Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Almost Wasn't Wednesday # 1: Casablanca With Ronald Reagan And Ann Sheridan

On January 5, 1942, the Warner Brothers publicity office (in)famously planted an item with the press to the effect that young contract players Ronald Reagan, Ann Sheridan and Dennis Morgan had been chosen to star in the studio's upcoming production of Casablanca, a wartime romance based on an unproduced stageplay by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. The Hollywood Reporter picked up the story and newspapers nationwide passed it along.

And for decades thereafter, movie fans have shuddered at the thought of the classic film that almost wasn't.

Don't worry though. Producer Hal Wallis never actually considered Reagan for the lead (or George Raft either, for that matter, persistent myth to the contrary). Instead, the press release was a common publicity ploy of the time, floating the names of actors in connection with various projects, both to keep the actors' names in front of the public and to create buzz for a forthcoming movie. Warner Brothers could just as easily have said Jack Benny instead of Ronald Reagan—and indeed, another Casablanca publicity release had Benny stopping by the set and appearing in one of the crowd scenes. Probably never happened, but I keep looking for him.

Nevertheless, I can't help but wonder what sort of movie Casablanca might have been with Reagan, Sheridan and Morgan in the lead roles.

Certainly the film would have lost a lot of its international flavor. And no matter what you think of them as actors, Ronald Reagan, Ann Sheridan and Dennis Morgan were no Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman or Paul Henreid. Reagan and Sheridan made five movies together—Kings Row, The Angels Wash Their Faces, Cowboy From Brooklyn, Juke Girl and Naughty But Nice—and Sheridan and Morgan made four—Thank Your Lucky Stars, Shine On Harvest Moon, Wings for the Eagle and One More Tomorrow. With the exception of Kings Row, there's hardly a decent movie in the bunch.

Anyway, it never happened, not even close. Still, we'll always have the '80s. Here's looking at you, Gipper!


Anonymous said...

I think I've seen a Katharine Hepburn quote (I'd have to look to find it again) saying that Ann Sheridan would've been an improvement on Ingrid Bergman. Not sure if she was a fan of Sheridan, or just didn't like Bergman.

In theory I can agree; I think Sheridan would've been great. But thank goodness we got Bogart instead of Reagan!

Mythical Monkey said...

Ann Sheridan versus Ingrid Bergman is interesting to contemplate -- it would have created a different kind of relationship between Rick and Ilsa. Bergman was always a cool kind of beauty while Ann Sheridan was hot and saucy -- she was particularly good in Torrid Zone, for example.

The line "Tell me, did you leave me for Lazlo, or were there others in between? Or aren't you the kind that tells?" is particularly cruel when aimed at Bergman -- she's so clearly virginal and pure -- and really emphasizes just how wounded and bitter (and drunk) Rick is at the moment. Whereas if aimed at Ann Sheridan, you might actually stop for a moment and wonder.

But at the same time, you might more easily imagine why Bogart when bananas for Ilsa in the first place.

Interesting that Katharine Hepburn was so critical of Ingrid Bergman -- wonder what that was all about.