‘Casablanca’ Once Had So Many Songs It Was Almost a Musical

At first, and for many years afterward, Casablanca just a movie. Those attached to the series (especially stars Humphrey Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Claude Rains) didn’t live to listen to CBS. 60 minutes declared in 1981 that Casablanca as “The best movie ever made.” Or movie buffs who will celebrate their 80th anniversary in 2023.

To Warner Brothers musician MK (Moe) Jerome, my grandfather, Casablanca just another mission, a bit disappointing in a way after working with James Cagney’s Yankee’s Doodle Doodle in 1942, where he played a major role, writing new songs and helping Cagney dance like George M. Cohan, the man he was portraying.

There were other projects on Moe’s mind. He’s working on “Song of the Bombardiers” for a Randolph Scott movie titled bomber aircraft (1943). The song will become the official theme song of the brave men of the Air Force sitting in a vulnerable position at the front of the plane.

Moe was also interested in another film in the early planning stages, Hard road (1943), a lively, realistic film about the perils of the entertainment business that would reunite him with Joan Leslie (who played Cagney’s wife in Yankee Doodle Dandy). He worked on the film, contributed songs and appeared on screen as a pianist named “Joe”.

For Casablancaalthough it has an A-list cast and will be personally produced by studio executive Hal Wallis, it is rumored to be nothing more than “a romantic crap”.

No wonder Moe was assigned to write songs for Casablanca. He had worked with director Michael Curtiz on the previous three films, and once Bogart landed the role of Rick Blaine, it was almost certain that Moe would get the job too – he worked with Bogart for eight. previous movie.

Working with Bogart was not a pleasant experience. IN rotate your woman (1938), Bogart made no secret of his displeasure with the musical, calling it “the worst movie” he had ever made.

Producer Hal Wallis originally wanted three songs for Casablanca, something loud and fun, but full of excitement, as the club’s audience would be a group of refugees desperate to escape Morocco, which at the time was being controlled by the French Vichy government controlled by Nazi Germany. Moe and his lyricist partner Jack Scholl will also have to follow the script, which also affects how he writes the song’s melody.

situation music

Later, thinking about writing “Knock on Wood,” Moe told his grandson that it was different from the songs he had written during his career on Tin Pan Alley from 1914 to 1929. written to appeal to an audience who loves the song. Jazz; In contrast, the movie’s melodies are “situational” numbers, written to fit the story and carry it along.

“Knock on Wood” will presumably be sung by Dooley Wilson, who will play Sam, the entertainment leader at the club Bogart’s character, Rick Blaine, runs. Casablanca. A veteran of the Black Theater — where he used to wear white makeup to play the Irishman, hence known as “Dooley” —Wilson was a drummer whose early film roles. Hollywood is in a stereotypical recession. Playing Sam, Blaine’s confidant and employee, was both a personal breakthrough for Wilson and a racial one for Black actors. That is, if he can keep the job.

Wallis first considered “girls of color” to play Sam—Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, and Hazel Scott—then realized that would only complicate and weaken Rick’s relationship with Ilsa. , played by Ingrid Bergman, his former lover comes to Casablanca one after another. Rick’s world is turned upside down. So Wilson was tested in April 1942, but Wallis remained indifferent to him. The man can’t even play the piano! Jean Plummer, a staff musician, would turn off the camera as Wilson sang and typed. At the end of June, when the film was in production and Wallis had watched Wilson sing, he told Leo Forbstein, head of music, “find a black man with a good humming voice to cover all the songs with. singing by Dooley Wilson.” Moe was also skeptical of Wilson’s talent; he worked with singers but Wilson’s lip syncing sucks. It was eventually decided that Wilson’s own voice would suffice.

So it was Dooley Wilson who sang “Knock on Wood” by Moe and lyricist Jack Scholl, the only original song written specifically for Casablanca that turned it into a movie. He also sang many other American tunes (“It Had to Be You,” “Baby Face,” “Love For Sale”) in pub scenes and of course, “As Times Goes By.” Ironically, the screen credits will read:

SONG …………. MK Jerome and Jack Scholl

led to some critics, like Hollywood Reporter, to give them, not composer Herman Hupfeld, credit for writing the song that would become a classic.

