Casablanca: A Reflection of American Values
In an age where the world was in turmoil, where terrible, imperialistic powers sought to control it, the people needed a call-to-arms to give them a reason to fight. Under the backdrop of a romantic story of lost love, Casablanca (1942) serves its purpose of showing the American people that we, as a people who champion freedom and liberty must resist the evils of an undemocratic and fascist regime. By stressing values such as these, as well as being a masterful piece of cinema, Casablanca cemented itself in American pop culture.
An incredibly important value that was stressed from the beginning of the film was the age-old American value of patriotism and freedom. In the first scene, where the French Resistance member was shot, the camera pans to the old revolutionary phrase of “Liberte, Egalite, and Fraternite”. By doing this, the filmmaker stresses the importance of values, and emphasizes how they are even worth dying for. This also stresses how the support of causes such as the French Resistance was a noble one that needed support. Another value stressed by the film was a theme of cultural diversity and anti-fascism. At the seven minute mark, we meet a black musician who we finally learn to be called Sam, playing in Rick’s Cafe. This shows the acceptance of other ethnicities and cultures, which both championed the value of cultural diversity and was a slap in the face to fascist Nazi values. This was condemnation of fascist Nazi values because at the time in Nazi Germany, jazz music was labeled as “degenerate”, for it was played by people who were usually black or Jewish, e.g. Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman. Both of these values are again stressed at the twenty-nine minute mark, where a gypsy musician is shown playing the guitar, a culture also condemned by Nazi censors. The final example of anti-Fascism in Casablanca was when Louis discarded the “Vichy Water”. This sequence represents the final condemnation of the Nazi-run French puppet government, the Vichy, stressing that the American public should also think badly of Nazi-occupied France. The final value, and arguably one of the most important values stressed was how American intervention was necessary. From the get-go, Rick is a bonafide cynic, but this cynicism and political apathy finally shifts to support of the French Resistance cause in the end. In the beginning, at the seventeen and thirty minute mark, Rick states he’s “not sticking his neck out for nobody”. This is presented in such a way that it makes Rick seem like a terrible and selfish person, showing American audiences that they do not want to be like this in regards to the war in Europe. However, at the hour and thirty-six minute mark, Rick finally throws his support in favour of the French Resistance, aiding the escape of French Resistance leader Victor and his wife Ilsa. He also shoots a high-ranking Nazi official, showing the extent of his support. This is portrayed in a very noble and heroic way, showing that American intervention is not only necessary, but is a noble action on part of the American people.
The main appeal of Casablanca is quite clear when looking at it on a surface level--it is a romantic story about lost love and self-sacrifice. In the end, Rick sacrifices his chance to finally be with his love Ilsa, and instead helps Ilsa and her husband escape Casablanca, just showing how much he is willing to sacrifice for a cause bigger than himself and love. This type of story wasn’t just appealing to the American people at this time, but universal across all time periods., for everybody enjoys a good love story. Another appeal of Casablanca was how it was an underdog story, and this was an incredible appeal for the American people. This was a time period where a terrible, powerful enemy was conquering a large chunk of the world, and it seemed hopeless to fight them and the war was a lost cause. To quote Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, this film shows that lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for, and this underdog story shows that determination, patriotism, and Democracy will always prevail over fascism. This was much-needed message in a time of despair, and was therefore was appealing.