The most romantic picture ever made? The best film to come out of a Hollywood studio ever? More an icon than a work of art, CASABLANCA is still thoroughly entertaining romantic melodrama, flawlessly directed, subtly played, lovingly evoking our collective daydreams about lost chances and lost loves and love versus honor; everything about CASABLANCA is just right--it seems to have been filmed under a lucky star. The familiar plot concerns expatriate American Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), a cynical nightclub owner in Casablanca who discovers that his ex-lover, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), who abandoned him years before, has arrived in Casablanca with her husband, Resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). With the Germans on Victor's trail, Ilsa comes to Casablanca to beg Rick for the precious letters of transit that have come into his possession. The documents would allow Victor to escape Casablanca and continue the fight against fascism. Since its November 1942 release, CASABLANCA has been the movie, one that perfectly blends a turbulent love story with harrowing intrigue, heroic and evil characters, and the kind of genuine sentiment that makes the heart grow fonder with each viewing. Even upon its initial release, the film appealed to nostalgia for the vanishing, romanticized world between the two great wars, a cafe society crushed by fascism, a civilized, urbane generation in white linen suits, spectator shoes, and wide-brimmed sunhats desperately clinging to values no longer cherished. Given its turbulent production history--the script was being rewritten almost on a daily basis--CASABLANCA was also most fortunate on all levels. The original leads were to have been Ronald Reagan, Ann Sheridan and Dennis Morgan. Other casting packages included George Raft, Hedy Lamarr and Herbert Marshall. And Lena Horne or Ella Fitzgerald might have crooned "As Time Goes By" instead of Dooley Wilson. Chemistry, that indefinable element, was surely carefully considered by veteran director Michael Curtiz. So was timing. The film opened on Thanksgiving Day, 1942 at the Hollywood Theater in New York, three weeks after the Allies had landed at Casablanca, and further enjoyed widespread publicity generated by the Casablanca Conference two months later, when the eyes of the free world focused upon its leaders' meeting in the Moroccan city. It propelled Bogart's star to new heights, adding a romantic component to his world-weary persona, and gave Bergman a tragic edge to blend with her healthy radiance, making her seem complex and emotionally fragile. The film received eight Academy Award nominations and won three: Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Director.