CASABLANCA is my favorite movie. As a child of World War II, I find its blend of romance and sacrifice irresistible. What I wasn't aware of until two years ago when I started writing a book on the making and meaning of the movie was how fragile it was. Movies made under the studio system were accumulations of accidents, and CASABLANCA was no exception. The cinematographer and film editor were the ones who happened to be available that week. Producer Hal Wallis wanted James Wong Howe to photograph the movie and was given Arthur Edeson. Director Michael Curtiz asked for George Amy as his cutter and was given Owen Marks.

Despite a press release sent out by Warner Bros. in January, 1942, there was never any question that Humphrey Bogart would be the star of CASABLANCA. The publicity department sent hundreds of press releases each week. Many of them, including the release that Ronald Reagan would star in CASABLANCA, were simply a way of getting the names of the studio's contract players into print. The movie was written for Bogart. But the rest of the cast could have been quite different. The first choice for heroic Victor Laszlo was Philip Dorn. Felix Bressart turned down the role played by S.Z. Sakall, and Michele Morgan might well have been chosen to play Ilsa Lund if she hadn't asked for $55,000. "There was no reason in the world for demanding this kind of money for anyone as little known as Michele Morgan," Wallis wrote to Curtiz. Wallis could -- and did -- borrow Ingrid Bergman from David O. Selznick for $25,000. But a choice that seems inevitable in 1992 is only clear because of hindsight. Both the young Swedish actress and the young French actress had been successful in their first American movies. It was CASABLANCA that made Ingrid Bergman a star. Would it have done the same for Michele Morgan who made a fine debut in JOAN OF PARIS but whose Hollywood career ended after three films?

A classic movie is the biggest accident of all. A thousand things have to fit together. Fifty years after CASABLANCA was made, I cannot listen to "The Marseillaise" drowning out "Watch on the Rhine" without feeling stirred. I cannot watch Bogart and Bergman say goodbye at the airport without feeling the bittersweet tug of lost possibilities. So, for me, CASABLANCA is still alive.