“Casablanca” may be 70 years old this year, but audiences never tire of playing it again.
The 1942 film starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman as Rick Blaine and Ilsa Lund, the star-crossed lovers torn apart and brought together by wartime intrigue, remains in the estimation of many the perfect Hollywood film, and to mark seven decades of a beautiful friendship with its fans, the film is being released in a lavish three-disc Anniversary Edition filled with extras and goodies for the “Casablanca” aficionado.
PopcornBiz asked Stephen Bogart – the son of Bogie and his other great partner onscreen, but more significantly in life, Lauren Bacall – to share his memories of his father’s relationship with his most widely beloved film.
What goes through your mind every time you get a chance to watch ‘Casablanca’ again?
I've seen it like five or six times – how many times can you watch a movie? But lately the big change is seeing it on the big screen – and I can't wait to see the Blu-Ray also; I mean, it's going to be fantastic – but seeing it on the big screen, seeing it enhanced with everything that Warner Brothers has done to it just makes it so much better. It's really amazing. It's really a different movie and it's really great.
Do you have a sense of where this film sat in your father's estimation, considering the amazing filmography that he had?
My father was all about the writing. His friends were writers. If you notice his movies, you know how many Bogart quotes in how many different movies you can see. That's all about the writing. So I think that this would be up there with 'Maltese Falcon,' 'Treasure of the Sierra Madre,' 'The African Queen,' 'The Caine Mutiny' and 'To Have and Have Not,' of course – all of the ones that have that incredible writing it. So I think that obviously it has to be in the top five, simply because that's one of the reasons that this film’s so sustainable among many of the films that he's done. But I don't know that it'd be number one. I wish I could've asked him, but he died too soon.
Did he continue to have a close relationship with Ingrid Bergman or the director Michael Curtiz or any of his costars from the film?
Not that I know of. My father, he was a chess player and he was sailor, so those were fairly lonely kind of pursuits, very singular pursuits and there were certain people that he'd go out on the boat with and certain people that he continued to be friends with, the John Hustons, [Frank] Sinatra, people like that, so I don't know – especially by the time that I came around, which was ten or 12 years later. I'm sure that he had a respect for Ingrid. They were never lovers or anything like that, but also there were some people who used to say that he and Ingrid didn't get along at all and that's not true at all. I talk to my friend Isabella Rossellini [Bergman’s daughter] a lot about that, and that's really not how it was. They just had tremendous respect for each other and were great actors. They were just different people. He was still friends with Peter Lorre and people like that.
This character for many people embodies their vision of Humphrey Bogart. In what ways do you think your father was like Rick, and in what ways he was not at all like Rick?
I think he probably was a lot like Rick. He was a fun guy, respected women. He had a quick wit, but I don't think he was a brooder. I think a lot of the embodiment of the character was what he was like. I think he was more like Rick than not Rick. Give it all up for a woman? Yeah, sure. He respected women, and so I think that he was probably more like Rick than not.
Do you have a sense of which film meant the most to him in his long career?
No. You look at 'Maltese Falcon,' when he first teamed up with Huston. You look at 'High Sierra,' which put him on the map. You look at 'Have and Have Not,' which of course was the genesis of his relationship with my mom – and where I came from, so that's my favorite. If it weren't for that I probably wouldn't be around. 'African Queen' again with Huston. I know he had a big spot in his heart for 'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,' because he wasn't the star of the film and he didn't know whether he should do it. He went to his agent, Sam Jaffe, and Jaffe said, 'Look, your best friend John Huston is going to do it and he wants you to do it and you should do it.' And of course: Oscar for Huston. Oscar for Walter Huston. So I think that the Huston films were very dear to his heart. He loved working with John, and John was brilliant.
They need to reinvent another word to go beyond “icon” for your father's place in the pantheon of Hollywood actors. What does it mean for you that his artistry has stood the test time, and is arguably as popular now as it ever was?
I'm very proud. It's an amazing phenomenon. You watch Humphrey Bogart movies and your eye immediately gets drawn to him unlike almost anyone else. You look at him and it's Boom! There is he is. He just stands out. It's so gratifying that someone who cared so much about acting, so much of what he did and respected actors and acting so much to be held in such high esteem. He was never one to say 'Oh, I'm great and forget about everyone else,' because he knew that it was his costars. You look at the great movies, but you look at the great costars that he was with, just phenomenal, from Leslie Howard in 'Petrified Forest' all the way through. Edward G. Robinson and Peter Lorre and my mother and Ingrid Bergman. Just time after time he was with – Katie Hepburn! – phenomenal actors and phenomenal costars. So I think the most important thing is that he would not have taken it all upon himself to say, 'Wow, aren't I great?' He really recognized how much talent he had around him.
How much fun is it to watch the movies he made with your mother and watch the chemistry that they captured forever on film like that?
Well, I have to tell you, she's my mother and so I don't really look at it that way. I try to turn away a little bit, but it's great. Look, they were one of the two or three top romances of the 20th century, but I don't really look at it that way and see the smoldering-ness and that sort of stuff. People say, 'Wow, your mother was really hot.' I go, 'No – that's my mom. You can't say that.'
Is there another actor's performance in 'Casablanca' that you really get a kick out of?
I think everybody. I think that Paul Henreid is great. I think Sydney Greenstreet was fantastic. Everybody did so fantastically in the movie that how can I say? It's tough.
You didn't get nearly enough time with your dad, but what's the most important thing that you did learn from him?
I think the most important thing that I learned from him is that you have to treat everyone the same, treat everyone right and do unto others they way that they do unto you, and you have to not take yourself too seriously. You just have to keep going, do what you do and go onto the next thing and be humble. I think that's what he was. I think treating people right is really what I got from him. Everybody. Nobody is better than anyone else. Some people are luckier. Some people are more fortunate to be able to do certain things, but nobody is better. It's just the luck of the draw.
From what I've read, your father seemed to have a particularly sharp wit that you don't see in many of his roles. Do you remember him being sharply funny?
There was of course the story of the lobster on the boat. I bought this play skunk that was in a little wooden cage and I was going to Catalina Island. I'd gone out to Catalina and I'd caught some crabs and I put them in the bottom of the cage and I lowered the cage into the water and I go to sleep. The next day I get up and pull up the cage and there's a half lobster. The lobster tail was gone. My dad said, 'Oh, the fish ate the lobster tail.' I was so proud that I caught the lobster. Well, of course later on I realized that lobsters swim backwards and so he wouldn't have gotten in headfirst, so obviously they ate the lobster tail and made me think that I had caught the lobster.
What's your personal favorite among your father's movies?
I thought that 'Treasure' was just phenomenal. I love 'Treasure of the Sierra Madre,' but I also love 'The Desperate Hours.' I thought that was great. It's so tough to pick, but for me I think 'Treasure' was the one because it embodied his relationship with Huston. It got Walter an Oscar. It got John an Oscar and it was just kind of a giving thing, which was very important to him.