Play it.
December 3, 2017 12:26 PM   Subscribe

"I truly believe this remains the greatest scene ever filmed." - David Youngblood on La Marseillaise in Casablanca
posted by the man of twists and turns (66 comments total) 89 users marked this as a favorite
 
Need a hankie. *snif*
posted by heatherlogan at 12:49 PM on December 3 [9 favorites]


Take that, Nazis!
posted by Artw at 1:00 PM on December 3 [6 favorites]


MeFi's own Captain Renault.
posted by Bee'sWing at 1:07 PM on December 3 [11 favorites]


It’s all true. That scene always makes me cry. I had no idea they filmed it with actual French refugees though!
posted by corb at 1:15 PM on December 3 [22 favorites]


Everyone's having such a good time!
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:16 PM on December 3 [22 favorites]


You'll get no argument from me. But that's a really nice close reading of the scene. (It also makes me wish I'd had the technology to insert .gifs into my film class papers when I was in college.)
posted by mstokes650 at 1:23 PM on December 3 [15 favorites]


Guess I'll be watching Casablanca again, sometime over Christmas
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:27 PM on December 3 [5 favorites]


AUX ARMES, CITOYENS!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:29 PM on December 3 [7 favorites]


I saw this scene get a special spotlight in the Berlin museum of German Film and Television. It's like they said "okay, yeah, we know we come off as the bad guys in this, but it's still damn good."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:34 PM on December 3 [4 favorites]


And then, on the other hand, tomorrow belongs to me.
posted by ChuraChura at 1:36 PM on December 3 [10 favorites]


Aw, sheesh. Crying now, as always at that scene. So good.
posted by Lexica at 1:36 PM on December 3 [3 favorites]


This exchange reminds me of a lot of those big politics longboats:

Rick: Don't you sometimes wonder if it's worth all this? I mean what you're fighting for.

Victor Laszlo: You might as well question why we breathe. If we stop breathing, we'll die. If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die.

Rick: Well, what of it? It'll be out of its misery.

Victor Laszlo: You know how you sound, Mr. Blaine? Like a man who's trying to convince himself of something he doesn't believe in his heart.

posted by chavenet at 1:44 PM on December 3 [24 favorites]


If you haven't heard Roger Ebert's DVD commentary on this film, you owe it to yourself to go find it tout suite. His love for this film and this and other iconic scenes is evident, and when he sets the stage and lets this scene play out with no commentary on his part, you can imgine him standing and pumping his fist, because it's exactly what I wanted to do. He is right about Paul Heinreid, though, aside from this one scene, he basically comes across as warm as yesterday's leftover fish thoughout the movie. There's no way he would ever land with Ingrid Bergman, of course we're cheering for Bogey.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 1:45 PM on December 3 [9 favorites]


What an amazing write up. Thank you for this post!
posted by ZakDaddy at 1:48 PM on December 3


Ironically one of the refugees was Conrad Veidt - who plays the main German; the one leading their singing. He fled from Germany to England in the 30s with his Jewish wife. He moved to the US a couple of years before Casablanca (after giving his life savings towards the war effort) to make films to try and persuade the then neutral US to join the war. Knowing he'd be typecast as a German (despite being tri-lingual in English and French) he had it wrote into his contract that if he played a Nazi they could only be villains. Sadly he died the following year before seeing the war end.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:50 PM on December 3 [63 favorites]


Oh for the days when Nazis were unambiguous bad guys instead of misunderstood blue collar workers who just happen to hate Jews and Non-whites.
posted by benzenedream at 1:52 PM on December 3 [71 favorites]


Oh and when Veidt had to fill in a Goebbels "racial questionnaire" for people in the German film industry he described himself as 'Jewish' in support of his wife. What a guy.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:54 PM on December 3 [40 favorites]


Die Wacht am Rhein is a pretty stirring anthem too, it dates back to the Franco-Prussian War.
posted by Bee'sWing at 2:27 PM on December 3 [1 favorite]


Oh for the days when Nazis were unambiguous bad guys instead of misunderstood blue collar workers who just happen to hate Jews and Non-whites.

