True Patriotism Opposing Fascist Tyranny       

Millions of people, intrigued by Casablanca, have felt that it was something much more than a love story. They've sensed that it has other dimensions.

Casablanca can be viewed as a modern allegory - the use of symbolic fictional characters and actions to express truths about human existence. As with all transformative art, the movie can be experienced from many perspectives: as nothing more than a love story, as a political thriller (1940s style), or as a profound allegory.

"'I've got almost a mystical feeling about Casablanca,' he [Howard Kock, one of the three major screenplay writers for the movie] says. 'That it made itself somehow. That it needed to be made and that we were all conveyers on the belt, taking it there. A woman called me up a couple of weeks ago and said, "I tracked you down because I had to tell you that I've just seen Casablanca for the forty-sixth time, and it means more to me than anything in my life." It's just a movie, but it's more than that. It's becoming something that people can't find in values today."

Alrean Harmetz. (1992). Round Up the Usual Suspects:
The Making of Casablanca

Viewing the film as an allegory, each of the characters and events represents a significant aspect of modern life. By experiencing this classic film as a modern allegory, important truths become apparent.

The broader context of the movie is a world in which fascist political-economic powers have imprisoned millions of people and are actively killing and oppressing whomever they can. Some courageous people are fighting against this world tyranny, others are trying desperately to escape from it, and others are going along with it. The movie begins with a voice-over explaining the terrible world-situation and we see a man (with an expired passport) being shot as he attempts to escape from the gendarmes. He falls dead under a wall poster of Marshall Philippe Petain, clutching a Free France resistance handbill. Marshall Petain represents those persons who collaborate with fascism. The Nazis symbolize political-economic systems which destroy human life because they believe that certain groups - the wealthy, the racially pure, etc. - are masters of the world.

Thus from the beginning of the movie we see the movie as an allegory with a much wider significance. Modern-day totalitarianism continues to dominate our world, destroying lives through globalistic practices of paying slave wages while reaping windfall profits, taking money from welfare and health care to place in the pockets of the arms merchants as it enhances its militaristic imperialism, and buying politicians to serve as its puppets and errand-boys. The multinational corporations have put a smiling face on their brand of modern fascism, and many people today are not able to identify them as the cause of their miseries.

Click here for an audio clip      Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), represents two characters, as he changes from Rick one, cynical and disillusioned, to Rick two, fully committed to the struggle against totalitarian oppression. As Rick one, at the beginning of the movie, he represents modern men and women, self-centered, uncommitted, indifferent to what is happening in the world. Rick is a 37 year-old American who, for some unexplained reason, cannot return to his country.

      Rick expresses his basic attitude:"I stick my neck out for nobody." When Rick is told about Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), a resistance leader who has escaped from a German concentration camp and has come to Casablanca to try to get to America, he explains that he has no particular "sympathy for the fox" and understands "the point of view of the hound too." He tells the new Nazi commander, Major Strasser: "Your business is politics. Mine is running a saloon." Later Major Strasser says that Rick is given credit for "too much cleverness. My impression was that he's just another blundering American."

     Rick has allowed himself to become cynical and indifferent because he feels that his earlier engagement with higher ideals (Ilsa, fighting against fascism in Spain) was a fool's game. He feels used and bitter, convinced that he has been betrayed when in fact he was not.

     The local Vichy, puppet chief of police Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) represents those persons in the modern world who cooperate with neo-fascism, though with cynicism and half a bad conscience. Renault is as uncommitted as Rick, though he must give the appearance of complicity with the fascists to keep his head on his shoulders. He uses the oppressive atmosphere to practice his own brand of personal tyranny, trying to force women into his bed through extortion. He blows with the wind and finally is forced to serve a new cause at the end of the movie only because he is in danger of arrest himself.

"There are better movies than Casablanca, but no other movie better demonstrates America's mythological vision of itself - tough on the outside and moral within, capable of sacrifice and romance without sacrificing the individualism that conquered a continent, sticking its neck out for everybody when circumstances demand heroism. No other movie has so reflected both the moment when it was made - the early days of World War II - and the psychological needs of audiences decades later."
Alrean Harmetz. (1992). Round Up the Usual Suspects:
The Making of Casablanca

     Guillermo Ugarte (Peter Lorre), a North African black market dealer in stolen goods and a killer, represents the elements of disorganized crime in our culture. He murders two German couriers, stealing two non-rescindable French General Marshal Weygand-signed letters of transit out of Casablanca. He asks Rick to keep the letters of transit for him because there might be trouble. The Ugarte kind of person deals in human misery, selling to the highest bidder, and winds up dead.

     The king of the Black Market and rival Blue Parrot cafe proprietor Senor Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet) enters Rick's cafe to try to buy Rick's black pianist-singer, Sam, for his own club. Rick tells Ferrari: "I don't buy or sell human beings."

     Ferrari: "Too bad. That's Casablanca's leading commodity. In refugees alone, we could make a fortune, if you work with me through the black market." Ferrari represents organized crime, the buying and disposing of humans through prostitution, drug dealing, and assassination. They cooperate actively with the fascist rulers and profit from the miseries of an oppressive regime.

