|Leon M. Goldstein High School Humanities Department
Joseph F. Zaza, Principal Marilyn Horan, Assistant Principal
Casablanca (1942); 102 minutes; B & W. Director: Michael Curtiz.
Description: It's WW II before the Allied counterattacks. The Nazis have overrun Poland, Czechoslovakia and most of France. The French Vichy regime, a German ally, controls the colonial possessions of France, including Morocco. Victor Lazlow is a leader of the Czech resistance movement. He has escaped from a German concentration camp, fleeing to Casablanca with his beautiful young wife. Lazlow's goal is to travel to Lisbon and from there to the United States where he will continue working on behalf of his country. Lazlow's prospects for leaving Casablanca depend upon Rick, a deeply disillusioned American expatriate, who operates a popular nightclub. Rick is also in love with Lazlow's wife and she is in love with him. Rick has every reason to want Lazlow dead, imprisoned, or stranded in Casablanca for the duration of the war.
Benefits of the Movie: Casablanca, one of the most popular movies ever made, is a fabulous story of love and redemption. As you watch this film, think about the issues of romantic attachment and when that attachment must be sacrificed for more important values. Also, in the context of the present war, think about the issue of isolationism vs. intervention. The film also shows the effects of the war on dislocated persons; the ambiguous situation that existed in Vichy France and its colonial empire; and the popularity in Europe of music from the U.S. Casablanca is a classic that is frequently referred to in literature, the media and conversation.
Selected Awards: 1943 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director (Curtiz), Best Screenplay; 1945 National Board of Review Awards: Ten Best Films of the Year; 1943 Academy Award Nominations: Best Actor (Bogart), Best Supporting Actor (Rains), Best Black & White Cinematography; Best Film Editing; Best Original Score.
Featured Actors: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Conrad Veidt, S.Z. Sakall, Dooley Wilson, Marcel Dalio, John Qualen, Helmut Dantine
QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION: This film was released in early 1942, just after the U.S. entered the Second World War. In 1941, before the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, many people in the U.S. were "isolationists" and believed that the U.S. should not get involved in wars overseas. In 1939 - 1941 there was a great national debate in this country over that issue. What does this movie have to do with that debate?
The German army occupied Paris on June 14, 1940. France surrendered eight days later. The Germans occupied about thirds of French territory in Northern and Western France (including Paris) permitting the French, for a time, to set up a supposedly neutral administration in Southeastern France and in the French colonies. Marshall Henri Petain, a hero of the First World War, became the dictator of this truncated France. Petain and his administration collaborated with the Nazis by organizing a fascist state which governed under German supervision. Petain's Government was based in the resort city of Vichy and is referred to by that name. Vichy is also the location of a famous mineral water spring.
While the Vichy government was generally oppressive, its officials at times softened the effects of the occupation. The population in Vichy France was often unsure of which rules applied: those of Vichy France or its German "advisors." The Free French included the underground and the French who had fled to the Allies to help in the fight against Germany. Its leader was Charles de Gaulle. The Cross of Lorraine, an ornate design with two horizontal bars, is the ancient symbol of the sovereignty of France. It was adopted by the Free French as their symbol.
American Jazz and contemporary music have been popular in Europe since at least the First World War. Many black entertainers, such as the character Sam in the movie, have performed there. In the film General Strasser makes an offer to Lazlow's wife, Ilsa, that if Lazlow will return to German Occupied France, Strasser will provide Lazlow with a safe-conduct. Ilsa declines remarking, "You may recall what German guaranties have been worth in the past." She is referring to Hitler's promise at Munich to British Prime Minister Chamberlain and to all of Europe, that after the German annexation of the Sudetenland, Germany would make no more demands for territorial expansion. The Sudetenland was a part of Czechoslovakia which had a large population of ethnic Germans. The annexation of the Sudetenland deprived Czechoslovakia of any natural defense against invasion from Germany and set the stage for many early German victories in World War II.
1. Pick two “Standard Questions Suitable for Any Film.”
2. This film was made in 1942. In that period the U.S. was abandoning one view of its obligations to the rest of the world and adopting another. Describe what was happening in the U.S. in 1939 - 1942 and how that change in the views of the American people is represented by the changes in Rick over the course of the film.
3. This film has been described as WW II propaganda on behalf of the Allies. Does that description change your evaluation of the film?
4. If you were Rick could you have sent the woman you loved to Lisbon?
5. If you were Ilsa would you have left Rick in Paris with no explanation and left him again in Casablanca?
6. Rick had sunk pretty low. He had abandoned his principles and was just looking out for himself. Yet he did a wonderful and courageous thing. What does this say about the power of redemption?
7. Can a person ever sink so low that he cannot redeem him or herself?
8. By the end of the movie, Rick does what he should have been doing all along, helping in the fight against the Nazis. What brought him to do this?
9. Does the ethical value of citizenship stop at the border of ones own country?