USA / English
"Mysterious City of Sin and Intrigue ! "Classic film set in unoccupied Africa during the early days of World War II: An American expatriate meets a former lover, with unforeseen complications.
A masterwork for all time...
There is a scene about halfway through the movie Casablanca that has
become commonly known as 'The Battle of the Anthems' throughout the
film's long history. A group of German soldiers has come into Rick's
Café American and are drunkenly singing the German National Anthem at
the top of their voice. Victor Lazlo, the leader of the French
Resistance, cannot stand this act and while the rest of the club stares
appalled at the Germans, Lazlo orders the band to play 'Le Marseilles
(sic?)' the French National Anthem. With a nod from Rick, the band
begins playing, with Victor singing at the top of HIS voice. This in
turn, inspires the whole club to begin singing and the Germans are
forced to surrender and sit down at their table, humbled by the crowd's
dedication. This scene is a turning point in the movie, for reasons
that I leave to you to discover.
As I watched this movie again tonight for what must be the 100th time,
I noticed there was a much smaller scene wrapped inside the bigger
scene that, unless you look for it, you may never notice. Yvonne, a
minor character who is hurt by Rick emotionally, falls into the company
of a German soldier. In a land occupied by the Germans, but populated
by the French, this is an unforgivable sin. She comes into the bar
desperately seeking happiness in the club's wine, song, and gambling.
Later, as the Germans begin singing we catch a glimpse of Yvonne
sitting dejectedly at a table alone and in this brief glimpse, it is
conveyed that she has discovered that this is not her path to
fulfillment and she has no idea where to go from there. As the singing
progresses, we see Yvonne slowly become inspired by Lazlo's act of
defiance and by the end of the song, tears streaming down her face, she
is singing at the top of her voice too. She has found her redemption.
She has found something that will make her life never the same again
from that point on.
Basically, this is Casablanca in a nutshell. On the surface, you may
see it as a romance, or as a story of intrigue, but that is only
The thing that makes Casablanca great is that it speaks to that place
in each of us that seeks some kind of inspiration or redemption. On
some level, every character in the story receives the same kind of
catharsis and their lives are irrevocably changed. Rick's is the most
obvious in that he learns to live again, instead of hiding from a lost
love. He is reminded that there are things in the world more noble and
important than he is and he wants to be a part of them. Louis, the
scoundrel, gets his redemption by seeing the sacrifice Rick makes and
is inspired to choose a side, where he had maintained careful
neutrality. The stoic Lazlo gets his redemption by being shown that
while thousands may need him to be a hero, there is someone he can rely
upon when he needs inspiration in the form of his wife, who was ready
to sacrifice her happiness for the chance that he would go on living.
Even Ferrai, the local organized crime leader gets a measure of
redemption by pointing Ilsa and Lazlo to Rick as a source of escape
even though there is nothing in it for him.
This is the beauty of this movie. Every time I see it (and I have seen
it a lot) it never fails that I see some subtle nuance that I have
never seen before. Considering that the director would put that much
meaning into what is basically a throw away moment (not the entire
scene, but Yvonne's portion) speaks bundles about the quality of the
film. My wife and I watched this movie on our first date, and since
that first time over 12 years ago, it has grown to be, in my mind, the
greatest movie ever made.