Strange to think that one of the greatest movies of all time started life on the studio assembly line. Casablanca barely scraped A-list status when Warner Bros cobbled it together from a stage play that hadn't been performed (Everybody Comes To Rick's), about the seedy Moroccan waystation where desperate World War Two refugees tried to secure passage to America. They even cast an actor (Humphrey Bogart) who was mostly confined to gruff supporting parts, and had to borrow their leading lady (Ingrid Bergman) from a rival studio.
Who would have had any inkling that this unassuming duo would strike cinema's brightest romantic sparks, or that this "sophisticated hokum" (as its own producer labelled it) would come to define the word `timeless'? Certainly not the director Michael Curtiz, whose brusque manner exasperated his stars; nor the actors, who were subjected to almost daily script revisions and routinely kept in the dark (like, was Ilsa meant to be more in love with her ex-flame Rick or resistance-leader husband Victor?).
As the hardbitten American nightclub owner who sticks his neck out for nobody, Bogart's Rick is casual and offhand, but never loses our sympathy - look at the anguish on his face when he realises Ilsa's abandoned him in Paris - while every emotion flows like liquid across Bergman's gorgeous (and gorgeously lit) face. Around them swirl one of the most memorable supporting casts ever assembled, an appetisingly shady line-up of crooks, schemers and Nazi nasties played by the talented likes of Peter Lorre, Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet and Conrad Veidt.
One of those rare films where every shot and every quotable line of dialogue counts, there's not a dead patch in Casablanca. But it's been enshrined in cinema's pantheon of greatness for so long that, like Citizen Kane, people forget why it deserves to be there. If you're part of the post-Spielberg generation wondering what all the fuss is about, then don't wait any longer to find out. It could be the start of a beautiful friendship...