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'Casablanca' vs. 'Everybody Comes to Rick's': Movie vs. Play

Casablanca Humphrey Bogart Ingrid Bergman'Casablanca' vs. 'Everybody Comes to Rick”s (image: Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart in 'Casablanca')

Casablanca, one of the major Hollywood classics of the studio era, was based on an unproduced play written by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison, “Everybody Comes to Rick's.” In a brief 2004 essay, “Casablanca: A Comparison between the Classic Motion Picture and Its Stage Play Source,” Martin N. Kriegl discusses the differences between Burnett and Alison's play and the 1942 Warner Bros.' film directed by Michael Curtiz, and with a screenplay credited to Philip G. Epstein, Julius J. Epstein, and Howard Koch.

Here are a couple of snippets from Kriegl's Casablanca vs. “Everybody Comes to Rick's” text:

Upon first reading both stage play and screenplay, one is tempted to jump to the conclusion that Casablanca is one of the rare occasions where a story, through adaptation from one medium to another, is elevated from a mediocre (if promising) source material to a gem of rare beauty. …

The character Rick, a former rebel with apparently inviolable values and principles, who has lost faith in the world and humanity, but is reborn through a past that catches up with him and forces him to rediscover the hibernating fighter within himself, feels much truer and embedded with a much profounder message in the screenplay. Whereas in the stage play he seems, up to the third act, whiny and weak, always complaining how 'burnt out' he is, that he has 'no cause to believe in' and 'nothing to fight for,' the screenplay conveys a man that, even though his principles seem to have been reduced to sticking out his neck for nobody, has a strong and powerful heart pounding in his chest. Moreover, his vernacular in the play places him on a lower social scale than his speech in Casablanca does, as he often casts direct insults at both Ilsa and Laszlo, literally calling them 'bitch' and 'high class pimp' respectively.

'Casablanca': Oscar wins and nominations

Casablanca turned out to be the Best Picture Academy Award winner of 1943. (Note: The Warner Bros. release actually opened in New York City the previous year.) The film's other Oscar winners were director Curtiz, and screenwriters Koch, Epstein, and Epstein.

Humphrey Bogart was nominated for Best Actor, but lost that year's Oscar to Paul Lukas for another Warners release, Watch on the Rhine. Best Supporting Actor nominee Claude Rains lost to Charles Coburn for George Stevens' comedy The More the Merrier. Ingrid Bergman was also shortlisted that year, but for Sam Wood's For Whom the Bell Tolls; she lost the Best Actress Oscar to Jennifer Jones for The Song of Bernadette.

Among the other Casablanca cast members were Conrad Veidt, Peter Lorre, Dooley Wilson, Sydney Greenstreet, S.Z. Sakall, John Qualen, Curt Bois, Joy Page, Madeleine Lebeau, and Leonid Kinskey.

As a side note: Needless to say, the Production Code would never have allowed Humphrey Bogart's Rick to call either Ingrid Bergman's Ilsa a “bitch” or Paul Henreid's Laszlo a “high class pimp.” (Note: See below a commenter's remarks re: language and Everybody Comes to Rick's.)

Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart Casablanca photo: Warner Bros.

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5 Comments to 'Casablanca' vs. 'Everybody Comes to Rick's': Movie vs. Play

  1. To Hal,
    I'm teaching a program about adaptations next fall/winter. I'd love to include Everybody Comes to Rick's / Casablanca if I manage to get a copy of the play. Any chance of acquiring a copy of the play from you?

  2. Steve Tanner

    TO HAl O'Brien

    you say you have a copy of the script for Everybody Comes To Rick's? Any chance a copy could be bought? I'd love to get a look. Been looking for a copy off and on for years.

    Would love to discuss this with you.


  3. Hal O'Brien

    Oh, and this comment you quote of Kriegl's is hilarious:

    “Moreover, his vernacular in the play places him on a lower social scale than his speech in Casablanca does…”

    Ummm… No. In the US, it's both the upper and prole classes that swear. It's only the middles who insist on euphemisms. This highlights Kriegl's origins as a German, and not an American. For a better grasp of this sort of thing, read Paul Fussell's “Class,” Lewis Lapham's “Money and Class In America,” and Nelson Aldrich's “Old Money.”

  4. Hal O'Brien

    I'm probably one of the few people on the planet who can critique Kriegl's job on this — because I have my own copy of the play. (In the mid-1980s I xeroxed the whole thing intact from a bound copy then in the UCLA Theater Arts library.)

    His citations in the .PDF appear to be accurate in that they match to the pages in the script. However in this reader's opinion, they appear cherry-picked to prove a particular point — that the play is weak, and the movie is great. That's the official Warner Brothers' line, and one can hardly blame them for it, but… It seems cheap, somehow.

    Kriegl makes no mention that Ilsa is “Lois Meredith” and like Rick an American in the play. Far spunkier, and a much snappier character. (Presumably this was changed when Bergman became attached.) For example, if you remember the big deal about how Rick never drinks with the customers, but he breaks this rule for Lois and Victor, Rinaldo tells her, “Madame, you have just made history.” Her reply: “It isn't the first time. You must read my memoirs.” (pg 1-33)

    This raises another point, perhaps minor — it's Rinaldo, not Renault, in the play. It's Luis, not Louis. There are other character name changes, as well.

    But the core of the story is much the same as the screenplay. Los Bros Epstein and Koch did far more of a light adaptation than a wholesale rewrite of Burnett and Alison, at least to this reader.

    Perhaps a better online essay about this topic:


  5. atroshous

    I hope that in the play the Paul Henreid and Humphrey Bogart characters end up with one another. They certainly DESERVED one another. Ingrid Bergman should have paired up with Peter Lorre.