Professor Isenberg, director of screen studies at New York’s New School, will thrill readers with details of the filming of “Casablanca,” along with historical data and critic reviews that explain why the film remains such a beloved classic. Released in 1942, just two weeks after the North African city surrendered to Gen. Patton, “Casablanca” is infamous for its screenplay, soundtrack, and its all-star cast. The likes of Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid. Claude Reins, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Dooley Wilson graced the black-and-white cinematic masterpiece.
Directed by Michael Curtiz against the backdrop of World War II, the story depicts an American expatriate forced to choose between the woman he loves and assisting her Czech-leader husband to escape Casablanca to fight the Nazis. “Casablanca” was noted in the New York Times as a “picture that makes the spine tingle and the heart take leap.” The Academy Award-winning film (for best picture, best director, and best screenplay) became so entrenched in film history that Umberto Eco quoted, “Casablanca is not one movie; it is movies.”
Isenberg, a popular film historian, writes of the myths and realities of the film’s production through his extensive research and interviews with filmmakers, critics and family members of the cast and crew. Isenberg also describes the role Hitler’s European refugees portrayed in Casablanca. Isenberg explains why the movie remains a timeless, revered masterwork lodged into the psyche of film buffs.
Isenberg writes, “Like all movies, ‘Casablanca’ is not without its imperfections. There are undeniably corny lines and a healthy dose of Hollywood ‘hokum’ in the parlance of the day. But its spectacular achievement, whether it’s the result of the ‘genius of the system‘as the great French critic André Bazin once termed it, or the good fortune of historical timing, prodigious talent and a host of factors that often elude classification remains indisputable.”
“We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie” is a wonderful journey that reminds global audiences of how cinema can inspire generations to perform noble deeds even when surrounded by evil.
La Jolla Village News caught up with Isenberg to briefly answer questions about his upcoming presentation.
Lucia Viti (LV) What inspired you to write “We’ll Always Have Casablanca, The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie?”
Noah Isenberg (NI) A conversation with film critic Molly Haskell hatched the idea for “We’ll Always Have Casablanca.” Molly had just published her book, “Frankly, My Dear” on “Gone With the Wind” and suggested that a reappraisal of “Casablanca” would be a good match for me. I published an op-ed piece on the enduring significance of “Casablanca” in the Wall Street Journal over Thanksgiving weekend 2012. The response was overwhelmingly positive. I crafted a book proposal within the year and wrote the book while on sabbatical with the support of an NEH Public Scholar Grant.
(LV) What is your favorite off-camera vignette?
(NI) I love the Peter Lorre pranks. During production, he ran around with a water-filled eyedropper to put out Michael Curtiz’s cigarettes (the director). Lorre also convinced the sound department at Warner’s to wire Curtiz’s trailer so that they could project groans through set speakers from his notorious afternoon trysts with young actresses.
(LV) What is your favorite on-screen vignette?
(NI) A brief conversation between Herr Leuchtag (Ludwig Stössel) and Frau Leuchtag (Ilka Grürning) as they rehearse their broken English for Carl the waiter (S.Z. Sakall). It’s “one of the most beautiful pieces of dialogue in the history of film,” as the late German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder once observed – with a wink and a nudge!
(LV) What did you discover that truly surprised you?
(NI) A review from the Amsterdam News, one of the few black-owned newspapers in New York City, which praised Dooley Wilson’s performance as Sam. They wrote – “No picture has given as much sympathetic treatment and prominence to a Negro character as occurs in this story of war intrigues in North Africa.”
(LV) Do you think Casablanca will endure in future generations the way it has to date?
(NI) It’s promising given how much it continues to serve as a cultural and cinematic touchstone. Think of the adoring “Casablanca” references in “La La Land” and even more so in “20th Century Women.” “Casablanca” remains the great crowd pleaser of the classic Hollywood era.
(LV) Next project?
(NI) To edit and introduce a collection of Billy Wilder’s journalistic pieces written for the German and Austrian popular press during the 1920s before he came to Hollywood. The pieces, wonderful in terms of their width and breadth of subjects, have never been translated into English.
Noah Isenberg is the director of screen studies and professor of culture and media at The New School. Isenberg is the author of “Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins” and the editor of Weimar Cinema and the recipient of an NEH Public Scholar Award.