I watched Casablanca the day after the election with the bottle of bubbly I had set aside for a Hillary win. It was a balm for the soul.
posted by sunset in snow country at 2:28 PM on December 3 [19 favorites]


i first learned the "SHOCKED, I AM SHOCKED" meme as a kid in the 80s via Bloom County. imagine my utter delight when i watched casablanca for the first time
posted by entropicamericana at 2:28 PM on December 3 [25 favorites]


I used to listen to the soundtrack of Casablanca on the tape player of my VW Bug on the long drive to Austin, back before books on tape were common. It was almost like watching the movie.
posted by Bee'sWing at 2:34 PM on December 3 [6 favorites]


Casablanca is one of my 5 favorite films. It used to play at the Brattle in Cambridge, Mass., and everyone stood and sang La Marseillaise, at least they did 30 or so years ago.
posted by theora55 at 2:46 PM on December 3 [11 favorites]


I have never noticed this before but the French officer singing behind Ingrid Bergman at 1.18 bears a significant resemblance to Tory wanker Oliver Letwin.
posted by biffa at 3:24 PM on December 3


Conrad Veidt has another role in a historic film. He portrayed Cesare the helpless yet murderous somnambulist in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (SLYT). Considered the first expressionist film, Cesare is under the power of the evil Doctor of the title. There's an out of print biography of Veidt.
posted by conscious matter at 3:35 PM on December 3 [7 favorites]


he was also the inspiration for the joker
posted by entropicamericana at 3:49 PM on December 3 [5 favorites]


I went to school in France as a kid, so have a special place in my heart for La Marseillaise, which we learned there. It always chokes me up when I hear it, and everything about that scene in Casablanca sets you up to respond that way.

Has anyone ever seen the movie Joyeux Noel, about the 1914 Christmas truce? The Silent Night/Stille Nacht scene also gets to me.
posted by gudrun at 3:50 PM on December 3 [7 favorites]


Never understood how Citizen Kane is ranked ahead of Casablanca (or The Wizard of Oz for that matter). But I do have a personal distaste for long biopics about businessmen - There Will Be Blood and The Aviator completely bored me as well. Anyhow, thanks for the post!
posted by emd3737 at 3:53 PM on December 3 [4 favorites]


Never understood how Citizen Kane is ranked ahead of Casablanca (or The Wizard of Oz for that matter).

Maybe it picked up a good lead during auteur theory days
posted by thelonius at 3:56 PM on December 3 [1 favorite]


That's so fascinating -- thank you Capt. Renault!

You inspired me to go back and rewatch another heartbreaking scene, one that feels almost like a mirror image: the last scene in Paths of Glory. I feel like Kubrick made a bunch of movies basically about big, evil systems or machines and what they did to the people inside them -- from the aristocratic manors of Barry Lyndon to the haunted hotel in The Shining to the spaceship in 2001, and the big terrible machine in Paths of Glory is the military apparatus of WWI trench warfare that turns the men in it into brutes or amoral martinets. It's been like an hour and a half of dehumanization, people stumbling through the wasteland, getting blown up, unfair trials and pointless executions. At the very end, a bunch of soldiers drinking at an inn are "entertained" by a German captive, a young woman, forced out by the innkeeper to be mocked and humiliated while she sings. The atmosphere of cruelty and sexual menace is terribly vivid.

And then, second by second, her song connects with something human and empathetic in them. You can see their faces start to wake up -- and (here I totally break down in the movie theater) they can't speak her language but they start humming along. They want to help; they're seeing a person and not an enemy. The nuances in her expression as she realizes this are so sad and vivid.

(The captive was played by Christiane Harlan, niece of the anti-Semitic Nazi propagandist Veit Harlan, who went on to marry Kubrick and became an accomplished painter.)
posted by Stevia Agave at 3:59 PM on December 3 [15 favorites]


I often wonder if this scene in Renoir's La grande illusion, made in 1937, influenced Casablanca's Marseillaise scene. There's a common vibe to both scenes. Both movies share a castmember (Marcel Dalio), I wonder if he had a sense of deja vu that day.
posted by Omon Ra at 4:31 PM on December 3 [4 favorites]


Yale's unofficial school song Bright College Years uses the Die Wacht am Rhein tune. That made it uncomfortable for Yalies during WWI, especially for those stationed in France, so they sang it to the tune of f La Marseillaise instead.
posted by mono blanco at 4:55 PM on December 3 [3 favorites]


(The singer with the guitar in that scene, Corinna Mura, was the step-mother of Edward Gorey.)
posted by Ian A.T. at 5:05 PM on December 3 [17 favorites]


Ironically one of the refugees was Conrad Veidt - who plays the main German; the one leading their singing.

