Location #13:

The Casablanca Window

Q.  Where is it supposed to be?

When Mia & Sebastian step out of her coffee shop, onto the back lot of the studio where she works ( in what amounts to their first informal date ), she immediately stops to draw his attention to a building across the street.  She points at an upper window on one of the French-style set buildings, and announces:

"That's the window that Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman
looked out of in Casablanca."

Sebastian seems suitably impressed.  And they proceed with Mia's impromptu tour.

Mia is talking, of course, about the classic 1944 movie "Casablanca", considered by most critics to be one of the greatest films ever made, chock full of wartime romance, heartbreak, Nazi intrigue, and noble sacrifice. Not to mention immortal lines such as "Play it again, Sam",  "Here's looking at you, kid", "Of all the gin joints, in all the world, she walks into mine",  and
"We'll always have "Paris".

In case you haven't seen the film yet, that last line refers to a lengthy flashback scene in the movie, where Bogart's character, Rick ( who is now living in Nazi-occupied Casablanca, Morocco ) thinks back on the one great love of his life: a young, mysterious woman named Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), whom he met in Paris at the start of the war, just before the Nazis rolled in and occupied the French capitol.  In danger of being captured by the Nazis, the two lovers agree to meet at a Paris train station to flee the country, but she never shows up, and a jilted Rick is forced to leave alone, never to see her again.

At least not until. years later, she casually walks back into his life, right into "Rick's Place",  the bar he runs in remote Casablanca.

Here is a YouTube video of part of that Paris flashback scene.
( Unfortunately, I couldn't find one showing the entire scene. )

Q.  Where was it really shot? 

"Casablanca" was a Warner Bros film, and it was shot almost exclusively on the Warner Bros back lot, in Burbank, using several sound stages there, and (according to tradition) the studio's French Street set, which was reportedly used for filming those Paris flashback scenes.

This "La La Land" scene was shot right on
French Street, on its east side.

In fact, the director says that this moment ( of Mia pointing out the window ) was not originally in the script, but that he added it after learning that Casablanca had been filmed there.

There's only one problem.  It might not have been.

I hate to shatter a romantic myth, but if you look carefully at the French sets seen in the movie's Paris flashback, study the details, and compare them to the current French Street set, they don't really look that much alike.  There are some significant differences.

The story of "Casablanca" being filmed on French Street seems to make sense.  The film was indeed shot at Warner Bros, and what better place to shoot a Paris flashback than French Street, a recreation of a block of Paris buildings?

I always assumed it was true, and some Warner tour guides still repeat it.

However, as a locations hunter who identifies filming spots through minor details (and who also owns a Blue-Ray of "Casablanca"), I couldn't avoid seeing the differences.  And that's especially true of the windows seen in the film, which differ in size, position and the number of window panes from the one we see on today's French Street.

Try, for instance, to match this image from the film with the current French Street:

Note that the set above has several sharp corners and indents, where parts of  the building protrude or recess, while the current set is more or less flat across the front. 

The shuttered windows above look similar at first, but note that the wrought iron on the balconies doesn't match today's look, and more tellingly, that there is a ridge or molding running horizontally below those windows, which doesn't match today's look. 

And the more 1942 scenes you compare, the more it becomes obvious that the set buildings in the film don't match those on today's French Street.

I can think of several possible explanations.

The sets at Warner Bros (and other studios) are often modified for different films, and sometimes simply torn down to make way for new facilities.  For instance, on my first visit to the  Warners lot, they had a large Old West town set, complete with a practical saloon.  That large set no longer exists.   Since Westerns are no longer as popular as they once were, the studio  tore it down to  build a new set consisting of several modern homes in an ideal residential neighborhood setting, that I'm sure will be used a lot more than the Old West set.

As such, the most depressing possibility is that the Paris flashback scenes may have been filmed on some other European set at Warners, which has since been torn down and no longer exists.  From what I've heard, they've had several over the decades. 

The less offensive possibility is that the current French Street has simply been modified over the years to the point where it no longer resembles its original appearance, as seen in the film.

Or it could be a combination of the two: perhaps French Street was originally a larger set, with additional buildings that were later removed, leaving the existing row as the only remaining part of the original set.

But to me, there's little doubt that the Paris flashbacks we see in "Casablanca" were not filmed on the French Street set as it looks today.  That's unfortunate, and unromantic, but it's the truth.

Still, it wouldn't be at all surprising that Mia would believe the story itself, and repeat it to Seb, since many of the people on the Warner's lot still do.

Here is s  link to a Google Earth 3-D view of French Street


Move on to the next movie location seen in "La La Land".

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