108 Years of On Screen Aviation

108 Years of On Screen Aviation
January 02, 2023
Rick Blaine and Ilsa Lund Laslo at the Casablanca Airport (actually a Warner Brothers studio) as the Lockheed Model 10 Electra that will take her away patiently waits in the background. / © Warner Brothers

The scene is arguably the most famous in filmdom.

In a hangar, expatriate American bar owner with a shady past Ricard Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), tells the radiant Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), the true love of his life:

“I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that...” Ilsa's eyes well up. Rick puts his hand under her chin and raises her face to meet his and says, “Here's looking at you, kid."

With letters of transit in hand, Ilsa and her once-believed-dead husband, debonair Underground leader husband Victor Laslo (Paul Henried) who had escaped from the Germans before getting to Casablanca, then cross the fog-shrouded tarmac to board an Air France Lockheed Model 10 Electra, (the real star of this scene, obviously), take off, and fly to freedom.

One very short shot in the final scene shows what appears to be an actual Electra cranking up. Director Michael Curtiz noted that the second unit did film at the Van Nuys (California) Airport. / © Warner Brothers
The (model) Electra taxis out before the bad guy in Casablanca, German Maj. Heinrich Strasser (Conrad Veidt, who had actually escaped Nazi persecution in Europe and refused to portray Germans as anything but evil), could get to the airport. / © Warner Brothers
After Rick dispatches Major Strasser with a pistol concealed in his overcoat, Rick and Capt. Louis Renault (left) watch as the Electra (a true costar in this movie) departs Casablanca, taking Victor and Ilsa to Lisbon and freedom. / © Warner Brothers

Casablanca premiered 80 years ago on Nov. 26, 1942, at the Hollywood Theater in New York City. Despite some goofs — there was no such thing as letters of transit (and it’s doubtful the Germans would have honored them had there been); it’s never foggy in Morocco; Air France never flew Model 10s — Casablanca was an instant hit.

The 102-minute movie would go on to win three Oscars the following spring — Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay — and is considered one of the greatest films ever made. Even if the oft-quoted line “Play it again, Sam” is never actually spoken.

In the final scene, former frenemy-now-turned-compatriot, the debonair Capt. Louis Renault (Claude Rains), and Rick walk off into the night.

Rick says, “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

But there are all kinds of details that prove that what was originally titled Everybody Comes To Rick’s was pure Hollywood magic.

Did You Know?

Because of wartime restrictions against filming at night, the climactic scene was filmed in a Warner Brothers studio using quarter- and half-scale Electra models. The fog was created to hide the fact the aircraft was a model. To keep the perspective correct, the aircraft maintainers were little people.

One very short shot in the final scene shows what appears to be an actual Electra cranking up. Director Michael Curtiz noted that the second unit did film at the Van Nuys Airport. That footage, which shows rivet rows and a pilot on the flight deck, was either likely darkened to make it “night” for continuity or the crew had very special permission to shoot at night. Whether or not that Electra was actually the aircraft in Disney’s Great Movie Ride in Florida has been debated for years.

Lockheed Martin and Hollywood

The friendship between Hollywood and the aircraft industry — especially the legacy Lockheed Martin companies — goes way back. 
A Girl of Yesterday (1915)
Glenn L. Martin himself strokes the hair of "America's Sweetheart," Mary Pickford, during a scene in the 1915 movie, The Girl of Yesterday while sitting in the cockpit of a Martin Model T aircraft, the earliest Martin passenger-carrying aircraft. Martin, who had incorporated his namesake aeroplane company in August 1912, was paid $4,900 — a lot of money back then and about $141,607 today — for two weeks’ worth of flying in the movie and appearing in several scenes. Life-long friends, Pickford attended Martin's funeral in 1955.
A Girl of Yesterday (1915)
Jimmy Stuart flies a legacy Convair B-36 in Strategic Air Command (1955). When tower chief Steve McCroskey (Lloyd Bridges) says “I picked a bad day to stop sniffing glue...” in Airplane! (1980), every photo on the wall behind his head is a Lockheed L‑1011. One potential suitor for Princess Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway) in The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004) is shown standing in front of a C-130K. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) shoots a computer-generated F‑35 down with a shoulder-fired missile in The Avengers (2012).
There are a lot of C-130s on screens — they’re everywhere, they’ve been used to do just about everything, and they’ve been in operation for nearly 70 years. Immediately after the Israeli hostage rescue at Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976, two movies came out, and both used C-130s — a case of art documenting fact.
There have been at least 1,000 movies, TV show episodes, commercials, and even music videos that have a legacy or current Lockheed Martin aircraft, spacecraft, or missile as a co-star.
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