IIRC, all of the actors playing Nazis were in fact refugees who fled Germany before the war. I think this is one of the reasons why the movie ended up such a masterpiece. So many people on that set were well aware of exactly what the stakes were.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:08 PM on December 3 [13 favorites]


Casablanca and The Princess Bride were the two movies my brother and I could recite word-for-word when we were teenagers.
posted by transient at 5:12 PM on December 3 [6 favorites]


Yale's unofficial school song Bright College Years uses the Die Wacht am Rhein tune. That made it uncomfortable for Yalies during WWI, especially for those stationed in France, so they sang it to the tune of f La Marseillaise instead.

At least back in the 90s, the Whiffenpoofs (lead Yale male a capella group) didn't perform it to the original tune in Germany, and maybe elsewhere in Europe.

I find this scene a bit too wishful in its thinking. Like an Aaron Sorkin scene where the politics are right (x100) but you feel everything's being contrived a bit too much to make the universe agree. The cynicism vs. sentiment balance, otherwise masterfully maintained through the film, tips here. Still love Casablanca, though. (And it still shows at the Brattle on Valentine's Day weekend.)
posted by praemunire at 5:16 PM on December 3


This has been my favorite go-to movie since my adolescence half a century ago. Although admittedly, I was initially more drawn by the luminescent visage of Ingrid Bergman than the filmmaking or historical context. Such a lucky accident. All of this exiled european talent available to what was to have been a quickie, throwaway B-picture to cash in on the war sentiment. Unlikely to ever be duplicated...
posted by jim in austin at 5:39 PM on December 3 [3 favorites]


Anything that gives me an excuse to enjoy Casablanca again is OK by me. Thanks!
posted by kinnakeet at 6:26 PM on December 3 [3 favorites]


The speed at which movies were made under the studio system amazes me. Michael Curtiz directed two other movies in 1942 (the mostly forgettable Captains of the Clouds and Cagney's tour de force Yankee Doodle Dandy) in addition to Casablanca.

Curtiz wasn't a refugee, but he lost several family members at Auschwitz, so an understanding of what was at stake definitely permeates the movie.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 6:38 PM on December 3




And thus, by analogy, this is the greatest scene ever animated.

(before clicking)

It's gonna be Food Fight, innit.

(after clicking)

Yep.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:25 PM on December 3 [4 favorites]


> i first learned the "SHOCKED, I AM SHOCKED" meme as a kid in the 80s via Bloom County. imagine my utter delight when i watched casablanca for the first time

I didn't see Casablanca until relatively late in life either.

My first response watching it: "Man, this film is nothing but cliches."

Fortunately I was old enough to realize why so many lines seemed like cliches.
posted by bunbury at 8:28 PM on December 3 [18 favorites]


Wow, had never heard of Food Fight. Perhaps understandably. Thanks, Small Dollar. I think...
posted by Bella Donna at 8:49 PM on December 3


Omon Ra, I had the same thought. We're not alone.
posted by asterix at 10:22 PM on December 3 [1 favorite]


Has anyone ever seen the movie Joyeux Noel, about the 1914 Christmas truce? The Silent Night/Stille Nacht scene also gets to me.

gudrun, just under 20 years ago during the WTO protests here in Seattle, I watched a Capitol Hill neighborhood crowd facing off with riot police which included King County Sherriff's department personnel, SPD cops wearing baseball catcher's gear, and unarmored National Guardsmen armed, literally, with broomstick handles.

The Hillians broke into "Silent Night", and it was impassioned. The cops had apparently not heard of the WW1 truce, and teargas, nightsticks, stinger pellets, and flash-bang grenades followed.

Aux armes, citoyens.
posted by mwhybark at 11:19 PM on December 3 [10 favorites]


This is not just a flm t respect, it's a film that in this time, we need. I just feel the need, this Christmas season, to make a play list of anti-fascist films. and this will be at the top of the list.
posted by happyroach at 11:44 PM on December 3 [4 favorites]


The article was a fine, but limited reading of the scene, leaving out some of Rick's motivation. To be clear, I really like Casablanca for a number of reasons, but it is propaganda and carries some problems along with it being such. It's propaganda for the right cause and inspiring especially in this moment, but at the same time Germany was making propaganda films of its own using similar musical tropes of bonding over injustice, see Heimkehr, for example which is credited with helping pave the way for the German invasion of Poland, which points a bit to the problem.

