Revisiting Casablanca

29 May

casa7Yesterday, I had a small family party and we watched Casablanca, partially because my cousin had not seen it before and wanted to (he said he liked it). The last time I saw Casablanca was before I developed my slightly obsessive enthusiasm for classic movies, so I was hoping to be able to see a familiar classic with new eyes. I don’t know if I quite did, but here are the four things that I took away this time.

1) There’s a lot of music in Casablanca. All movies have music, but it’s particularly noticeable and pointed. Max Steiner (he wrote the score for Gone With the Wind and King Kong), weaves in “La Marseillaise” and “Die Wacht am Rhein” throughout the entire movie score. “La Marseillaise” is the French National anthem and stands in for freedom. “Die Wacht am Rhein” is used to represent the Nazis (it’s a song about the fatherland and fighting in the Rhineland – specifically against the French). They are a call to arms and a drawing of the battle lines.

Juxtaposed with this martial music are the romantic songs that Dooley Wilson sings, especially “As Time Goes By.” Since that is the song that we really remember from the movie, the underlying message is that love will last forever and transcends war and hatred and evil. This point is made more clear when we see repeated scenes of Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) falling in love in Paris (to the music of “As Time Goes By”) interspersed with scenes of the Nazis invading France to martial anthems. Rick and Ilsa may not get to be together at the end of the film, but there will always be other people who will fall in love, especially when the war is over and tyranny is defeated. “The world will always welcome lovers, as time goes by.”

still-of-ingrid-bergman,-humphrey-bogart,-claude-rains-and-paul-henreid-in-casablanca-(1942)-large-picture2) I have a theory that it takes one to know one. Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) may be a flagrantly, cheerfully corrupt official, but his clear understanding and sympathy with Rick makes me suspect that at heart, he is just as much a sentimentalist as Rick. I like to imagine that he had a romantic and quixotic past before he came to Casablanca. He’s just had more years to grow entrenched in his cynicism than Rick. At least, that’s my theory. Because at the end, he proves just as sentimental as Rick. For him to throw up everything and join the Free French is quite a step for a man who “blows with the wind.”

3) At the end of the movie, to convince Ilsa to get on the plane and leave with her husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), Rick tells Ilsa that she must go because Victor needs her, that she is the only thing that keeps him going through all his trials, and that she would later regret having left him.

Captain Renault then comments that Rick was spinning  a fairy tale and that Ilsa knew that the things Rick said were not true (she probably wouldn’t regret staying with Rick and Laszlo is far too dedicated to his work to quit even if his wife did leave him). So why did she stay with her husband? Because Rick needed to fight and he couldn’t do that if they ran way together. Love must be sacrificed for duty, which both she and Rick recognized. It’s all a matter of timing, as Ilsa notes when they are in France, when she says they picked a terrible time to fall in love.

Annex - Bogart, Humphrey (Casablanca)_11In the original screenplay, Rick and Ilsa were going to leave together. However, when America entered the war, the studio realized that it would be impossibly irresponsible and selfish to have two people run away together as if there were not a cataclysmic war raging across the world. So the ending was changed.

4) Although Casablanca is not the movie that turned Humphrey Bogart into a leading man (High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon did that), it is the movie that cemented his reputation both as a star and as a romantic lead. And I think Casablanca summarizes his appeal as a romantic lead. He looks like a gangster, he talks like a gangster, but as Captain Renault perceptively notes in Casablanca, beneath the cynical shell there is a sentimental man. He may look like a tough guy and talk like one, but you can instinctively feel that inside he is an idealist who has been disappointed, but can’t quite shake the idealism. He has a sensitive soul and intelligent mind. It just took the studios a while to figure it out because he does not look like a conventional leading man.


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13 responses to “Revisiting Casablanca

  1. The Animation Commendation

    May 29, 2015 at 11:55 am

    I saw this for the first time about a year or so ago and I liked it, but it’s not on my favorite films list. It’s definitely the film with the most famous lines though. My favorite line is “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the worlds…she had to walk into mine.”


    • christinawehner

      May 29, 2015 at 12:13 pm

      Yes, that’s a great line. It’s one of the most quotable movies I’ve ever seen. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • The Animation Commendation

        May 29, 2015 at 1:14 pm

        Do you have an all-time favorite movie?


        • christinawehner

          May 29, 2015 at 1:44 pm

          Hmm…it’s hard to single out one. My whole life I would have said the 1995 Pride and Prejudice, but I’ve been watching so many new movies in the past few years that its thrown my favorites list into disarray and I don’t know what will stand the test of time. Now, P&P has competition from movies like Double Indemnity, The Band Wagon, The Lady Eve and The Trouble With Angels, which I haven’t yet grown tired of watching. 🙂

          Do you have a very favorite one…or ones?

          Liked by 1 person

          • The Animation Commendation

            May 29, 2015 at 2:46 pm

            I put the entire ‘Back to the Future’ trilogy as my #1 favorite movie. I can’t pick one.

            I then put #2: 12 Angry Men, #3: Gone with the WInd, #4: Beauty and the Beast, and #5: Murder on the Orient Express.

            But it’s been a while since I made that ranking, so things might change now.

            Liked by 1 person

            • christinawehner

              May 29, 2015 at 3:32 pm

              For some reason, the first Back to the Future movie I saw was the third one…and I was very confused about the plot and my mom had to explain what was going on. But I still liked it and then watched the whole series in the proper order. But I’ve always had a weakness for the third, just because it was the first one. 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

              • The Animation Commendation

                May 29, 2015 at 7:24 pm

                The 3rd one is really good and holds itself as a good movie by itself if one could understand the plot.

                I think it’s also the cleanest one too in terms of content/language, so that may be the reason why you saw that one first.

                Liked by 1 person

  2. FictionFan

    May 29, 2015 at 2:33 pm

    I agree that AsTime Goes By is the real big number in this one, but for me it’s the singing of the Marseillaise that does it every time! I find I need to stand up and sing along and I get an urgent desire to go fight someone! Just as well I usually watch at home and not in the cinema…

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      May 29, 2015 at 3:20 pm

      Ah, yes…musical warfare! It’s an unappreciated weapon. 🙂 It’s fascinating how Max Steiner uses those two themes – in that one scene and as general background music – to engage in battle throughout the film.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thom Hickey

    June 13, 2015 at 11:21 pm

    Thanks Casablanca is inexhaustibly fascinating! So many incidental pleasures and cameos within the whole. Regards Thom.

    Liked by 1 person


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