Tuesday, September 11, 2007

CASABLANCA (1942): Notes for Mars Hill Video Club

Casablanca is always rated by movie critics among the top five films of all time, often as the greatest. It is a story of love and war. Taken by itself the love story is understandable but unremarkable: two people fall in love (that’s the Western way of romance at least). The war story for today’s viewers is more problematic as World War II is a fading memory. In order to understand the tension of these two themes, one must understand the historical background. It is especially touching to realize that the film was itself “propaganda” for the Allied war effort in America produced within one year of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. (Imagine the impact if Flight 93 had been shown in theatres on September 11, 2002, rather than 2006. Casablanca alerted Americans to the terrible sufferings of people under the Third Reich, the full realization of which would only be completed in the conquest of the death camps in 1945, and to the sacrifices that would be called for to defeat it.

Historical References
Casablanca – a city in French Morocco. Africa is presented as a place of refuge and an exotic blending of cultures, heightened by the influx of refugees from all over Europe.
Third Reich – Adolf Hitler’s Germany, which conquered France in 1940
The Gestapo – the German secret police
Occupied France – that part which the Germans conquered directly in 1940, including Paris
Vichy France – the puppet French government under the domination of Germany with its capital at Vichy. Casablanca was in Vichy, called “unoccupied” in name only.
Free French – those French who refused to accept German occupation and fought against them. Gen. Charles de Gaulle was exiled in England and led Free French troops back to France in 1944 during D-Day. They reentered Paris later that year.

Major Characters
Rick Blane (Humphrey Bogart) – an expatriate American who runs a café in Casablanca
Sam (Dooley Wilson) – the piano player in Rick’s Café
Capt. Louis Renault (Claude Rains) – the French prefect in Casablanca
Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) – Rick’s romantic love and wife of Viktor Laszlo
Viktor Laszlo (Paul Henreid)– Czechoslavakian patriot opposing German occupation
Ugarte (Peter Lorre) – a black market dealer who gives two visas to Rick for safekeeping and then is arrested and killed
Major Strasser – the German officer enforcing German policy in “free” Casablanca

Musical Themes from Casablanca
The movie has a lot of music, often popular music of the 1930s, but two songs dominate.

“As Time Goes By” –originally written in 1931 and made famous in Casablanca:
You must remember this
A kiss is still a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh.
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by
And when two lovers wooThey still say, 'I love you'On that you can relyNo matter what the future bringsAs Time Goes By.

"La Marseillaise" – the French National Anthem
One of the most moving scenes is the musical competition, for which Rick nods approval, between the Germans and French. Note that the film ends with this anthem, clearly an inspiration to those who would be preparing to return to France and to fight with the French Resistance against the Nazis.

Marchons, marchons!
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons.

[Let us march, Let us march!
That their impure blood
Should water our fields]

Famous Lines
Ilsa (to Sam the Pianist): “Play it again, Sam. Play “As Time Goes By.”

Rick (to Ilsa): “Here’s looking at you, Kid”

Rick: “I stick my neck out for nobody.”

Renault: And what in Heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?
Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.
Renault: The waters? What waters? We're in the desert.
Rick: I was misinformed.

Strasser: What is your nationality?
Rick: I'm a drunkard.
Renault: And that makes Rick a citizen of the world.

Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.
Attendant (to Renault): Your winnings, sir.
Renault: Oh. Thank you very much. Everybody out at once.

Rick: “Ilsa, 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.”

Renault: “Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects.”

Rick: “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” (Last line of film, as they walk off arm in arm.)

Discussion Questions
1. Do you like the film in black-and-white (colour films had been made for almost a decade before 1942)? Notice the many scenes in dark and shadows. What does that say about the theme of the film?

2. What is the feel of Casablanca as a town? Does it remind you of Kampala? Can you recall one of the minor characters and their plight? What do these vignettes say about the war?

3. How does the flashback to Paris work to fill in the story of Rick and Ilsa?

4. Renault accuses Rick of being a “rank sentimentalist”? What does that phrase mean? Do you think it is true? Or would it be better to say that he is a realistic patriot?

5. There is a lot of smoking and drinking in the film? What does that say about the characters and about the overall situation in Casablanca?

6. There is no religion in the film. What do you make of Rick’s cynicism? What about Ilsa’s parting words to Rick: “God bless you.” Do you think Rick has enough reason to put his life at risk?

The Mars Hill Video Club is sponsored by the African Areopagus Society at Uganda Christian University. It is concerned with the intersection of video arts and Christian faith.

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