One of the strengths of Casablanca is how it catches viewers up in strong emotions by tying the political story to one of personal awakening, but were that same story told today, the personal awakening bit would seem much more dubious than in it does seeing it in a movie made in 1942.

Rick, in the moments just proceeding the La Marselles scene bluntly turns down Victor's offer to buy the letters of transit for any money, telling Victor to ask his wife why, which is repeated for emphasis. When Victor hears the Nazis singing and tells the band to strike up La Marseillaise, Rick allows it, but his reasons for doing so aren't as clearly in support of the cause as it may seem. As much as Ilsa knows what defying the Nazis portends for Victor, Rick surely does to, so allowing Victor to interrupt the Nazi singalong effectively signs his death warrant should he stay, which Rick is in control of and forcing to happen.

The scene of everyone singing doesn't change Rick's mind on this, which forces Ilsa to confront him and ask again for the letters. Rick turns her down as well and is sending her away when Ilsa pulls a gun on Rick and threatens him. Rick continues to refuse to hand over the letters , walks up to the gun and tells Ilsa to shoot, it'd be doing him a favor. Rick's demand here is for Ilsa to either prove she lied during their time in Paris, that she doesn't love him and basically used him, or to not fire the gun, not take the letters of transit and say Rick is more important than the fate of the free world.

She chooses the latter, cause Rick is all that, and gives in to whatever Rick desires from her. Once she's made her choice and essentially told Rick he means more to her than freedom itself, then he is free from his emotional need for validation and reverses the situation denying Ilsa's decision by making her go with Victor instead. World freedom comes at the cost of Ilsa's own freedom of decision making, where Rick, as the central figure of audience identification has been sold on his importance, and that of the US audience, so now can join the fight as "the guy" rather than being in Victor's shadow for affection. Victor is important to the fight against Nazism, but he'll never be loved like Rick since somethings are more important.

As propaganda, that works well to sell a US audience on their importance through identification with Rick, making it their war as much as a European one alone, but thematically that same plotline has some obvious problems too in where the emphasis falls for Rick, Ilsa, and the viewer. It works to build strong emotions and the craft of the movie is impeccable, but that isn't something I personally could accept as being the height of what a movie can provide. Just as a counterpoint since it was brought up, Citizen Kane, does something of the opposite of this showing propaganda as part of its story and depleting their emotional force, which is carried over to the main characters and their interactions, showing them yearning for something they can't get because their emotional needs interfere with their actions, to grossly simplify the story.

I can't tell anyone else what they should think is better or "greatest", I can only say what I see and as much as I like Casablanca and the La Marseillaise's scene, it doesn't fit my thinking on what constitutes the apex of the art form.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:37 AM on December 4 [27 favorites]



Wow, had never heard of Food Fight. Perhaps understandably.

There was an FPP about it (here) a few years back. The livestream chat is gone, but I recall everyone being horrified by the shameless Casablanca Marsellaise scene callout.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:19 AM on December 4


works well to sell a US audience on their importance through identification with Rick, making it their war as much as a European one alone...the craft of the movie is impeccable, but that isn't something I personally could accept as being the height of what a movie can provide

Your breakdown above is excellent, but I'm curious about some of its meaning and exactly where your criticism lies.

Eg, as a propaganda film, and accepting the premise that US involvement was needed for an allied victory, isn't the film self-aware about the pragmatics of the politics of the time and creates somewhat morally compromised characters to help reflect this?

Would you rather see it crafted in a way where Rick doesn't undermine Ilsa's agency? Are you saying you'd like a propaganda film with a better hero than Rick? Or one that more heavily emphasizes the values embodied in Victor?

