FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Casablanca: When Melodrama Trumped History

Not only is “Casablanca” regarded as one of the greatest American movies ever made—throbbing romance, exotic setting, superb cast, memorable song (“As Time Goes By”), signature dialogue (“Play it again, Sam”)—it managed to beat out an astonishing nine other nominees to win the 1943 Oscar for Best Picture.

Although the Academy’s recent announcement that it planned to go from a five-Best Picture ballot to a ten-picture ballot was greeted as an historical milestone, the five-nominee format hasn’t been around forever.  In fact, not until 1964 did five nominees become the norm.  Prior to that, the number varied from as few as two to as many as thirteen.  In 1943, there were ten.

Oddly, “Casablanca’s” celebrated song not only didn’t win the Oscar for Best Song, it wasn’t even nominated.  And in another blow to conventional wisdom, that oft-quoted line was a paraphrase never uttered in the film.  The actual line, word for word, was, “Sam, play it again.”

But for all the adoration and praise this movie has received, has anyone actually examined its plot?  Has anyone asked themselves what this movie is really about?  Because, if they had, they’d realize the movie’s central premise is patently absurd.

Victor Laszlo (played by Paul Henreid) is portrayed as the Nazi’s uber-nemesis.  He’s the Czech leader of the European Resistance, an escapee from a concentration camp, a man the Third Reich has been chasing all over the world.  As fate would have it, Laszlo, his wife Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), Ilsa’s former lover (Humphrey Bogart), and a contingent of Nazis all wind up in Casablanca, Morocco.

In an early scene, the ranking German officer, Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt), confesses to the city’s corrupt chief of police, Captain Renault (Claude Rains), that Lazlo has already “slipped through our fingers three times.”  The Nazis fear Laszlo because, as the charismatic leader of the Underground with a huge and loyal following, he represents a clear threat to the Reich.

And yet, confoundingly—with the stakes high and the stage immaculately set—we see Laszlo walking leisurely around the city of Casablanca, arm and arm with his wife, spending his evenings at Rick’s Café Americain (Rick, of course, is Bogart), with the Nazis fully cognizant of his whereabouts, yet making no effort to grab him.

Mind you, these are the same Nazis who invaded and occupied a good part of Europe, the same Nazis who engaged in the extermination of the Jews and plotted to assassinate Winston Churchill, the same “rogue” regime that sees itself as Masters of the World and recognizes no greater civil authority than Adolf Hitler.  International law means nothing to them.

Yet, we’re supposed to believe that if Laszlo can somehow obtain two “letters of transit” which are floating mysteriously around the city, he and his wife will be able to leave Casablanca unmolested, with the Nazis powerless to stop them.  Why?  Because these documents bear the signature of Charles De Gaulle, Free France’s president-in-exile.

More preposterously, these “letters” aren’t even made out in Laszlo’s name.  They’re blank.  They’re a one-size-fits-all document with the power of a diplomatic “Get Out of Jail Free” card.

Even accepting the notion of a “talismanic” letter, why wouldn’t the Nazis simply scoop up Laszlo before he obtained it?  Who are they afraid of—Claude Rains?  No one’s suggesting that all movies have to be “realistic,” but there must be some semblance of reality for a narrative to gain traction, particularly a story steeped in actual history, as this one is.

In real life, the Nazis would have murdered Laszlo.  They would have followed him out of Rick’s café, ambushed him on the street, then goose-stepped back to the bar to celebrate with a bottle of schnapps.  Victor Laszlo—to borrow from another cinema classic—would be sleeping with the fishes.

And for those who think this appraisal is too petty or negative, let us go to the source.  Let us quote Julius J. Epstein, the co-writer (along with his brother, Philip) of the screenplay for “Casablanca.”

These are Epstein’s words:  “It was just a routine assignment.  Frankly, I can’t understand its staying power.  If it were made today, line for line, each performance as good, it’d be laughed off the screen.  It’s such a phony picture.  Not a word of truth in it.  It’s camp, it’s kitsch.  It’s shit!”

Ouch.

DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright (“Larva Boy,” “Americana”) and writer, was a former labor union rep.  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
February 24, 2020
Stephen Corry
New Deal for Nature: Paying the Emperor to Fence the Wind
M. K. Bhadrakumar
How India’s Modi is Playing on Trump’s Ego to His Advantage
Jennifer Matsui
Tycoon Battle-Bots Battle Bernie
Robert Fisk
There’s Little Chance for Change in Lebanon, Except for More Suffering
Rob Wallace
Connecting the Coronavirus to Agriculture
Bill Spence
Burning the Future: the Growing Anger of Young Australians
Eleanor Eagan
As the Primary Race Heats Up, Candidates Forget Principled Campaign Finance Stands
Binoy Kampmark
The Priorities of General Motors: Ditching Holden
George Wuerthner
Trojan Horse Timber Sales on the Bitterroot
Rick Meis
Public Lands “Collaboration” is Lousy Management
David Swanson
Bloomberg Has Spent Enough to Give a Nickel to Every Person Whose Life He’s Ever Damaged
Peter Cohen
What Tomorrow May Bring: Politics of the People
Peter Harrison
Is It as Impossible to Build Jerusalem as It is to Escape Babylon?
Weekend Edition
February 21, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Election Con 2020: Exposing Trump’s Deception on the Opioid Epidemic
Joshua Frank
Bloomberg is a Climate Change Con Man
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Billion Dollar Babies
Paul Street
More Real-Time Reflections from Your Friendly South Loop Marxist
Jonathan Latham
Extensive Chemical Safety Fraud Uncovered at German Testing Laboratory
Ramzy Baroud
‘The Donald Trump I know’: Abbas’ UN Speech and the Breakdown of Palestinian Politics
Martha Rosenberg
A Trump Sentence Commutation Attorneys Generals Liked
Ted Rall
Bernie Should Own the Socialist Label
Louis Proyect
Encountering Malcolm X
Kathleen Wallace
The Debate Question That Really Mattered
Jonathan Cook
UN List of Firms Aiding Israel’s Settlements was Dead on Arrival
George Wuerthner
‘Extremists,’ Not Collaborators, Have Kept Wilderness Whole
Colin Todhunter
Apocalypse Now! Insects, Pesticide and a Public Health Crisis  
Stephen Reyna
A Paradoxical Colonel: He Doesn’t Know What He is Talking About, Because He Knows What He is Talking About.
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A New Solar Power Deal From California
Richard Moser
One Winning Way to Build the Peace Movement and One Losing Way
Laiken Jordahl
Trump’s Wall is Destroying the Environment We Worked to Protect
Walden Bello
Duterte Does the Right Thing for a Change
Jefferson Morley
On JFK, Tulsi Gabbard Keeps Very Respectable Company
Vijay Prashad
Standing Up for Left Literature: In India, It Can Cost You Your Life
Gary Leupp
Bloomberg Versus Bernie: The Upcoming Battle?
Ron Jacobs
The Young Lords: Luchadores Para La Gente
Richard Klin
Loss Leaders
Gaither Stewart
Roma: How Romans Differ From Europeans
Kerron Ó Luain
The Soviet Century
Mike Garrity
We Can Fireproof Homes But Not Forests
Fred Baumgarten
Gaslighting Bernie and His Supporters
Joseph Essertier
Our First Amendment or Our Empire, But Not Both
Peter Linebaugh
A Story for the Anthropocene
Danny Sjursen
Where Have You Gone Smedley Butler?
Jill Richardson
A Broken Promise to Teachers and Nonprofit Workers
Binoy Kampmark
“Leave Our Bloke Alone”: A Little Mission for Julian Assange
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail