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On Nov. 26, 1942, Casablanca made its world premiere at the Hollywood Theatre in New York City. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review, headlined “‘Casablanca’ Terrific Hit — Inspired Casting, Curtiz Direction, Give Wallis Winner,” is below:
Here is a drama that lifts you right out of your seat. That Warners had a lucky break in the progress of world events that put the name of Casablanca on everyone’s lips is the answer to the surefire box-office smash the Hal B. Wallis production will enjoy. But in addition to its present timeliness, the picture has exceptional merits as absorbing entertainment, reflecting the fine craftsmanship of all who had hands in its making. Certainly a more accomplished cast of players cannot be imagined, and their direction by Michael Curtiz is inspired.
Casablanca brings to vivid reality on the screen the melting pot that this Moorish port has become since the Nazis overran Europe. There flock the refugees, escaped political prisoners, and those opportunists who prey on people in trouble. Visas to the Americas, via Lisbon, are obtainable through the Black Market at exorbitant prices. Corruption rules the town and nearly all those in it. And through these people, the story of Casablanca is told with expert intensity.
Humphrey Bogart has in Rick, the cafe proprietor, one of the most powerful roles of his film career and plays it for all it’s worth. The fascinating Ingrid Bergman is the wife of Paul Henreid, leader of the vast underground movement on the Continent. During the year he was imprisoned in a German concentration camp, and reported dead, the girl and Rick met and loved in Paris, details of their romance being projected in flashback. Meeting again in Rick’s popular Casablanca cafe, the triangle is intelligently developed and superbly performed, Miss Bergman lending rare beauty to the girl and Henreid taking another long step forward with his restrained portrayal.
A choice assignment falls to Claude Rains as the Prefect of Police who describes himself as “a poor, corrupt official,” and Rains makes every second of it count. Conrad Veidt does a German major with the authority expected of him, Sydney Greenstreet distinguishes his very brief part of the Black Market head, and Dooley Wilson creates something joyous as Rick’s faithful Negro piano player.
Peter Lorre is in and out of the picture in the first reel, yet the impression he makes is remembered. Others who score memorably with what they have to do include Madeleine LeBeau as a hanger-on who may “someday be a second front,” S.Z. Sakall as a loyal waiter, Joy Page as the refugee bride of Helmut Dantine. Curt Bois as a pick-pocket, Marcel Dalio as a croupier, Corinna Mura as a singer, and Ludwig Stossel and Ilka Gruning as a charming old couple on their way to Lisbon. There are only minutes with some of these characters, yet all are outstanding. Wallis really invested wisely in the spectacular cast with the soundest of showmanly results.
It was obviously a bewildering task that Curtiz faced in balancing the wealth of contributing material that was placed at his disposal, but he meets the challenge with directorial skill of Academy Award calibre. The events are shot with sharp humor and delightful touches of political satire.
In a show that is admirable in every department, the long list of technical achievements are headed by the photography of Arthur Edeson, the art direction by Carl Jules Weyl, the music by Max Steiner, the dialogue direction by Hugh McMullan and Joan Hathaway, and the editing by Owen Marks. The song that recalls the romance in Paris was clefted by M.K. Jerome and Jack Scholl. — originally published on Dec. 8, 1942.
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