Is your issue that the film misses an opportunity with the politics of the time or do you wish that the politics were more morally unambiguous, or...?
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 6:50 AM on December 4 [2 favorites]


My criticism, such as it is, lies mostly in how the movie pushes the viewer in one direction, towards joining the war, which in this instance was the just cause, while requiring Ilsa to bear the brunt of the burden with the viewer given that as fait accompli. Her emotions being treated as the thing standing in the way of the result of Rick accepting the importance of the war. It places the burden in the wrong spot, where it isn't Rick simply accepting the necessity of fighting Nazis, but needing to break Ilsa to get to that end. It isn't just the sexual politics, or maybe not even primarily the sexual politics involved that bother me, but the manner of propaganda relying on generating strong emotional response along a narrow pathway that gives me pause since it can be used for good and ill. That is the terrible strength of propaganda when done well, but it shouldn't be the height of what art does because there is a disingenuousness to it.

At the same time, the reasons I like Casablanca so much have to do with how well they capture the details of Rick's crisis of masculinity up until Ilsa's capitulation scene, where they then treat the problem as solved regarding Rick, save for how it will specifically play out. For example, when Ilsa arrives in Casablanca, she greets Sam warmly, and seeks Rick in a manner Bergman sells as one of bittersweet memory, wishing to hold her time with Rick in fondness of what they had. She asks Sam to play As Time Goes By as a signal of how important the time was to her, but Rick misses the message. He takes it as a challenge, "If she can take it so can I" and revels in the pain he feels rather than moving on.

Fittingly, Sam and, shortly after, Ilsa are the only two who can see everything for how it is and know the whole cost involved. Rick is blinded by his own emotions and takes it out on Ilsa. His need for validation echoes Renault's attempt to "seduce" the young woman as the cost of an export visa. While for Renault its sex, for Rick the same capitulation is required, but for perhaps even higher emotional stakes. That these two are, in the end, beautiful friends carries more than one possible way to measure that likeness. Were it that the movie even only signaled better Ilsa's post-capitulation independence of perspective rather than wrapping it so tightly with Rick's satisfaction and decision making for all, then I might feel the movie fulfilled its subtext with over the relationships involved, but as propaganda it required a more straight forward celebratory end to provide the audience a less complicated hero figure to side with.

It's in that choice to ultimately simplify that keeps the movie from being entirely satisfactory to me, while I still appreciate the detail that allowed for the additional suggestions of depth up to that point. It's a fascinating movie for all that, and its success as a anti-Nazi film is also commendable, even if that lessens its artistic value in other ways. It's a movie I think about often, needless to say I guess.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:33 AM on December 4 [11 favorites]


I had never bothered to look up the translation for the lyrics before.

It seems...a bit...timely.
posted by middleclasstool at 8:00 AM on December 4 [1 favorite]


works well to sell a US audience on their importance through identification with Rick, making it their war as much as a European one alone.

Americans? But Rick is a citizen of the world!
posted by mr. digits at 8:28 AM on December 4 [1 favorite]


@gusottertrout, that's an excellent exegesis. Thanks.
posted by conscious matter at 10:11 AM on December 4


Isn't there a big plot hole in the film? I've never understood why the Germans and/or Renault didn't simply arrest Victor the minute he walked into town. There's a bunch of references to the supposed legal neutrality required of the unoccupied French authorities--something that is never fully explained and which I've never understood (any help history buffs?)--but that didn't stop them from trying to arrest Victor eventually. So what were they waiting for?

And yeah, the actor who played Victor was pretty milquetoast. Given the excellent casting for every other major character, I don't get that part.

Anyway, this thread inspired me to watch it once again last night. It hasn't lost a bit of its charm in my book; if any, it's gained some.
posted by mikeand1 at 10:33 AM on December 4


he was also the inspiration for the joker

Ok, that is the most terrifying Joker I've ever seen.
posted by threeturtles at 10:42 AM on December 4 [6 favorites]


I have come to appreciate Victor much more over time. That scene especially when he's sitting with Ilsa before he goes off to his secret meeting. He says to her, "I love you very much, my dear," and she says "Yes. Yes, I know." I mean, ouch. He has this wistful warmth, he obviously knows his wife doesn't really love him, but he loves her so much he can't help it. And I like the way he is basically giving her all kinds of openings to tell him about what happened when he was in the concentration camp, very tender and "I know how it is to be lonely", but when she doesn't want to talk about it, he takes no for an answer without a glimmer of resentment.

