When Warner Bros. picked up the rights to the flop play Everyone Comes to Rick’s, they planned to cast one of their contract players, Ronald Reagan, to play opposite his frequent leading lady, Ann Sheridan. After a typical round of Hollywood casting roulette, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman were handed the roles, and the title was changed to Casablanca. Bogart was the brusque, scarred Rick Blaine, Bergman was his lost love Ilsa Lund (“We’ll always have Paris”) and Paul Henreid was Ilsa’s husband, the noble leader of the anti-Nazi Resistance, all converging on French-occupied, German-dominated Morocco on Dec. 6, 1941. Directed by Michael Curtiz, from a script rewritten so furiously during production that Bergman said she didn’t know which man her character would end up with,
Casablanca had a dream climax — it became the top-grossing movie of 1943, winning Oscars for Picture, Direction and Screenplay — and an even happier afterlife. It is the oldest entry on the Internet Movie Database’s all-time top 20, and third on the Zagat list of movie classics (behind the first two Godfather films). Succeeding generations of fans are attracted by Bogie’s heroic fatalism, Bergman’s sanctified adultery (a big deal at the time) and timeless dialogue like “Here’s looking at you, kid” and “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By’.” Film scholars have inferred or imagined that Rick is really F.D.R. on the eve of Pearl Harbor (casa blanca is Spanish for White House), and that the butch Rick and the flirtatious Renault are pursuing something more than “a beautiful friendship.” But most viewers respond to the picture for the same reasons their grandparents did: it’s a movie made without pretense but with serious wit, brisk glamour and eternal star quality. Then as now, if you were asked to summarize the glory of Hollywood filmmaking in one word, your answer would have to be Casablanca.
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A muckraker disguised as a moviemaker, Oliver Stone has spent most of his career making movies whose blood vessels burst with holy indignation. First as the writer of Midnight Express and Scarface, then as a full-service auteur, Stone etched his Savonarola sermons on the big screen with such sustained fury that they often seduced audiences and Academy members alike. Nominated as writer and director for Born on the Fourth of July and JFK, Stone won Picture and Director for Platoon, an up-tempo dirge about his experiences as a young grunt in Vietnam. Like Casablanca, this is a movie about a foreign conflict that touches and taints Americans who’d rather be back home. But Platoon is searing, not suave; instead of distant rumblings, the guns and grenades go off in the face of a displaced teenager. Stone wanted the drama, the carnage, the horror, the horror to be so white-hot they would cauterize the wounds of war, and singe everyone’s soul in the process. Maybe the movie didn’t live up to the headline on TIME’s cover story — “Viet Nam As It Really Was” — since the Vietnamese, on either side of the conflagration, were mostly invisible. This was about Americans against Americans: fratricide abroad. Even so, Platoon remains the most impressive movie to deal with the fighting men in that hopeless Asian war. Apocalypse Now was, by comparison, all machismo and mysticism; Stone’s film is a document written in blood that, even today, refuses to dry.