Casablanca: Similarities and Differences Between the City and the Movie
By: Claire Boyle / Arab America Contributing Writer
Over the years, the city of Casablanca in Morocco has inspired much fanfare, beautiful sights, and lush landscapes. Perhaps, the other reason why Casablanca (the city) is so famous is the 1942 Academy Award-winning film, Casablanca which starred Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid. Did you know there are plenty of similarities and differences between the film and the city itself? This article hopes to address how the city is similar and different from the movie as well as giving a glimpse into the background and history of both items.
Casablanca, the city:
The city of Casablanca has unknown roots. It is thought to have existed in the 15th century as a base for pirates. Casablanca may even trace its earliest origins to an Amazigh (Berber) village, but again, that fact is unknown whether it is true. The city and country have been held by various countries over the years including Portugal, France, and finally, in the 1950s, Morocco gained its independence and has been ever since. Casablanca is considered the “economic capital” of Morocco because of its industrial and commercial prowess, and its main industries include fishing, textiles, electronics, canning, leather tanning, among others. Finally, the city has some famous cultural landmarks including the Hassan II Mosque, Quartier Habous, the Corniche, and of course, the Old Medina in Casablanca.
Casablanca, the movie:
The movie has slightly different roots than the actual city does. Casablanca was made in 1942, and its release was rushed so it could coincide with the Allied invasion of North Africa in World War II (WWII) against the Germans who occupied the continent at the time. Casablanca tells the story of Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) who owns a restaurant/nightclub called “Rick’s Café Americain” “who decides to help his former lover (Ingrid Bergman) and her fugitive husband escape the Nazi regime in French Morocco.” Blaine gets high-quality forged papers that would allow Ilsa Lund (his former lover) and Laszlo (her husband) free passage through Germany and into neutral Portugal. Blaine is given the chance to leave as well, but he decides to give the papers to Laszlo and Ilsa so they can get out safely. Rick, because of his connections manages to get out eventually, but he goes through some very tough situations to be able to do that. Finally, the film is considered a romance-and-war story. Casablanca became one of the most famous movies ever, and it also won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1943.
Similarities and Differences:
There are numerous similarities and differences between the film and the city, so let’s start unpacking them now. Some of the common questions that come up are: Was Casablanca filmed in its namesake city, is there a Rick’s Café Americain, and are the political circumstances true to form? We will try to address all of them here.
Where was Casablanca filmed?
This one is sad. Unfortunately, the movie was not filmed in Casablanca. It was actually filmed at the Warner Brothers studio in Burbank, California. This one gets me the most because the scenes within the film are so iconic. Finding out that they were not filmed there is kind of disappointing. However, it makes sense because Casablanca (the city) was under French occupation in WWII and the impending Allied invasion would have made it unsafe to film there. Still, it is disappointing.
Is Rick’s Café Americain a real place?
The short answer is no; however, let me explain it a bit further. Rick’s Café in the movie is a fictional place as we know from the above question that Casablanca was not filmed on location. I guess the best answer is sort of. This is because there is a restaurant, bar, and café called “Rick’s Café Casablanca” in the city that is a modern-day establishment meant to recreate the iconic place in the movie. This restaurant uses the traditional Moroccan architecture of a Riad, and it is located near the walls of the Old Medina in Casablanca. This structure is meant to recreate important features of the film including Rick’s bar space as it has a piano bar with an authentic 1930s Pleyel piano with the frequently-requested ‘As Time Goes By,’ the most famous tune in the movie. The food is representative of traditional Moroccan cuisine featuring items such as the Tagine and other dishes made with fish.
Are the political circumstances true?
Yes, they are. In Casablanca, Morocco is a part of the Vichy-controlled French regime. The Vichy regime in France was also an independent ally of Nazi Germany, so when we see the French officials working with the Germans, that is true. The Free French was also a resistance group and government-in-exile that was active in World War II. They also sought to fight the Vichy regime since they were aligned with the Germans. In Casablanca, there is this whole element of black marketeering, forging papers, and a business underworld. I am not completely sure if this is entirely true to form; however, these are a lot of the same activities that members of the French Resistance would engage in as well to derail the advancements and assist in the defeat of Nazi Germany.
I hope you have enjoyed exploring the frequently-asked similarities and differences between the movie, Casablanca, and the magical city in Morocco. It is sad to know that the movie was not actually filmed there, but with WWII going on, it makes perfect sense. Hopefully, when it is safe to travel again, we can all venture out to Casablanca (the city) and visit the interpretative Rick’s Café Casablanca restaurant there to reminiscence about this phenomenal movie. Thank you for joining me on this journey, and even if we do not get to see each other, at least we can “play [the movie Casablanca again] for old times’ sake!”
To learn more about Moroccan history and culture, check out our blog!