In general, it's a pleasantly soft masculinity he has there. He's a political firebrand, he'll burn himself out in his country's cause etc., but privately he's so gentle. None of Rick's angry sullenness, sulking, drunk-breaking-things-because-dudes-can't-handle-their-feelings (sorry, Rick, ILU, but seriously), none of Louis's sex-extortion-of-desperate-jailbait (ILU too Louis but cut it the fucccck out).
posted by theatro at 10:50 AM on December 4 [21 favorites]


Yes, that "milquetoast" Victor, who by all rights should be nursing a whopping case of PTSD, is the true hero of the film.
posted by praemunire at 11:32 AM on December 4 [4 favorites]


Isn't there a big plot hole in the film? I've never understood why the Germans and/or Renault didn't simply arrest Victor the minute he walked into town.

The other one people frequently mention is the fact that the letters of transit -- the central macguffin of the film -- are signed by General de Gaulle. de Gaulle, of course, was the leader of the Free French, so the Vichy French authorities (i.e. Captain Renault's police force) had no reason to respect them.

Captain Renault's turn at the end of the film of course eliminates that complication, but it does raise the question of why Laszlo would have thought the letters of transit could help him in the first place.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:49 AM on December 4 [2 favorites]


Yes, that "milquetoast" Victor, who by all rights should be nursing a whopping case of PTSD, is the true hero of the film.

He's the post Episode 5 Luke, Bogart is Episode 4 Han Solo.
posted by Artw at 12:01 PM on December 4 [2 favorites]


IIRC, all of the actors playing Nazis were in fact refugees who fled Germany before the war.

related, there are some interesting backstories in the some of the cast of Hogan's Heroes.
posted by ovvl at 2:32 PM on December 4 [2 favorites]


gus, granted that the film functions as propaganda. but your critique of it as such appears to be that Rick's motives remain demonstrably self- interested and, therefore, impure. complicated character motivations are notoriously difficult to depict and script in any genre, and propaganda is, I'll submit, the most difficult one in which to do so. Your critique, which i interpret to be that you find it dissapointing that Rick remains a scoundrel despite the Nazis, is unconvincing to me, personally.

I mean, can also see your point: propaganda should model personal transformation in the service of the ideological objective presented, and do so without ambiguity and with maximal accessibility. so, as propaganda, it's deeply flawed.

That, in and of itself, is why it's redeeming.
posted by mwhybark at 5:54 PM on December 4 [1 favorite]


gusottertrout is focusing a lot on Rick's internality because that's what the film cares about, but the actual criticism is more about the fact that, well, the film cares a lot more about Rick's internality than Ilsa's.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:47 PM on December 4 [2 favorites]


legit. gus? sing out!
posted by mwhybark at 7:12 PM on December 4


There's a bunch of references to the supposed legal neutrality required of the unoccupied French authorities--something that is never fully explained and which I've never understood (any help history buffs?)--but that didn't stop them from trying to arrest Victor eventually.

When France fell in 1940 Germany wasn't in a position to occupy the country, and needed to spare as many troops as possible for further action against Britain. So in the armistice agreement they established occupied France and what became known as Vichy France - unoccupied by Axis troops, neutral, but under German influence. This included its overseas territories and colonies. It wasn't an ideal situation, nor was it a clearly defined relationship. The position of the French Mediterranean fleet, for example, was problematic and a source of concern to Britain, and Lebanon/Syria was attacked by a joint Free French & British force. Although technically supposed to be neutral, the Germans continued to pressure the Vichy government and forced it to enact pro-nazi policies, without it ever formally joining the Axis powers.

This bizarre legal state remained in place until the Allies invaded French North Africa in November of 1942 (including landing near Casablanca), and the Germans dissolved the Vichy government and took over the territory. During the period of the movie, Vichy is still nominally independent and neutral, beholden to the Germans because they are disarmed. It's a useful fiction for the Germans and the British both. As long as it stays "neutral" neither side had to deal with it militarily, and both sides could use it as a way to infiltrate the other side. It's far more complicated than that, with sympathizers and resistance fighters and more, but basically Vichy France is a huge grey area in the middle of a very big war.

They don't arrest Victor right away because it's not a big enough deal to justify violating the armistice, which could prompt Britain to also violate the armistice (which it had already in the Levant, Madagascar and versus the French navy in west Africa - incidents where violating the armistice was deemed necessary by political circumstances). But once he's in possession of stolen property (the letters of transit) it's a purely criminal matter. They're looking for a pretext to keep the convenient fiction of neutral France alive.

