December, 1941 in Casablanca

When I realized I had a post coming up on December 7th, I wanted something relating to World War II.  And then I thought–why not one of my favorite movies?  Which leads me to Casablanca.

I have no idea how many times I’ve watched Casablanca.  Once for a Spanish class, I watched it in Spanish, without subtitles, and followed it perfectly (and I’m not advanced in Spanish!)  If you’ve never seen it, put it at the top of your list–preferably in your native language.  🙂

Casablanca is set in the early days of World War II.  Refugees from Europe have fled to Casablanca, as part of the route to America…and now they wait–and wait–and wait, for the chance to move on.  The story centers on Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), who runs Rick’s Cafe Americain.  Everybody comes to Rick’s–and one day Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) walks in the door.  In a flashback, the audience learns that Rick and Ilsa had a love affair in Paris, and that Ilsa ran out on him when they fled the German invasion, which turned him into the hard-boiled cynic he is now.  Complicating matters even further, Ilsa is in Casablanca with Victor Laszlo, a resistance leader who is on the run from the Nazis–and Ilsa’s husband.  By rather questionable means, Rick is the secret possessor of two letters of transit, which could get two people safely out of Casablanca–but what will he do with them?

A mere plot description, besides being remarkably complicated (I’ve left out half of it), doesn’t do the movie justice.  It’s the characters–and the emotions of the scenes–and the incredibly brilliant dialogue that makes this movie so wonderful.

There’s a beautiful scene when the Nazi soldiers in Rick’s cafe start singing a German anthem, and Laszlo directs the band to play “La Marsiellaise,” symbol of French resistance.  The Nazis are ultimately drowned out by the singing of the crowd.  And that’s just one moment–there are probably a dozen moments that are inspiring, heart-wrenching, and moving.  I’ve never seen a movie that made me feel so strongly that every character, from Rick on down to the waiters and the gamblers, has a story behind them.

And I haven’t even mentioned my favorite character yet: Captain Louis Renault, played by Claude Rains, who in his own words is “only a poor corrupt government official,” who “blows with the wind, and right now the prevailing wind is from Vichy.”  In other words, he kowtows to the Germans.  When someone aims a gun at his heart, he responds by saying, “That is my least vulnerable spot.”  But don’t believe it!  Louis gets an enormous number of witty, clever, funny lines, and by the end of the movie we see that he has much more depth than he professes to.

A discussion on Louis leads me right into the dialogue.  I don’t think any movie is more quotable than Casablanca.  “We’ll always have Paris.”  “Here’s looking at you, kid.”  “I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”  And that’s just Bogart.  There’s also “Round up the usual suspects” (Louis), which gets quoted by people who have no idea what they’re quoting (I’ve seen it happen).  Then there’s “Play it, Sam”–Ilsa never actually says “Play it again, Sam,” despite that line’s fame.  Those are just the particularly famous ones (see several here) but there are so many others.

“I like to think you killed a man; it’s the romantic in me.” – Louis

Rick: I came to Casablanca for the waters.
Louis: The waters?  What waters?  We’re in the desert.
Rick: I was misinformed.

Ugarte: You despise me, don’t you?
Rick: If I gave you any thought, I probably would.

The line that dates this to the first seven days of December, 1941: “If it’s December 1941 in Casablanca, what time is it in New York?  I bet they’re asleep in New York.  I bet they’re asleep all over America.” – Rick

“What if you killed all of us? From every corner of Europe, hundreds, thousands would rise up to take our places. Even Nazis can’t kill that fast.” – Laszlo

I could go on for a very long time here.  I was in a class once discussing the best quotes in Casablanca, and the teacher had to ask me to stop naming ones.  🙂

The movie came out in 1942, long before World War II was decided.  Many of the actors were European, and a number of them were refugees.  It’s not hard to imagine where the intense feeling of the movie comes from.  And they bring it to life for us, seventy years after its setting.  It’s a love story, a patriotic story, a heartbreaking story and a funny one.  Watch it.  And you may find yourself deciding to play it again.

One thought on “December, 1941 in Casablanca

  1. It’s one of the best movies ever made – and I have heard that the actors did not know the ending until they were filming it (it could have gone two ways), thus adding more realness to their portrayals of their characters in very uncertain and scary times. I love it and have seen it many times myself. One caveat, though – if you don’t know much about WWII, some of the back story may not register with you. When this movie was made, the filmmakers assumed much knowledge of current world events on the part of the viewer. That may not be so true 70 years later for new generations. But it is still a timeless and beautiful story of love and sacrifice during wartime.

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