The Classic Film Score and Song
on its 75th anniversary
In was in November of 1942, the year and month I was born,
that there was another much different birth -- of a film classic.
After 59 days of film shooting, CASABLANCA was finished on August 3 at a cost of about $950,000 -- not a cheap budget but not a blockbuster one either. The film was first released
on November 26, 1942, just a few days after the Allies had landed in North Africa at -- guess where? Casablanca.
So that was a natural connection to what was then happening in World War II. The film release nationwide was several months later on January 23, 1943. That date was chosen to tie-in with the conference in Casablanca between President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. Was this a Hollywood attempt to cash in on the war?
It sure seemed to be. And it worked mainly because the film was so exceptional.
CASABLANCA was later nominated for 9 Oscars and received three of them:
Best Film (Hal B. Wallis, producer),
Best Direction (Michael Curtiz) and
Best Screenplay (Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein, Howard Koch).
Almost everyone knows by now that the film starred Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, and Paul Henreid. Also appearing in the film are a group of first rate character actors:
Claude Rains (Captain Louis Renault),
Sydney Greenstreet (Signor Ferrari),
Peter Lorre (Signor Ugarte),
and the Nazi villain:
Conrad Veidt (Major Heinrich Strasse) --
all shown in the above film poster).
There are also two musicians who deserve much credit for the success of CASABLANCA: Max Steiner for his memorable film score, and singer, Dooley Wilson, for his unforgettable singing of "As Time Goes By" and a few other songs too. It needs to be emphasized, for those who don't already know it, that "As Time Goes By," was not a song written for CASABLANCA.
The song had music & lyrics by Herman Hupfeld, who lived his entire life in
Montclair, New Jersey, near where I grew up as a youngster. As I wrote in my book,
"As Time Goes By" - A Guide to Film Music, the song was written by Hupfeld back in 1931 for a Broadway play, Everybody's Welcome, and the song was sung by Frances Williams. Murray Burnett was working on another play around 1940 with his co-writer, Joan Alison. He remembered that song and suggested using it in their play which was tittled:
Everybody Comes to Rick's. That play became the basis for the screenplay of CASABLANCA, seasoned with a flavorful amount of tasty dialogue by the brilliant screen writing twin brothers: Julius and Philip Epstein.
They wrote the most memorable dialogue which is often quoted today, such as:
"Round up the usual suspects."
"As Time Goes By" had a decent success after it appeared in the 1931 Broadway play and it was recorded by Rudy Vallee and Binnie Hale, plus several popular bands at that time. So it was known well before CASABLANCA was made and the song
was purchased by Warner Brothers for their music library. Presumably they still own it.
Dooley Wilson was a wonderful singer but he was not a pianist. It has long been accepted that Elliott Carpenter played the piano for the scenes with the singing, especially for "As Time Goes By." Recently, two other names have been mentioned who played piano for the film's recording sessions: William Ellfeldt and Jean Plummer. In his article, Dr. Robert E. Wallace, a medical physicist, makes his case for Plummer as the one who actually played piano for the Dooley Wilson songs including "As Time Goes By." Dr. Wallace consulted with a UCLA musicologist for a professional evaluation. The assumption was that Carpenter could not have performed for the film because his other recordings sound so different. This is a ridiculous evaluation. What pianist sounds exactly the same in every performance or recording they make? Plus the fact that Carpenter had claimed to be the pianist for many years. In 1972, he wrote to his friend and fellow pianist, Eubie Blake, and mentioned he was finally getting credit for accompanying Dooley Wilson in the film. Why would he claim to be the pianist if he did not record the music? Was he lying or maybe trying to impress Eubie Blake? That is doubtful. Without any substantial proof, I still accept that Carpenter was the pianist accompanying Dooley Wilson,
as mentioned by previous authors,
like Charles Francisco in his 1980 book,
You Must Remember This: The Filming of Casablanca.
While the song, "As Time Goes By," is probably the best known of the American songs used in the film, I believe it was Max Steiner (shown above) who greatly increased the effectiveness of that song. Surprisingly, he didn't like the song and thought it was very square and rather dull. But Steiner had to admit that the song "must have had something to attract so much attention." Today, it's hard to imagine that Steiner would even think of leaving out "As Time Goes By" from the film. It's such an essential part of the film, like a musical co-star. But being the great film composer that he was, Steiner made the most of the song's melody and turned it into a memorable theme used in key scenes in the film.
One of them was in Paris where Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) says lovingly with his glass of champagne
to the beautiful Ilse Lund (Ingrid Bergman):
"Here's looking at you, kid."
For his score to CASABLANCA, Max Steiner was nominated for an Oscar in 1943 but lost to another popular score by Alfred Newman for THE SONG OF BERNADETTE. Steiner did receive an Oscar in 1942 for another of his memorable scores, which again starred Paul Henreid, this time teamed up with Bette Davis in
one of her great signature roles for NOW, VOYAGER.
That film also had a memorable song, "It Can't Be Wrong," lyrics by Kim Gannon,
based on the love theme composed by Max Steiner.
Besides "As Time Goes By," there are also several national songs used in Steiner's score. One of the most memorable scenes in the film is when the Nazi's officers begin to sing the German song, "Die Wacht am Rhein," but it is overpowered by the customers in Rick's Cafe who sing "La Marseillaise," after the orchestra is told to play it by Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid). This is a highly charged scene especially with the tearful singing by French actress, Madeleine Lebeau. It still can bring a lump to the throat or tears to any in the audience with the powerful statement against Nazi tyranny
with such musical forcefulness.
Like so many others, I have remained a fan of this classic film and its music score.
For its 75th anniversary this year, "As Time Goes By" was selected to be the tribute song for this year's National Carry A Tune Week -- click here
As the song says it so well "...the fundamental things apply, as time goes by."
On its 75th anniversary, two of those "fundamental things" are the composer
and the singer who helped make CASABLANCA the film classic it has become.
-- Roger L. Hall, November 2017
Read more about the song in this
best-selling book and media collection:
"As Time Goes By" -
A Guide to Film Music: Songs and Scores
Recommended original motion picture soundtrack
Essential Film Scores of the 20th Century (see No. 66)
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Film Music Review