Iconic movie Casablanca wasn’t filmed there, yet travellers still flock to Morocco’s biggest city with stars in their eyes, where many residents have never heard of the film. Sorry to disappoint you but almost every frame was shot on Warners’ Burbank lot in Hollywood, recycling sets from previous productions. That’s reel life for you. But there is a Rick’s Café in Casablanca that closely replicates the one in the movie.
Rick’s Café Casablanca was developed by Kathy Kriger, a former American diplomat in Morocco, in 2004. The restaurant is housed in a traditional Moroccan mansion with a central courtyard or a riad. Food selections at Rick’s Café takes advantage of Morocco’s widely-popular seafood. The interior is much like the film – with large potted palms throwing shadows on white walls, a curved bar, arched doorways, ornate lamps and traditional Moroccan carved and inlaid woodwork. And like the movie, there’s a piano player nightly Tuesday – Sunday, with a repertoire of old music including classic Brazilian, French and Spanish songs along with American favorites such as Blue Moon, Summertime, and the inevitable As Time Goes By played every day without fail.
Rick’s Café is open seven days a week including the month of Ramadan. Owned by The Usual Suspects company, this Casablanca landmark is usually described as the real Rick’s Café. If you’ve never seen the film, you will here because a copy runs continually on a screen in an alcove near the entrance.
Black and white Casablanca, made in 1942, starred Humphrey Bogart as the chain-smoking, cynical Rick Blaine and Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund, a woman tormented by her love for two men. Set during the early years of WWII, it focuses on Rick’s dilemma between his love for Ilsa and helping her and her Czech resistance husband escape the Vichy-controlled city of Casablanca. The Moroccan city is portrayed as a mecca for an untidy collection of pickpockets, hustling expatriates and refugees using the place as a staging post to escape to the US.
Far from taking advantage of such an exotic setting, eastern sets were rehashed from another movie The Desert Song, while the famous railway station scene supposedly set in Paris was a recycled set from a Bette Davis movie, Voyager. With almost no exterior scenes, the movie has a claustrophobic feel, amplified by the constant fug of cigarette smoke in Rick’s Café Américain. It almost looks low budget. In fact it cost $US964,000 to make and was just one of hundreds pumped out by the Warners studios that year. The plot is simplistically linear and suspense, by modern standards, is minimal. Yet Casablanca went on to become one of the best loved movies of the 20th Century, and won three Oscars including Best Picture. Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.
*Photo of modern Rick’s courtesy of Kimber at www.freephotooftheday.com