Paul Jacob

The Writers Guild of America this week offered to the world a list of the "101 Greatest Screenplays," naming Casablanca the best script ever written. Great movie. One of my all-time favorites.

The script, too, is great, I'm sure. Lots of funny lines by Julius and Philip Epstein, good political elements by co-contributor Howard Koch. But not mentioned is Casey Robinson. He was the well-known Hollywood writer who helped structure the movie, give it its best romantic scenes, and . . . isn't mentioned in the credits. The credit system for Hollywood writers is as screwed up as anything could possibly be and still survive, but Robinson had only himself to blame. His contract with the studio only allowed him to be listed as sole screenwriter — all or nothing. So when Robinson collaborated, he got nothing.

Casablanca, a movie about collaborating with the enemy, is a testament to how effective collaboration with friends can be — like the original Constitution of the United States. The Police Academy series is also, I guess, a testament to collaboration, but to how bad it can be, like today's real-world constitutional practice.

Writers often complain that they don't get proper credit for movies. But selecting Casablanca as the best movie script seems just a bit like screenwriters taking too much credit. Yes, Casablanca's great, but credit for its greatness goes just as much to the work of a gifted, hands-on producer, a super-competent director, a great cast, a fine composer, a handful of popular and patriotic songs, and . . . even an original play upon which the script was based.

Some of the best lines ("here's looking at you, kid") weren't in the script at all, just improvised on the set. The film had finished shooting when producer Hal Wallis came up with what became the film's memorable last line.

Cut to the present day: Hollywood may be political, but politics isn't the movies. In politics, the scripts aren't written down, and fiction is the polite way of saying "lies." A list of 101 Best Political Scripts would probably have to put Stonewalling and Obstruction of Justice near the top. Yes, this week the author of an infamous deed came to light, and the previously uncredited author is alleged to be none other than The Usual Suspect, our president.


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.