Lucky 7 - the reason being our first three Academy Award winners for the best picture were shot in here.

STAMBERG: "The Life Of Emile Zola," "My Fair Lady" and "Casablanca," plus 10 best picture nominees were made on Warner's Soundstage 7. Better go in.

Well, this is the hallowed ground.

ALJEAN HARMETZ: This is where Rick's Cafe was, right here on Stage 7.

STAMBERG: Bogey's big bar restaurant casino, with Sam at the piano, taking requests.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CASABLANCA")

INGRID BERGMAN: (As Ilsa Lund) Play it, Sam. Play "As Time Goes By."

DOOLEY WILSON: (As Sam, singing) You must remember this. A kiss is just a kiss. A sigh is just a sigh.

STAMBERG: The trace of romance remembered, the unexpected re-encounter, the desperate search for letters of transit to get to the West, out of Nazi-controlled French Morocco and safe from Hitler. The idealism, nobility, sacrifice, patriotism - it all happened on Stage 7.

HARMETZ: Looks like a warehouse.

STAMBERG: Aljean Harmetz wrote "Round Up The Usual Suspects: The Making Of Casablanca." Published in 1992, it's still the definitive book on the movie made on 7.

HARMETZ: With a rickety staircase going up to the top, where they could put the cameras.

STAMBERG: It's big, about a quarter of a football field. Not a hint of romance - just a crew getting ready to shoot a TV commercial. Most but not all of "Casablanca" was made on 7. Since most of the story takes place in Rick's Cafe, that $76,000 set remained in 7 throughout the filming. Other scenes had to be done on different soundstages. And because of World War II and the sighting of a Japanese submarine off the coast of California, in 1942, "Casablanca" was mostly shot indoors.

HARMETZ: Because people were terrified that the Japanese might attack the mainland.

STAMBERG: So no location shooting, no nighttime shooting, no car chases. Shortages meant no movie-making basics, rubber, aluminum.

HARMETZ: Costumes had to be made differently. You couldn't have nylons any longer. Bergman couldn't wear silk. She had to wear cotton. A lot of what Hollywood took for granted, particularly the luxurious things that dressed its female stars, didn't exist during the war years.

STAMBERG: And the war affected casting. Paul Henreid, who plays resistance fighter Victor Laszlo, was Austrian. Half the small and medium roles were played by war refugees. Ironic, says Aljean Harmetz.

HARMETZ: All of these refugees from Nazi Europe found a lot of roles for the next four years playing Nazis in the movies.

STAMBERG: Ingrid Bergman was also from somewhere else, Sweden. She'd made a few films there, some here.

HARMETZ: This is the movie that made her an American star.

STAMBERG: Native New Yorker Humphrey Bogart had been a gangster in several Warner films. Now he was playing a cynic unwilling to get involved in a wretched war, still missing his lost love. Bogart was not crazy about the part.

HARMETZ: He thought his character was too full of self-pity.

STAMBERG: The actor was tough, also short. He had to stand on a box for his scenes with tall Ms. Bergman - also a loner, an avid drinker and unhappily married to his wife before Lauren Bacall.

HARMETZ: She drank an immense amount, and she threw things a lot.

STAMBERG: And despite all that, "Casablanca" made Bogart a romantic lead and a huge star.

HARMETZ: After the movie was made, suddenly, everyone thought that Bogart had sex appeal. And he told Lauren Bacall, I did nothing in "Casablanca" that I hadn't done in 30 other movies. And, suddenly, they say I have sex appeal. Well, when Ingrid Bergman looks at you, you have sex appeal.

STAMBERG: The script of "Casablanca" was by Julius and Philip Epstein and Howard Koch. And Aljean Harmetz writes it went through many changes and revisions. For ages, the ending wasn't known. Bergman said while shooting was underway, she asked director Michael Curtiz and the writers which man she goes away with, her one-time Paris lover, Rick Blaine, or the noble freedom fighter, Victor Laszlo. Bergman was told they'd let her know as soon as they knew. The decision was revealed in an airport scene as the couple leaves "Casablanca." Because they couldn't shoot outdoors, Hollywood magic saved the day. Craftsmen built a plane with plywood, a very small plane.

HARMETZ: And in order to make it look real, they hired very small men to act as mechanics so that, from the distance, it looked like a real airplane. And in order to disguise the cutout even more, they poured fog into the scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CASABLANCA")

STAMBERG: And into that foggy darkness, after the plane takes off, the final words of the film are spoken - this time, the work of another author, producer Hal Wallis, who came up with the line two weeks after production was over.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CASABLANCA")

BOGART: (As Rick Blaine) Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

STAMBERG: The end of a beautiful Oscar-winning best film made mostly on Warner Bros. Lucky Soundstage 7 in 1942 and just as powerful and moving and romantic 75 years later. Near Hollywood, I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAX STEINER'S "AIRPORT FINALE")

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.