Even Rick is impressed by the mention of Victor Laszlo's name, knowing of his reputation, his escape from a concentration camp, and his flight from Nazis all over Europe. Renault has an order that he must fulfill: "Laszlo must never reach America. He stays in Casablanca." Laszlo is a seasoned Resistance leader who bears a small two-inch scar over his right eye, the result of his recent escape and flight across Europe. When Laszlo comes into Rick's cafe to try to buy letters of transit for himself and his wife, Rick shows his high regard for him.

     Rick: I congratulate you.

     Victor Laszlo: What for?

     Rick: Your work.

     Victor Laszlo: I try my best.

     Rick: We all try. You succeed.

     Laszlo shows his true leadership ability in a memorable scene in Rick's cafe. German soldiers are singing a German Nazi song, Die Wacht am Rhein. Laszlo defies them by ordering the band to play La Marseillaise. Responding to a nod of approval from Rick, they play a rousing, triumphant rendition of the French national anthem. The Germans are drowned out in a memorable duel of anthems by the Free French audience.

     Laszlo is the classical figure of the courageous world citizen who struggles against oppression at whatever cost to himself. He understands that fascism cannot be tolerated because it destroys humankind's understanding and attainment of freedom.

     Laszlo's beautiful wife, the radiant Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), is Rick's ex-lover from an affair in Paris just before the Germans occupied the city. She had been told that Victor was dead, but when she discovers that he is still alive and needs her, she returns to his side.

     Ilsa represents the delicate, higher values of life, such as love, beauty and loyalty. Such values are often assaulted by totalitarian violence. At times these higher values must choose between different expressions (Rick or Victor).

We begin to see the second Rick emerge as he abandons his cynicism and indifference and begins to feel genuine concern for other people. A youthful and innocent, newly-married Bulgarian woman, Annina Brandel (Joy Page), a refugee desperate for exit visas to America for her husband Jan Viereck (Helmut Dantine) and herself, speaks to Rick. She tells him that Jan is at the roulette table, where he has been unsuccessfully trying to raise the money for an exit visa. Because they have no money, Renault will give them exit visas if she sleeps with him, sacrificing herself for her husband. She makes a heartfelt plea:

    Annina: Monsieur. You are a man. If someone loved you very much, so that your happiness was the only thing that she wanted in the world, and she did a bad thing to make certain of it, could you forgive her?

    Rick: Nobody ever loved me that much.

    Annina: And he never knew. And the girl kept this bad thing locked in her heart. That would be alright, wouldn't it?

    Rick: You want my advice. Go back to Bulgaria.

    Annina: Oh, but if you knew what it means to us to leave Europe, to get to America. Oh, but if Jan should find out. He is such a boy. In many ways I am so much older than he is.

    Rick: Yes, well, everybody in Casablanca has problems. Yours may work out.

At the roulette table, Rick advises Jan to bet on a particular number to win: "Have you tried 22 tonight?" Rick rigs the wheel with his croupier Emil (Marcel Dalio)--obviously something they have done before. In a suspenseful scene, the number comes up twice, saving Annina from the predatory Renault. Rick tells Jan: "Cash it in, and don't come back."

Rick's bar man tells him that he done a beautiful thing.

      Rick is now faced with a decision, to give the letters of transit to Victor and Ilsa so they can escape and continue their struggle against fascism, or to use the letters for himself so that he and Ilsa can escape together. He struggles with his own principles and finally decides.

     "The movie has been read as an allegory of America's movement from neutrality to war, with the title 'casa blanca' - white house in Spanish - signifying the White House and Rick a reluctant President Roosevelt who finally commits America to the war.

     Telotte [film critic] concerns himself with the image and substance of thievery in the movie - the theft of Europe by the Nazis, Rick Blaine's stolen love, the stolen Letters of Transit, the stolen wallets and dignity, and, in the end, Rick's stealing from the Nazis the possession they most want, Victor Laszlo. Thus the film gives audiences 'the comforting notion that the stolen can eventually be stolen back, that theft - corruption, injustice or simply repression - sets up the very conditions of its own undoing.'"

     "That Casablanca can tolerate these interpretations and a dozen others...testifies to the richness of the film."

Alrean Harmetz. (1992). Round Up the Usual Suspects:
The Making of Casablanca

     Rick cunningly convinces Renault to release Victor from prison so that Victor can be arrested when he tries to buy the letters of transit from Rick. Rick tells Renault that he wants Victor solidly in prison so he can take Ilsa for himself.

     Renault finds this believable because it is just the sort of thing he would do. In a turnaround, Rick forces Renault, at gunpoint, to phone the airport and arrange for Victor and Ilsa to board the plane for Lisbon. Renault treacherously pretends to phone the airport but actually calls Major Strasser to warn him of Rick's plan.


     At the airport, Rick explains to Victor that Ilsa had pretended to still be in love with him and he had let her pretend. He wants Laslo to believe that his wife has remained faithful. After Victor and Ilsa have boarded the plane, Major Strasser arrives hurriedly to try to stop their escape. As he is about to phone the airport tower to stop the plane, Rick shoots him, thereby assuring Victor's and Ilsa's escape.

     Rick has now completely committed himself to the struggle against fascist oppression.

     Casablanca as allegory is an exciting morality play, a tale of man's struggle for freedom against external and internal forces.

     Living in the current era, you confront the same kind of decision points: whether to ignore the human misery that is being created by fascist capitalism or to take a stand and oppose this demonic system in whatever way is open to you.