70 years ago today, Casablanca premiered.
Memo from Casablanca producer Hal Wallis to Max Steiner, composer:
On the Marseilles, when it is played in the Cafe, don’t do it as though it was played by this small orchestra. Do it with a full scoring orchestra and get some body to it.
They don’t make producers like that any more, folks.
It is one of the greatest scenes ever filmed. Without it, Ilse’s choice of men at the end might not make sense. You can already see the choice she will make in this scene. And so much of the power of the scene has to do with the giant almost martial swell of sound that erupts when the bar starts singing the Marseilles en masse.
Aljean Harmetz, author of The Making of Casablanca, writes:
Of the seventy-five actors and actresses who had bit parts and larger roles in Casablanca, almost all were immigrants of one kind or another. Of the fourteen who were given screen credit, only Humphrey Bogart, Dooley Wilson, and Joy Page were born in America. Some had come for private reasons. Ingrid Bergman, who would lodge comfortably in half a dozen countries and half a dozen languages, once said that she was a flyttfagel, one of Sweden’s migratory birds. Some, including Sydney Greenstreet and Claude Rains, wanted richer careers. But at least two dozen were refugees from the stain that was spreading across Europe. There were a dozen Germans and Austrians, nearly as many French, the Hungarians SZ Sakall and Peter Lorre, and a handful of Italians.
“If you think of Casablanca and think of all those small roles being played by Hollywood actors faking the accents, the picture wouldn’t have had anything like the color and tone it had,” says Pauline Kael.
Dan Seymour remembers looking up during the singing of the Marseillaise and discovering that half of his fellow actors were crying. “I suddenly realized that they were all real refugees,” says Seymour.
Here is the “dueling anthems” clip.
Listen for that “unrealistic” symphonic orchestra swelling. And take a moment to bow, with respect, towards Hal Wallis.