Forget CITIZEN KANE. My vote for the greatest American film is CASABLANCA. There’s no denying KANE’s importance in film history and there are other films I love more than CASABLANCA. But CASABLANCA is the perfect blend of script, direction, and stars.

And just look at these stars! Humphrey Bogart as nightclub owner Rick, Ingrid Bergman as his former lover trying to flee Morocco with her current lover (Paul Henreid), the leader of the underground resistance. And that doesn’t include the slew of legendary character actors–Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, S.K. Sakall (Rick’s Café manager), and, of course, Dooley Wilson as piano player Sam.

But for us film score fans, it’s all about Max Steiner‘s classic score. Steiner’s score includes the Arab theme first heard in his 1935 score for THE LOST PATROL. As he did in so many scores, Steiner employs the period practice of using pre-existing tunes for dramatic effect. In this film, it’s the “La Marseillaise” to convey French patriotism. But it is his use of “As Time Goes By” that provides the most memorable theme from the score.

Dooley Wilson’s rendition will forever be the standard by which all other interpretations are gauged. And in nearly 70 years, no one has ever come close to matching it. But Steiner’s genius, and I daresay the reason the song is now a classic, was through his interpolation of the melody in the underscore.

Casablanca soundtrack
“Main Title/Prologue”
“Medley: Paris Montage”

There is no one element that makes CASABLANCA the classic that it is. Instead, it is that rare piece of art in which every element works in tandem with the other to create a satisfying whole. CASABLANCA is as close to cinematic perfection as you’re likely to find.

  1. An interesting bit of information is Warner Brothers purchasing this song in the late 20’s for future use and Maxie not really wanting to use it. I heard Mancini live performing this. A memorable night.

  2. One of my local cinemas is having a classic film festival starting at the end of this month, and the first film on their schedule is “Casablanca”. It should be exciting to see it on the big screen.

    1. I’d love to see this on the big screen. You’ll have to let me know how fabulous it is. Because it can’t be anything but. :)

      1. I’m sure it will be spectacular. Although, I dare say “West Side Story” is probably going to be my favourite of the bunch. They’re also showing “The African Queen”, “E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial” and “Manhattan”, so overall it should be an interesting few days.

        Sadly, it will be the last hurrah for the cinema in question though, because it’s being closed down. It’s only a small one, and it just can’t compete with the Multiplex down the street. It’s unfortunate, because there are precious few cinemas around here which show movies like “Casablanca” (or any of the others I mentioned).

  3. While I still think it’s behind KANE and KING KONG as the greatest of classic American films, what you say about CASABLANCA is true: it does reflect the collaborative craftsmenship of Hollywood at it’s best – and Steiner’s musical scoring exemplified the glorious studio sound stages of the day.
    The Warner blu-ray of CASABLANCA certainly gives new life to it’s monochromatic beauty, especially if you can project it at home!

    1. I have yet to go the Blu-ray route. I’m not convinced that the format is gonna stick around. But I bet the presentation of films like CASABLANCA is pretty pristine.

      1. It had better stick around! I haven’t forked out untold sums of money on over 150 Blu-Ray’s just for them to be made obsolete. :-P

        And, yes, “Casablanca” looks wonderful on Blu-Ray.

        1. Hence why I wouldn’t buy into it. I’ve spent untold sums on DVD. Can’t do it again. With declining sales of both DVD and Blu-ray (though I think BR is still selling better, not sure), the whole damn thing may become obsolete. Who knows. Let’s revisit in 10 years time. :)

  4. Jim, first things first. Did you know that Bogart was not Warner’s first choice for Rick? Get hold of your self it was Ronald Regan.
    Second as for Blu ray, Sony will keep it going just for Playstation and “The High End Audio Community” see it as one of the answers to the dying “Redbook CD format. If I were you I’d tell you to get a very good upsampling DVD with a good processor ( they can be found if you look for under $50!!) that lets you run your “Normal 408 DVD’s at 1080p through HDMI.. you will be amazed it’s very close to Blu Ray. OK so you don’t have Dolby 7.1 surround, (So What).

    1. Thanks for the recommendations, Paul. My eyesight is so bad (and keeps getting worse) that I don’t think I’d be able to tell the difference between 1080p or lower (mine TV is the next one down…720? whatever the number is). And since my DVD/TV are hooked up to my Bose speakers, I get enough punch. :) I’ll still stay with my plain DVD setup for now. Maybe I’ll get whatever happens AFTER Blu-ray.

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