Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman
Director: Michael Curtiz
Distributor: Warner Brothers
I have a huge black and white photograph of what looks suspiciously like Madonna and Warren Beatty in period costume locked in a passionate kiss at a dark, rain splattered airport. It’s an image that could have been lifted straight out of Casablanca except that this is an idealised ending to the 1942 cinema classic. Our two original screen lovebirds, Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) never lock lips like this at the climax. Instead they part, possibly forever, across the rainy tarmac towards what, if you take away the movie magic, is in fact a scaled down, cut-out aeroplane being attended to by a team of midget mechanics.
It’s an ending that caused the filmmakers untold anxiety throughout production but one that helped elevate the entire film to its legendary status. Would the luminous Ilsa wind up with her lover or would she stand by her husband and the ideals by which he in turn stood guard? According to Bergman’s daughter, Pia Lindstrom, her mother was at her wits end not knowing the answer but when it finally came and she walked away with the noble Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid) she marched right into cinema history. As one of the scriptwriters, Howard Koch says in the DVD documentary extra, the film made the point that ‘there were values that were worth making sacrifices for… If it had a romantic ending, there wouldn’t be any legend today.’
However, it wasn’t Koch who came up with the winning finale. It was the brothers Julius and Philip Epstein who, in a moment of pure synchronicity devised the solution. ‘Round up the usual suspects!’ they said to each other, quoting an earlier line from the film and, working backwards from there they envisaged a murder. Who would the audience want to see killed? Major Strasser! And by whom? Why, our hero Rick, of course! It’s a fantastic story for aspiring scriptwriters confirming the fact that accidents can sometimes produce classics.