“Casablanca” is a cultural touchstone, one of those Hollywood classics that, along with “The Wizard of Oz” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” exemplifies the enduring power and romance of cinema.
You could probably even recite most of the 1942 film’s famous dialogue without ever having seen the actual movie: “Here’s looking at you, kid.” “We’ll always have Paris.” “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” “Play it, Sam” (oft-misquoted to include “again”). Those lines remain part of our lexicon more than 70 years after they were first uttered.
As a late Valentine’s Day gift, the Spokane Symphony, conducted by Morihiko Nakahara, will perform Max Steiner’s classic score for “Casablanca” this weekend. And if that isn’t enticing enough, they’ll be doing it in sync with a screening of the great film.
“Casablanca” won three major Academy Awards – picture, director and screenplay – but was still snubbed in others: Humphrey Bogart, in his most iconic role, didn’t win best actor, Ingrid Bergman wasn’t even nominated (though her work in “For Whom the Bell Tolls” was), and Max Steiner’s score, one of the most famous in all of cinema, lost among a whopping 16 nominees.
Steiner, who had won an Oscar the previous year for his score for “Now, Voyager” (also starring Paul Henreid), probably didn’t think he even deserved an award for “Casablanca.” The film’s most famous piece of music is the Herman Hupfeld-penned standard “As Time Goes By,” sung by Dooley Wilson. Steiner wanted to replace Hupfeld’s song with a composition of his own, but reshoots weren’t an option, so Steiner was forced to establish the motifs of his score around a tune that was someone else’s.
But “As Time Goes By,” which was originally written for a 1931 Broadway musical called “Everybody’s Welcome,” is now inextricably linked to the film: Hear its opening bars, and it immediately conjures images of a misty-eyed Bergman and Bogart squinting from beneath the brim of a rain-soaked fedora. Since its use in “Casablanca,” the song has been covered by Frank Sinatra, Louie Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Tony Bennett and many others, and the American Film Institute named it the second greatest movie song ever, right behind “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
The music is as powerful as the love triangle at the center of the film, and best way to see the movie, especially if it’s your first time, is on a glorious big screen with Steiner’s music performed live. Once you’ve heard this music played, synched up with the lustrous black and white images of “Casablanca,” you’ll want to – pardon the expression – play it again.