If it identifies strongly with characters that make movies great, then it is no mystery that ‘Casablanca’ is one of the most popular films ever made. It is about a man and a woman who are in love and sacrifice their love for a higher purpose. Made in 1942 and set during the height of World war two in 1941, the film is full of political messages. During the war years, the movie industry was taken very seriously by America, described as an ‘essential industry.’ Casablanca is in many ways simply a propaganda film. Still, the immensely appealing performances from the two leading actors, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, who unselfishly renounce their love, contribute to the great cause of defeating the Nazis, that is why this film is great.
The ending scenes of Casablanca were not even written when the film went into production. In fact, a team of writers was employed to develop a number of possible endings to the film, any of which could have been used, but only one combined everything. The ending sequences of ‘Casablanca’ are dominated by Rick (Humphrey Bogart), the decisions he will make, and the love story embroiled within it. Rick owns two letters of transit, and he must decide what he does with them. At first, we think he will help his friend, the police chief, gain possession of the letters. But in a scene, which begins with comedy and ends with dramatic tension, Rick’s actions become a complete mystery. As we open this scene, on the door is the ‘bar closed’ sign, a sly hint that Rick may try to get his own back. As Louis, the police chief arrives, a large shadow of Rick is cast, suggesting his power and control, while the music still gives a sense of mystery.
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As Laszlo and Ilsa arrive and the police chief prepares to arrest them, the whole plot is turned on its head. The music changes to a more dramatic tone, and Rick draws a gun. There is tense music and a feeling of mystery, Rick orders Louis not to arrest Laszlo and Ilsa, and they move on to the airport. This is where Rick’s actions become completely unclear as they move onto the airport scene. The first thing your attention is drawn to in this scene is the weather conditions. It is raining and foggy; the fog is perhaps symbolic of the mystery surrounding Rick’s actions. The whole airport scene is a sustained sequence in which suspense, comedy and romance are rarely combined on the screen. Through all of this, Rick manages to contrive a situation whereby Ilsa and Laszlo escape together.
At the beginning of this scene, Rick reveals his plan; he orders Laszlo’s luggage to be loaded onto the plane; as Laszlo leaves, an emotional conversation between Rick and Ilsa is prompted. The music changes to the by now familiar ‘As Time Goes By,’ and close-up camera shots emphasize the emotion felt by the two actors. Ilsa’s tone of voice suggests shock and confusion, even a sense of panic, while, as ever, Rick is the calm control and leading character. As I said earlier, the film is essentially propaganda; Rick represents the calm, controlled Americans and Ilsa, the panicked and confused French. Here Rick utters the memorable line ‘Here’s looking at you kid,’ suggesting Rick’s control of the situation in America’s control of the war.
As Laszlo returns, the scene develops yet further. In another emotional scene, which uses camera angle, shadow and light and dark to great effect, Rick justifies his actions. The music changes to a more dramatic and tense tone; after all, the German major is fast on his way to foil their escape throughout all of this. Again close-up shots are used to emphasize the emotion of the scene, but the use of shadows in this scene is particularly notable. As Ilsa looks at Rick, there is a dark shadow across her face, and this is symbolizing the feeling between them; they are not going together, the bad emotions. On the other hand, as Ilsa looks at Laszlo, the shadow disappears, and light is cast across her face; this symbolizes the love between them, the good emotions. Rick and Ilsa have sacrificed their love for the higher purpose of the war effort, a clear piece of propaganda, suggesting the war effort is of top importance. Also symbolic here is Laszlo’s goodbye to Rick ‘welcome back to the fight’, explicitly welcoming Rick’s Help, implicitly welcoming America’s involvement in the war.
All the time Louis, the police chief, stands by, Rick still clutching the gun, the sense of mystery and tension remains. Laszlo and Ilsa leave for the plane, but the German general, major Strasse, is coming. The German is, of course, and rather distasteful and evil character; he has to be portrayed that way. The plane is preparing to take off into the fog, again symbolic of mystery, as the General arrives. Of course, as the general is an evil character, he immediately demands the plane is halted and begins calling the cockpit. As loud dramatic music sounds out, Rick warns him once, warns him twice, and warns him three times, to no avail; Rick shoots the German general, a crime punishable by death in a concentration camp. Rick is a patriot, obviously not wanting to kill but willing to for the greater good.
The scene, which follows Louis and Rick, combines both friendship and patriotism. Showing intense emotion shown on both a personal and international level. Again the political symbolism shines through, Victor Laszlo, representing the French resistance and Ilsa, the French people escape to fight another fight. The German has been killed by the American, Rick, a clear and obvious message that America will come through victorious. Louis is a strange character in this symbolism; he seems to a representative of the French government, he often follows the German’s orders without argument. In this final closing scene, Louis changes. Firstly as he drinks the German wine after the shooting, he throws it away. As the French police arrive to see the dead German general, he lets Rick off with a murder; linking with the beginning of the movie, he orders the policemen to “round up the usual suspects”.
Rick clearly saved by Louis, and as the film draws to a close the final shot of the final scene, as Rick and Louis walk off into the mist, the final line spoke is clearly patriotic and political, the American says to the Frenchman ‘I think this is the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship’. Throughout the film, the strong links built with characters are of uppermost importance in making the film as popular as it is. Ilsa Lund’s role is basically that of a lover and helpmate to a great man; the movie’s real question is, which great man should she be in love with? There is actually no reason why Laszlo cannot get on the plane alone and leave Ilsa in Casablanca with Rick, and indeed this is one of the endings that was briefly considered. But it would all be wrong; the ‘happy’ ending would be tarnished by self-interest, while the ending we have allows Rick to be larger, to approach nobility (‘it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world’). And it allows us, vicariously experiencing all of these things in the cinema, to warm in the glow of his heroism.