“Knock on Wood” is sung at the beginning of the film. The script reads: “In the cafe, Sam is playing and singing ‘Knock wood’ numbers, accompanied by the orchestra. The focus is on Sam, and every time the orchestra comes out knock wood business, the spotlight turned to the orchestra. Rick walks from the gambling room to Sam on the floor. During one of the times when the orchestra was in the spotlight, Rick slid the transit letters onto the piano.

The format of “Knock on Wood” is very unusual, completely unlike anything Jack and Moe have written before. It’s a call and answer song. To Moe’s contagious swing tune, Jack added a clever lyric:

“Tell me, who’s in trouble?” Sam sings.

“We’re in trouble,” both the band members and the customer replied.

“How much trouble is there?” Sam asked.

“Too much trouble.”

“Well, now you don’t frown. Just get down on your knees and knock on the wood,” Sam sang as the band members tapped their heads with their fists.

“Who’s not happy?” “We’re not happy.” “Not happy how?” “Too unhappy.”

“Oh! Oh! That’s not going to work. When you are blue just knock on wood,” and again the band members knocked on their heads and now some in the audience joined in.

“Who’s unlucky?” “We’re unlucky.” “How lucky?” “Too bad luck.” “But your luck will change, if you arrange to knock on wood.” “Who has nothing?”

“We have nothing.” “Not many?” “Nothing much.” “Say it, nothing is not too much, but knock on wood.” “Who’s happy now?” “We are all happy.” “How fun?” “Very happy.” “That’s how we’re going to stay, so knock on the wood.”

“Who’s the lucky one now?” “We are all lucky.” “How lucky is that?” “Very lucky.”

“We’ll smile again and knock on the wood again.”

The song offers both entertainment and diversion, whereby Rick, temporarily in the dark, drops important “transit letters,” a passport to legally leave Casablanca, in his face. behind Sam’s piano. Maybe that’s why the song exists at all. Hal Wallis, determined to cut costs whenever possible, ultimately wanted the “Knock Wood song” to be completed as quickly as possible. “Try dropping eight or twelve lines somewhere,” he ordered his film editor. This is just one of about 17 cuts he wants to make, from removing the entire scene to just trimming here and there.

Moe and Jack also wrote a second song, “Dat’s What Noah Done,” but that was the result of Wallis’ ruthless alterations. It was supposed to be “an elaborate musical to introduce Sam and the band” shortly after Peter Lorre’s arrest “as Rick tried to reassure his frightened customers,” Harlan Lebo wrote in his history. me, Casablanca: Behind the scenes (1992). This scene was actually filmed but was removed.

Courtesy of the University of Wyoming

Rick’s popularity

Noah Isenberg, author of We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of America’s Most Loved Movie (2017), glad that “Knock on Wood” still exists. “’Knock on Wood’ lifts the spirits of everyone living in Rick’s Cafe, languishing refugees, political officials, underground resistance fighters and others,” Isenberg noted. “It also helped form an important transition, introducing audiences to the liveliness of the crowd and the excitement of the cafe. Now we know why people go to Rick’s!”

Because of the continued popularity of casablanca, This song by Moe Jerome has probably been seen and heard by more people around the world than any of the 1,500 songs he has written during his long career, although it has encountered with death at the hands of Wallis.

Thanks to author Noah Isenberg, we know that among by Casablanca The most prominent fans are an American president and a US senator who wants to be president.

As 1942 ended, President Franklin D. Roosevelt invited friends to the White House to see Casablanca in a private show.

Seventy-four years later, in 2016, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and her husband celebrated New Year’s Eve with champagne, ate “lots of good cheese” and watched Casablanca.

Warren told his Facebook friends: “I watch this movie every time.

“It is about love, loyalty and courage,” she wrote. “It’s also about refugees. Casablanca is a step on the path of people fleeing Nazi persecution. Young people are on the threshold of building a new life, while the elderly are looking for a safe harbor. The film was shot in early 1942 with Jews fleeing persecution and death, but the mix of people who met in Casablanca speaks to the pain and vulnerability of all those forced to run away from their home to survive. Casablanca is about a real threat to humanity, but also about how humans survive, thrive and fight back.

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