At first glance, this classic Humphrey Bogart film is one of the greatest romance noir films of all time. One of the most quotable movies of all time, and a personal favorite of mine, I was excited to have it on the list, but I was unsure of the societal implications. Then I thought about the fact that it was started in 1941 and released in 1942. It was a WWII film during WWII. The original unproduced play that it was based on was read by a Hollywood executive the day after Pearl Harbor. This patriotic story follows exiled American Rick Blaine as the owner of a gin joint in Casablanca. Of all the gin joints in the world, his ex-lover Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) walks in, asking for help to get letters of transit for her and her freedom fighter husband, Victor. Rick was also a member of the resistance at one point, back in Paris where he met Ilsa. But heartache from her leaving him had turned to apathy.
Rick acts like a cynical man who believes that everyone is on their own. He has an understanding with the local police chief, and is careful at first not to upset the Nazis that come to town looking for Victor. But that is not what an American hero would really do, and make no mistake, Rick Blaine is an American hero. He sets aside his personal feelings, shakes off his apathy, and decides to return to the fight. America wanted no part of World War II. FDR prepared the military, but it wasn’t going to happen until the attack on Pearl Harbor. After that, anti-German and anti-Japanese sentiment swept the nation. Hollywood and the federal government began to crank out propaganda and generate support for the war. So Casablanca gave audiences a chance to cheer for an American freeing the oppressed peoples of Europe and subverting the Nazis. Just like Rick resumed the fight after a crippling blow to his heart, so did the American people take up the fight against Germany, Italy, and Japan after suffering heavily at Pearl Harbor.
Rick actually believes in the cause of fighting for freedom. A line from Victor says that if they were to stop fighting their enemies, then the world would die. Never in history has one group been hated so universally, been considered so undeniably evil that they must be stopped as the Nazis. Millions died during World War II, and it took the combined might of some of the world’s most powerful militaries to end it. Set as an undertone to the romance of Rick and Ilsa, the theme of taking a stand for something, even when it is difficult or dangerous plays a pivotal role in the film. Our hero has too long withdrawn himself from the fight. It is time for him to once again walk, in his trench coat and hat, away from the beautiful woman, away from the comfort of his bar, and towards the battle.