Whether you’ve watched it once or countless times there’s no getting Casablanca out of your blood. “As Time Goes By,” the La Marseillaise sequence, Bogie and Bergman, Casablanca is the film that cemented the Hollywood style, creating a wealth of imitators for decades to come. So with Casablanca’s familiarity, it’s safe to assume there’s nothing new to say about it? Not by a long shot. Noah Isenberg’s We’ll Always Have Casablanca is a landmark text for Casablanca fans, new and old, for lovers and haters of the film. Isenberg’s tome doesn’t just chart the production of the film but the fandom that’s blossomed in its wake, reminding us that “a kiss is still a kiss” and it leaves its mark forever!
Casablanca started out as a Broadway play written by Murray Burnett and Joan Allison. In 1938 Burnett and his wife traveled to visit family in Vienna, right as the Nuremberg Laws were being implemented. After struggling to smuggle out the family’s various belongings Burnett decided to use it as inspiration. Any longtime watcher of TCM knows the bare bones creation of Casablanca. The film was a Warners picture released with near perfect timing to coincide with the start of WWII. In comparison to previous isolationist pictures Casablanca galvanized audiences who saw Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine as a hero not unlike them. Sure, he initially refused to “stick his neck out” but through the power of love – for Ingrid Bergman or the nation’s sons going off to their death – decided to take action. Isenberg’s book explores the film’s political themes at the time. Jewish themselves, the Warner brothers were very invested in calling out the rise of Fascism in this film, and Isenberg showcases how the “La Marseillaise” scene remains relevant to audiences today. Isenberg charts how, from the first serious movie to bring up the Nazis, Warner’s 1939 drama Confessions of a Nazi Spy, the studio wasn’t afraid to confront the real horrors going on.
The movie came together fairly quickly after that. Isenberg gives brief overviews of each actor, director Michael Curtiz and other relevant personages. It’s hilarious to hear that early marketing for the movie touted Casablanca as starring Ronald Reagan, Ann Sheridan and Dennis Morgan, mainly to promote a more recent project that starred the actors. It’d be near impossible to see anyone else other than the likes of Bogart, Bergman and Rains. Isenberg breaks down several of the stars best moments in the film, charting how acting, blocking and other techniques enhance their performances. In the case of Bogart the author explores how the actor was a taste typecast as Rick Blaine, playing takes on the character in several other films.
We’ll Always Have Casablanca stands out not for the exploration of how the film is made, but how it’s legacy endures today and its ability to inspire others. Directors like Steven Spielberg have talked about being influenced by the movie, and Isenberg charts everything. He looks at how Warner Bros. uses “As Time Goes By” as their opening logo intro – something that, in 28 years of watching movies, I never realized. He talks about the multiple attempts to make a sequel, the various television series created (one starring a post-Starsky and Hutch David Soul). He looks at the creation of a real-life Rick’s Cafe Americain in Morocco and literary fan fiction that sees Rick and Ilsa get hot and heavy (didn’t know if I needed that in my life, haha). It isn’t surprising to hear that Casablanca has endured for 75 years, but it’s remarkable to see how fans today are able to take it and find news means of consuming it and reinvigorating the story!
We’ll Always Have Casablanca is a book of passion – author Noah Isenberg’s for the material, the creators of the film’s desire to make a statement, and the myriad of people in its wake who are still inspired by it. Whether you believe Casablanca is the greatest film ever made or the best representation of Old Hollywood, Isenberg’s book is a necessary read that highlights how, in 75 years, “the fundamental things apply as time goes by.”
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.