A little more than 77 years have gone by since Casablanca’s Hollywood premiere in November 1942. The movie’s release was brought forward by three months as part of the propaganda movement in order to coincide with the allied invasion of North Africa. The historical significance is obvious, yet Casablanca is far more than a curious artefact from another era. 

From “Of all the gin joints in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine” to “We’ll always have Paris,” Casablanca is probably the most quoted movie of all time. 

Humphrey Bogart, Claude Raines and Ingrid Bergman might be long gone, but the magic of the big screen is that in a way, they will live on forever in a movie that continues to entrance new generations.

A stroke of marketing genius

People talk about the Golden Age of Hollywood as a simpler time, an age before the PR and marketing people ran the movie business. That’s actually a long way from the truth. Bringing the release date forward was a shrewd decision by Warner Bros. It meant the movie was forever associated in the minds of viewers with the Allied forces getting on top in the war effort.

Quite how powerful that emotional link would prove to be, however, is something even the most ambitious marketing man of the day would not have dared to predict. You have to remember that in the 1940s, and right up to the 1980s, watching a movie on TV was a more social activity than it tends to be today. There was typically just one set in the house, and families watched together or watched nothing. 

The result? The feel-good emotions were effectively transferred from one generation to the next, and those born long after World War II felt the same sense of comfortable well-being when Bogart and Bergman went through their timeless moves yet again. It’s no coincidence that right up until the past decade or so, Casablanca has been an essential part of the Christmas TV ritual for so many families. 

That classic moment at Rick’s casino

The movie itself features one classic set piece after another, and it would be impossible to talk about them all here. But if there’s one scene that really stands out it is the two minutes or so in Rick’s casino in which Bulgarian refugee Jan Brandel (played by Helmut Dantine) risks it all at the roulette wheel. 

Hollywood loves its casino scenes, but this is surely the most memorable roulette moment in movie history. Jan and his wife need to pay for American visas so that they can fly to safety, and there is no time to waste. Roulette is an obvious choice for them. After all, Jan is clearly no expert gambler, and he wouldn’t know where to start at the poker table. But even today, roulette is known as the game where you don’t need expertise to win, just good old fashioned luck. 

In this particular case, of course, luck had nothing to do with the outcome. “Have you tried 22 tonight?” asks Rick, shooting a knowing look at the croupier just as the young Bulgarian is about to give it up.

The fundamental things apply

A great movie has a great soundtrack, and the score by Max Steiner has gone down in movie folklore. Naturally, As Time Goes By is the song most closely associated with Casablanca, but there are numerous other pieces of gold scattered throughout the film, including the masterfully directed duel of the anthems in Rick’s café. 

Incredibly, it took 55 years for someone to come up with the idea of releasing an official soundtrack album – further evidence, as if we needed it, that when it comes to the classics, we have all the time in the world. 

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