Casablanca should not have become the evergreen it eventually ended up being. The movie churned through three writing teams, not counting the one behind the unproduced play it was based on. After its initial release, it received only good reviews and box-office returns, and was a movie destined to be a footnote in Bergman and Bogart’s respective histories. Yet here we are, and Casablanca is arguably the best known movie of all time.
History has settled on the Epstein brothers being the sole writers of the adaptation, though Howard Koch claimed to his death that parts of his unfinished script were used. Add Casey Robinson’s unaccredited rewrite and producer Hal B. Wallis penning the famous «beginning of a beautiful friendship»-line, and you have a potpourri of a script which should be all over the map, and which was only half-way done when filming started.
Yet, somewhat ironically, the tightness of the script is what drives the film.
Casablanca isn’t particularly flashy as far as filming goes, and most of the cinematography is aimed at highlighting the sets and actors, almost theater style. The team clearly did well, seeing the audience never noticed how Bogart was two inches shorter than Bergman. One could argue how ridiculous that actually is, but at the time, it was important for Bogart to be shown as a man’s man.
The lighting is as noir-esque as the best of them, and while Casablanca doesn’t «officially» belong in the genre, I am in the camp saying it de facto does. With only hints of Rick’s past, and him being in a situation out of his control alongside a femme fatale-ish dame, it certainly walks the line.
With «La Marseillaise» and «Deutschlandlied» wailing throughout the score, the music effectively drives the story forward. And of course we have Dooley Wilson crooning us through the melodrama, almost like a narrator.
In other words, almost anything on screen is there to prop up the film’s true strength: a script as bullet-proof as they come.
I don’t know if there is much of a lesson to be learned from Casablanca, other than a tortuous writing process actually can lead to something successful. The movie is featured on most any respectable top movies of all time list. Would anybody say it was undeserved? Contrarians, maybe. Nazi sympathizers, certainly. For the rest of us, it is a movie to watch again and again—a dozen or so viewings later, and I’m still not tired of it.
Which brings us to…
Some have speculated the Casablanca seen in the movie actually was inspired by Tangier. I’m sure somebody who’s not me could debate that for a good long time, but I will instead present this recipe of chicken Tangier, cribbed and modified from Cook’s Illustrated.
- 1 1/4 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp cayenne
- 1/4 tsp ground coriander
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 3 2 inch lemon zest
- 5 minced garlic cloves
- Chicken: 4 breast pieces, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 3/4 low sodium chicken broth
- 1 large onion, halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 cup dried apricots
- 1 cup halved pitted olives
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
Combine the 6 first ingredients and set aside. Mince 1 strip lemon zest and combine with 1 tsp minced garlic into a fine paste. Set aside.
Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add chicken skin side down, and cook until skin is deep golden, 5 minutes. Flip chicken and brown on other side, 4 minutes. Transfer to plate, and remove skin. Discard all but 1 tbsp fat from pot.
Add onion and 2 lemon zest strips to pot, cook, stirring occasionally, until onion has started to brown. About 5 minutes. Add remaining garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Add spices and stir constantly for about a minute. Stir in broth and honey. Add thighs and drumsticks, and reduce heat to medium. Simmer for 5 minutes.
Add apricots and place chicken breasts in a single layer on top of them. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until chicken is thoroughly cooked.
Transfer chicken to plate and cover with aluminum foil. Add olives to pot, increase to medium-high, and simmer until liquid has thickened, 6 minutes. Return chicken to pot, stir in garlic mixture, lemon juice, and cilantro.
Not in the mood for chicken? This makes for a very good soup—follow the recipe, but don’t add the chicken to the pot at the end. It’ll still have a perfect chicken flavor, one Ingrid Bergman would highly approve of. (Because why wouldn’t she?!)
As an aperitif, why not imbibe a St. Germain cocktail? Two parts champagne; two parts St. Germain; one-and-a-half part sparkling water; all equals five-and-a-half parts pure class. Stir and enjoy, safe in the knowledge your messy work and laziness might one day be the basis of greatness!