Should Hollywood redesign Casablanca

Film & series - «Casablanca» and the anti-Nazi cinema

While the United States was waging war against Germany, the Hollywood dream factory was in full swing. The Americans also witnessed the battles in distant Europe and the Pacific on the screen: in newsreels or anti-Nazi films. The cult flick “Casablanca” also thematizes Hollywood's fight against National Socialism - in a more subtle way.

Hardly any other film has become as legendary as the melodrama about love, war and heroism. On the one hand there is the touching love story between the beautiful anti-fascist Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) and the bar owner Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart).

The script was anything but clear, as actress Ingrid Bergman recalls in retrospect. Was she in love with the bar owner Rick now - or was she with her screen husband? According to Bergman, this was far from clear: “I was told: 'Play something in between'”.

But it wasn't just the touchingly staged love story between the beautiful anti-fascist Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) and the upright bar owner Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) that made the film so popular.

A well-calculated theatrical release

After its premiere on November 26, 1942 in Manhattan, "Casablanca" was put on hold for the time being. A tactical decision: Hollywood films directed against Nazi Germany had been booming for a long time - and this is exactly what Warner Brothers wanted to take advantage of.

The production company postponed the cinema release to the beginning of the Casablanca Conference on January 14, 1943. It was the conference at which Winston Churchill and US President Roosevelt agreed that the war would only come with the unconditional surrender of Germany, Italy and Japan could come to an end.

Oscars for vows of love - and propaganda

The PR campaign was a success: "Casablanca" was a huge success with the public and received three Oscars in 1943, including the one for the best film. The attraction continues to this day: In 2002, the American Film Institute voted “Casablanca” first among the greatest love films - ahead of “Gone with the Wind” and the “West Side Story”.

“Casablanca”, however, was not just a love film, it was also a propaganda film. This is for historical reasons: in the 1930s and even after the beginning of the Second World War, the USA had decided on a policy of “keeping out of the way” - not least in order not to endanger economic relations with the Nazi regime. The slogan “America first” applied to the population.

Cinema with a subliminal message

In the dialogue scenes of "Casablanca" one can see the hidden criticism of the US policy of "staying out of it". The love story became a propaganda film: There must be no political neutrality in the shadow of war. That was the anti-pacifist, anti-isolationist message to the American cinema audience.

The love story was so wonderfully married to war patriotism. Right in the middle of “Rick's Café Américain”: the stranded who fled from the SS henchmen, the small businessmen, the dispersed desperados, the Nazis and fellow travelers, agents and resistance fighters.

Bogart as a serene anti-hero

For Humphrey Bogart, "Casablanca" became the high point of his career: the disaffected adventurer as an antihero, cynically serene, not an intellectual, not a leader of the resistance. Rick is a man of action. Someone who is sovereign enough to maintain his integrity in a world full of terror and political injustice and who shows solidarity with the oppressed all over the world.

But the serene anti-hero Rick also has a melancholy side. This becomes apparent when he sits alone in the bar and asks the pianist Sam to play a piece for him - the piece that is fraught with painful memories: "As Time Goes By."

Erotic passion and political reason

At the same time, the film about the character of Rick Blaine represents the patriotic confirmation of the Hollywood hero. Because the film combines the struggle between erotic passion and political reason in a peculiar way. In the end, enmity against the dictatorship wins.

Rick Blaine renounces his love affair with Ilsa Lund and decides to resist the Nazi regime. "The message of the film was that it was worth making sacrifices," says C screenwriter Howard Koch.

German refugees play Nazis

A number of well-known German-speaking actors took part in "Casablanca": Peter Lorre ("M - a city is looking for a murderer") as the seedy black market thief Ugarte. Konrad Veidt ("The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari") mimes the German Major Strasser and Paul Henreid the resistance fighter Victor Laszlo.

Of the 20 most important film roles, only four were cast by Americans. Nevertheless, a bitter irony of history was reflected in the casting: the emigrants from Europe who had fled the thugs of the Nazi regime played the refugees and SS men from Germany in Hollywood.

Clichés that touch us

At the same time, “Casablanca” is a movie film full of clichés and inconsistencies. This has not been able to damage his aura to this day. For example, the coveted transit visas for traveling to Lisbon are signed by Charles de Gaulle - the man who leads the French resistance movement, of all people. And Victor Laszlo, who has just fled a concentration camp, is constantly walking around in a well-ironed tropical suit of Parisian haute couture.

“We find two clichés ridiculous, a hundred clichés stir us,” writes the Italian writer and semiotic Umberto Eco about “Casablanca”.

German synchronization alienates the content

In 1952, "Casablanca" was first shown in German cinemas. However, it was shortened from 102 to 82 minutes and falsified beyond recognition by the synchronization. All references to National Socialism were erased. The figure of the resistance fighter Laszlo was quickly transformed into the Norwegian nuclear physicist Larsen, who is being chased by «delta rays» because of his invention.

It was not until 1975 that a new and unabridged dubbing became available to the German-speaking audience. In its own way, the Cold War had ideologically seized the Nazi past. But it was the US distributors themselves that launched the real "Casablanca". After all, the film should also make money in the post-war period.