As for the infamous letters of transit, they weren't signed by de Gaulle, leader of Free France. They were signed by Maxime Weygand, a member of Petain's Vichy cabinet and Director General of the North African colonies. Any script mentioning de Gaulle is a transcription, because there was no compiled shooting script. Lorre's accent makes it a little difficult, and of course de Gaulle is much more famous now than Weygand, so it's a simple mistake to make. Listen to the end of the name - do you hear rolling llllls of de Gaulle or a more clipped way-gohn?
posted by GhostintheMachine at 8:42 PM on December 4 [13 favorites]


Your critique, which i interpret to be that you find it disappointing that Rick remains a scoundrel despite the Nazis, is unconvincing to me, personally.

Sorry mwhybark reading over what I said, I see I left vague a couple things that are central to my feelings on the film. It isn't that Rick remains a scoundrel that bothers me, but the overall direction the story took in getting Rick to join the Allies and how I see it maneuvering the audience to reach that end which sees Rick as making a heroic choice, to an extent.

The movie weaves two story lines together to create its overall narrative, one is that of the war going on in the "outside" world, and the other of Rick and Ilsa's relationship, a societal dilemma and a personal one. The combination of these two strands brings the whole of the work together resolving them as one. For it to do that it stresses certain perspectives as more important or defining in establishing its meaning. The place Casablanca defines the location where the two conflicts are to be fought, and Rick defines Casablanca. The Nazis and Victor are the two outside forces that are vying for societal control, held at bay by the quirks of status Casablanca holds, while Rick's emotional conflict is between his past and the direction his actions will take going forward. Ilsa is the cornerstone for each. She, according to the story, is necessary for Victor and the Allies to maintain their fight against the Nazis, without her Victor and thus the Allies would be greatly weakened. She is also, of course, the cause of Rick's inaction and focus on the past.

What makes this so compelling is that the movie combines these two different strands in ways that still are compelling today, but for reasons that aren't entirely on the surface of the narrative. To put it in more current terms for the sake of clarity, Rick was once a decent guy, he fought the good fight and fell in love. His being rejected by the woman he wanted, Ilsa, led to his retreat into cynicism and embrace of a quasi-libertarian lifestyle in Casablanca where anything goes and he sticks his neck out for no one. Nazis, Allies, it doesn't matter much to Rick as long as his emotions stay protected. His pain is that Ilsa left him for another man and he won't act to fight Nazis until that hurt has been redressed. That hurt isn't redressed until he is able to reduce Victor to, effectively, a cuckold by forcing Ilsa to surrender to him and give up Victor and the fight. Only then can he, in turn, reject Ilsa and send her off with Victor to "do the right thing." The movie frames this as Rick's big sacrifice, but it is just as potently framed as Ilsa's erasure. Rick can re-enter the outside world and fight Nazis because the cornerstone to the wall that was blocking him from the world has been removed.

This is the case despite the La Marseillaise scene where Rick's own employees, who he evinced some care for, show such strong emotion at the playing of the song, as described so well in the linked article. In most propaganda movies I've seen, this would indeed be the central moment where everyone comes together to symbolize their unity for a important cause. It's the summation and resolution of all that came before. But not here, Rick isn't singing. And if Rick isn't singing neither Casablanca nor the audience can move.

This is also the case when Ilsa not only signals her continued warm feelings and fond memories of her time with Rick, by seeking him out, playing their song, and openly speaking of their time together in front of Victor, but she even hints those times may return once the war ends in the exchange where they speak of the Nazis entering Paris and Rick says something like "I remember every detail, the Nazis wore gray, you wore blue." and Ilsa responds "I put that dress away, when the Germans march out I'll wear it again." This too is not enough for Rick. It isn't acceptable for Ilsa to be in control of the situation, Rick needs that control for himself.

Again, that Sam and Ilsa are the only two who see the entirety of this dynamic with Rick, a woman and a black man, just goes to further point to how eerily prescient so much of the movie is in how it intertwines sexual politics with the societal. That the movie recognizes and captures this all so well is remarkable and to its credit, that it goes on to celebrate it as necessary is the harder thing to accept.

