Here’s Looking At You, Kid… & Immigrants & Refugees
This (classic) film LOVED all over the world wouldn’t have been made w/o immigrants and refugees (MANY of whom were fleeing war). The ONLY woman that Rick (Humphrey Bogart) loved- Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman)- was Swedish; her husband/freedom fighter Victor Lazlo was Austrian. Capt. Renault (Claude Rains) was British, as was Sidney Greenstreet. Director Michael Curtiz was an immigrant from Hungary; the cast/crew sometimes had a difficult time understanding his accent. Ugarte (Peter Lorre) was also Hungarian; he who fled to London in 1935 before coming to the U.S. Yvonne (Madeleine Lebeau), the young woman dumped by Rick early in the film, and her husband (Marcel Dalio- he plays the croupier), fled Paris before the German occupation in 1940. The Nazi officer, Maj. Strasser (Conrad Veidt), was actually a German w/ a Jewish wife. Carl (S.Z. Sakall), the jovial/elderly waiter, was Jewish and came from Hungary. There are MANY others; Warner Bros. claimed that 34 nationalities worked on Casablanca.
With the coming of the Second World War, many eyes in imprisoned Europe turned hopefully, or desperately, toward the freedom of the Americas… Here, the fortunate ones through money, or influence, or luck, might obtain exit visas and scurry to Lisbon; and from Lisbon, to the New World. But the others wait in Casablanca… and wait… and wait… and wait. -Excerpt from the opening narration
An Unique Love Triangle: Rick, Ilsa, & Victor
No one is the baddie (or malicious) in this trio- VERY rare for a classic Hollywood film! At first, Rick is “neutral,” just content to run his business. Then he sees Ilsa again (after perhaps 2+ yrs, if you’re going by historical events); they met and fell in love in Paris. Ilsa (who is Norwegian) is married to Victor, a Czech man who survived being imprisoned in a concentration camp, BUT still sticks to his values. Victor (who is tall, blonde, and VERY composed/gentlemanly) is portrayed as a natural leader. He loves Ilsa and relies on her for support, incl. in his work. In one pivotal scene, he inspires nearly everyone in the Rick’s cafe to sing the French national anthem.
Don’t you sometimes wonder if it’s worth all this? I mean what you’re fighting for. -Rick asks
You might as well question why we breathe. If we stop breathing, we’ll die. If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die. -Victor replies
Rick (who is short, dark, and moody) is the reluctant hero. He also loves Ilsa; he never sticks w/ one girlfriend for long (as Renault comments). Seriously, WHO could compete against Bergman!? In the flashback scenes in Paris, we see a different side of Rick- he’s charming, relaxed, and optimistic. Once Rick realizes the difficult situation that Ilsa and Victor are in, he starts thinking what he can do to help (though he doesn’t reveal it to anyone- TOO dangerous). Rick makes it so the young Hungarian man wins at roulette, so he can fly to America w/ his wife. This pleasantly surprises his employees (and even the VERY cynical Renault); thus, love is a force for change in this film.
Play It, Sam: Friendship, Music, & Race
For this time period, it was a VERY bold move to have Rick’s BFF (and also employee) be played by a African-American man. Dooley Wilson was a singer, NOT an actor or pianist; he did a great job w/ his role. We don’t know how he and Rick came to be pals or why they’re so loyal to each other. Sam plays the (iconic) song which reflects Rick and Ilsa’s love story- You Must Rememer This. When Rick gets drunk/mad, he tells Sam to go away, BUT Sam refuses (b/c he is a supportive friend). The filmmakers received MANY positive comments/letters from black viewers who were happy to see such a prominent/developed character. There is an unfortunate line where Ilsa refers to Sam as “the boy”- cringeworthy to modern audiences, yet probably NOT rare in the ’40s.
The Beginning of A Beautiful Friendship: Rick & Renault
Renault gets a LOT of the best lines in this movie; he is cynical, opportunistic, yet NOT necessarily a villain. We learn that Renault served in WWI. The Nazis are the big baddies, though Renault operates in the gray areas of society. He gets a part of Rick’s gambling proceeds to look the other way. If a woman happens to be pretty, Renault will listen to her concerns. There is chemistry between Bogie and Rains; they banter w/ each other in a fun/quick way.
You give him credit for too much cleverness. My impression was that he’s just another blundering American. -Maj. Strasser comments re: Rick
We musn’t underestimate “American blundering.” I was with them when they “blundered” into Berlin in 1918. -Renault replies