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Politics and Propaganda in the Film Casablanca

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Casablanca is a 1942 Warner Brother classic which is near the top of the critical assessment of the best Hollywood movies of the all-time. Casablanca is more than a great movie and deals with topics head-on. It further deserves a lot more respect than it already has, precisely because of the love triangle which is its center and holds the central political metaphor in the plot so tightly together that no amount of melodramatic intrusion can cause it to unwind. It achieves a great deal of cinematic greatness but another spectacular part of the movie is the movie through the prism of the historical allegory.

The movie is based on the time during the second world war and the story of political and romantic espionage sets the era of the time of conflict between democracy and totalitarianism, the Axis and the Allied forces. The theme of the movie mainly deals with the idea of lost love, honor, duty, self-sacrifice and romance in a chaos filled world. However, the superb music, suspense, unforgettable characters of different colors and nationalities and moreover, the wonderful dialogues as “Here’s looking at you, kid”, “Play it again, Sam”, make the movie much more interesting and overall great.

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The stunning love story was originally made as a one-set play and was based on a play called Everybody Comes to Rick’s by Joan Alison and Murray Burnett. The main screenplay was written by mainly Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch. It is believed that six writers took the play’s script, and movie models of famous movies such as Algiers (1938) and Only Angels Have Wings (1939) were taken. These movies themselves transformed the world by their propaganda and the writers too did a great job to transform the romantic tale into this superb classic that takes about from almost every film genre.

Casablanca was first screened in New York on November 26, 1942, just after the Pearl Harbor attack by the Japanese fleet that made America join the great war. At the heart of the movie is Rick Blaine’s romantic character and his story. His cynical attitude and hesitancy to the suffering of the European refugees that flock to his bar for help. He stands to be like the embodiment of America towards the war at the time. Before the threat from the Axis countries, America held a non-intervention policy towards the war as America was still hurting from the previous World war. America held an attitude of “America First” as it was reflected throughout the country. And after the incident of Pearl Harbor, it was essential for the Americans to get in on the fight despite already being involved in helping the Allied forces with their needed supplies throughout the conflict. Rick represents this kind of America, boldly expressing his neutrality with the oft-repeated iconic line, “I stick my neck out for nobody.” Just like his motherland, Rick turns a blind eye to the glaring oppression taking place before him. To make Rick a sympathetic character he would have to be more than just the harsh and indifferent American citizen.

France was a longtime ally of the United States and was then occupied by the German forces, France needed America to help them to fight against the Nazis and gain their land back. If Rick is the embodiment of America and its hesitation, Ilsa is France and their desperation who has the power to motivate Rick into becoming the person who he once was before, the man she loved in Paris. We learn in the film that Rick was once an anti-fascist and the underdog loving political figure, running guns to Ethiopia and fighting against the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War. Upon meeting with Ilsa again, Rick drops all rules by breaking his rule about never drinking with customers. Ilsa says, “I put that dress away. When the Germans march out I’ll wear it again.” signaling that if Rick would join the cause they could be reunited yet again. But all that stands in their way is Ilsa’s husband, a renowned Czech resistance leader, Victor Laszlo.

Victor Laszlo is the hope of righteousness in the movie. He is an optimistic, strong-willed man of the people. He is what Rick was at some point in his career. Deep down inside, Rick still has many of the characteristics of Laszlo but he chooses to ignore it. Despite his presentation of a strong front, Rick is a patriot at heart and thus, helps a young Bulgarian woman at the bar by getting his husband the money, he needed. At the near end of the movie, Ilsa reconciles with Rick and helps him to restore his patriotic spirit. Being a romantic movie and all, the story does most of the work and aligns Rick’s priorities and his spirit.

Ilsa mends the wounds of their past relationship and reveals the reason Rick was left alone at Paris without a word, left utterly heartbroken. Rick’s anguish seems all but melted away, and it seems the only thing he needs to once again find the motivation is to fight for the cause. He devises a plan and brings twists and a sense of mystery to the movie. Despite all the misdirection with Ilsa and Captain Renault about taking the letters of transit for himself, his plan all along seems to be to see Ilsa and Laszlo on that plane together, without him. This noble act of total selflessness completes Rick’s story of overcoming his cynical nature and his petty indifference. He realizes that the fight for freedom Laszlo represents is far more important than his self-interest. “Welcome back to the fight,” Laszlo says as his way of thank you to Rick for his help. Even Renault acknowledges Rick’s change of heart and says “Well Rick, you’re not only a sentimentalist, but you’ve become a patriot.” This moment further marks a change for Renault as well, though, as the two men make a pact to from Casablanca by joining the Free French in Brazzaville. They too have found a start of a new friendship. Rick has again now found himself in the cause once more, fighting for the underdogs and oppression, doing what is right and good, as he had in Spain and Ethiopia before.

All in all, the movie is paced excellently well through the war referencing dialogue and the characters development is seen in the story. The cinematography is phenomenal and high budget which enhances the overall narrative. The movie portraits the unique take on society at the time of war and the hidden propaganda too is well received by the audience. The hidden Allied propaganda seems to mirror the real life of leaders of America during that time. Rick represents pre-Pearl Harbor American attitudes towards the second world war, when the nation chose to adopt a policy of isolationism and refrain from involvement in the world’s problems. Captain Renault is signified as the complex political situation concerning Vichy France and independent France; there is no telling where his loyalties lie given the circumstances. Major Strasser embodies Nazi Germany with his superiority complex and desire for power, while Victor Laszlo characterizes the determined population of the real underground movement in a fight for freedom from Nazi oppression. All in all, making up for a great romantic movie for the viewers and a propaganda filled masterpiece for the keen critics. Today, tomorrow, and, as time goes by, Casablanca will remain a masterpiece in film.

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