It isn't uncommon for movies to use the sacrifice/loss of a loved one as a spur to action for the hero. In westerns, for example its often the case the "tainted" saloon "dancer" sacrifices herself so the hero can move forward with the "good" woman unburdened by a less savory past association. In war movies a protagonist's indecision can be changed to action when someone more invested in the fight who he cares about dies. That kind of motivational spur gives cause for the audience to see where the newfound, but long expected, resolve to fight the good fight comes from. Mostly its conventional and generic and serves more as expected prompt than as emotionally powerful in its own right.

Here that trope is altered in a way that both lends it greater potency, but also creates its own problem. For the movie Casablanca to work, the two storylines need to become fused into a single strand and dealt with as one. The audience will assume the war strand leads to Rick joining the fight against the Nazis since that is really the only acceptable end. The emotional core of the film, the manner in which it gains it force as a story and as propaganda then has to come from how he makes that decision and that comes from resolving his aborted romance with Ilsa. That strand is the emotionally dominant one given the conditions established by the rules of Casablanca and Rick station there.

For the film to work as propaganda, the emotional demand is one of strong resolution to fight and that is achieved through ostensible sacrifice or loss on Rick's part that spurs his resolve. This is a demand for intensity of feeling over nuance or truth of emotion as nuance spreads the singularity of effect into competing or even contradictory emotional possibilities. This shifts response inwards as one takes in the conflicting emotional states observed, trying to make sense of them all. Effective propaganda is a call for action. It demands a clear purposeful emotional resolution that will align the audience with the values and action the film is trying to inculcate.

In Casablanca that demand is met by the subordination of Ilsa to Rick. The dilemma of the film is, essentially, Ilsa and Rick have two different perspectives and the resolution is in making those two perspectives one. The difficulty is that Ilsa's perspective, up until she pulls the gun on Rick, is the "better" one. Sacrifice being necessary to fight the Nazis. This is exact same value claimed by Rick at the end, the value we are to celebrate, but for Rick and the audience to get there, Ilsa's values have to first be negated, she must go to Rick, then denied, Rick sends her away, for Rick to accept them as his own. That too is fascinating and prescient of many attitudes today and shows again how remarkable the movie is, but in making that switch, it removes Ilsa's agency almost entirely. The Ilsa at the beginning of the film is almost invisible at the end so we can better see Rick standing clear of all encumbrances. That is where, for me, the disingenuousness of the film lies, in how it asks the audience to look to Rick for its meaning at the expense of Ilsa's own character. It's the failure to even acknowledge that is the arc and to treat it as "natural" that leaves it feeling false as much as anything.

Sorry for going on at length again, it's just something I really wanted to clarify since I wasn't clear last time and didn't want that to confuse things. As a little bit of an aside, Casablanca is possibly the best example of "golden age Hollywood" screenwriting and acting working together to make a greater whole. The writing style still carries some of the theater influence from the thirties, where movies often sounded like plays, in part because that's where many of the screenwriters and plots came from, but here it's modified enough to fit the difference of seeing things close up on a big screen and has a marvelous cast to deliver the lines. Unlike the later emphasis on so-called "naturalism", which is really as much just draining lines of their meaning to being simple utterances instead, the Casablanca script is a model of exchanges having purpose, meaning, and, when delivered well as here, such exquisite rhythm that it takes the listener along like a dance. It's something I really miss about this era of Hollywood, so I wanted to mention it since Casablanca does it so well.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:04 AM on December 5 [13 favorites]


The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was mentioned above. Conrad Veidt played the man hypnotized by Dr. Caligari. The evil hypnotist, Dr. Caligari, was played by Werner Strauss went on to perform in Nazi propaganda films, including the notorious Jud Süß where he played an evil rabbi.
Just saying, two life choices.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:53 AM on December 11 [2 favorites]


I had no idea they filmed it with actual French refugees though!... IIRC, all of the actors playing Nazis were in fact refugees who fled Germany before the war.

The book The Essential Casablanca says that of all the main characters who got screen credit, only 3 – Bogart, pianist Dooley Wilson, and Joy Page – were born in the U.S. And that Warner Brothers claimed people from 34 different nationalities worked on the movie.
posted by LeLiLo at 8:12 PM on December 11 [3 favorites]


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