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We'll always have Casablanca

Casablanca: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Casablanca: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
By varous artists

Rhino Records: 1997

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This review first appeared in the November 8, 1997 edition of the American Reporter.

Okay, okay, so it's been 55 years since the movie was released and they're only now getting the musical soundtrack in stores. Still, when the movie is "Casablanca," as timeless a flick as was ever made, who's to complain?

Only the overly syrupy "It's a Wonderful Life" comes close to matching "Casablanca" in terms of longevity and fan devotion – and Jimmy Stewart, talented, decent and brave as he was, just never dominated a screen the way Humphrey Bogart did. It is, perhaps, the quintessential American film – rough and sentimental, optimistic and brooding. Filmed during the dark days of World War II, when the Nazis and Imperial Japan still ran loose over the globe, it captured the spirit of reluctant but stubborn resistance that carried the Allies through the war.

This was the film, following on the success of "The Maltese Falcon," that finally established Bogie as a star, as a romantic lead. It was this film that led to later roles in "Treasure of the Sierra Madres," "The Big Sleep," "The African Queen" and "The Caine Mutiny." (With typical Bogart modesty, he later said of his role in "Casablanca": "When the camera moves in on that Bergman's face, and she's saying she loves you, it would make anybody look romantic.")

Most of your probably already know that Bogart never uttered his most-quoted line from "Casablanca," "Play it again, Sam." (Real quote: "If she can stand it, I can. Play it!") Here's a more disquieting reality check: Sam didn't play piano. Dooley Wilson, the late actor who portrayed the loyal entertainer at Rick's Place in "Casablanca," was a drummer by trade – so a pianist was placed off-camera to provide the music while Wilson played air piano and sang. (If that's too depressing, you can always watch Hoagy Carmichael tickle the ivories in another Bogie war film, "To Have and Have Not.")

Still, Wilson's singing of "As Time Goes By" alone is so classic it would make this CD worth the price. His other performances from the film, "Knock on Wood" and "It Had to Be You" are also included, as well as outtakes not in the film --like a second, full-length take of "As Time Goes By."

And if Bogie never said "Play it again, Sam," well, his other quotes are here on the soundtrack: "Of all the gin joints ...", "We'll always have Paris" and "Here's looking at you, kid," along with several other memorable scenes from the film.

The liner notes by Rudy Behlmer are rich in delicious little details, not only despoiling the image of Sam playing piano, but revealing that the part of Rick was originally assigned to Ronald Reagan, and that Ann Sheridan was to play Rick's romantic interest. Yikes – "Bonzo Plays With the Nazis?"

This is a wonderful release, beautifully illustrated and with enough meat from the movie to lend itself to repeated listenings, fully worthy of the film from which it draws its music.