CASABLANCA (1942, Director Michael Curtiz)

Romance in Hollywood film is not confined to romantic comedy. In fact, Hollywood has shown a consistent ability to inject romance into virtually any sort of film, on the assumption that romance is one of the most reliably marketable of all cinematic commodities. Casablanca is an interesting case in point. A war film and an anti-fascist political film that contains substantial elements derived from the Western, Casablanca is also widely regarded as one of the most romantic films in Hollywood history. Described by Robert Ray as “Classic Hollywood’s most representative film,” Casablanca is certainly one of the best known and most beloved films in American cinema history (89)[1]. It is also a pointedly political drama that clearly grows directly out of the ideology of the Popular Front—the alliance of left-wing organizations that had worked since the mid-1930s to put aside their own differences in the interest of fighting against fascism, viewed as such a clear and present danger to the texture of human civilization that all other political goals needed to be put aside until the fascists were defeated and removed from the scene.

As Michael Denning notes, Casablanca was to be the “most enduring” of the antifascist thrillers (others included films such as Hangmen Also Die and The Fallen Sparrow)produced during World War II (378). Described by Thomas Schatz as “Hollywood’s seminal wartime ‘conversion narrative,’” the film can be seen as the story of recognition by cynical American Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) of the importance of fighting against fascism, though many have seen it more as the story of Rick’s ill-fated love for Norwegian refugee Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) (203). It is certainly the case that the love triangle of Rick, Ilsa, and Czech anti-Nazi activist Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) is a central structural element of the film: noted film critic Roger Ebert summarizes this aspect of the film by proclaiming that the film is “about a man and a woman who are in love, and who sacrifice love for a higher purpose.” The fact is, though, that the romance between Rick and Ilsa might actually be less central than it has seemed to most viewers, a phenomenon that suggests the way in which American audiences have essentially been conditioned to focus on romantic elements when viewing films.

Indeed, despite the prominence of romantic elements, Casablanca is first and foremost an antifascist political work (Roberts overtly describes it as “propaganda”) that is actually built on an endorsement of the notion that the fight against fascism transcends personal concerns, including romance. As Rick says, in one of the film’s numerous widely quoted lines, “The problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” This “crazy world,” of course, is one in which fascist armies are advancing across Europe; what does count in such a world is the fight to stop this advance, a point made clear when Rick, in the film’s famous last scene, makes the personal sacrifice of sending his beloved Ilsa off with Laszlo so that she can support him in his important work against the Nazis.

This ending is far more romantic, of course, than it would have been had Rick and Ilsa simply gone off together, and Rick’s sacrifice is clearly designed not only to romanticize his love for Ilsa, but also to romanticize the fight against fascism. Casablanca is set in December 1941, so that Rick joins the fight against fascism in precisely the same month that the United States joined the war against Germany—just as the film itself was released in the very month (November 1942) in which the Allied armies invaded North Africa, beginning with the capture of Casablanca itself.[2] The city of Casablanca (in Morocco) is itself a crucial gathering point for refugees who have fled European fascism and hope to move on to America, portrayed throughout the film in glowing terms. The city is ruled by the ostensibly neutral regime of “Unoccupied France” (typically known as “Vichy France”), but it is also clear that the French regime remains in power at the whim of the German Nazis, whom they must continually placate.[3] Much of the action of the film is predicated upon the fact that two German couriers have just been killed in the desert and robbed of important papers, including two valuable letters of transit that will enable the bearers to leave Casablanca and go on to America. Rick has landed in Casablanca after fleeing Paris in the wake of the Nazi advance on the French capital. He owns and runs the Café Américain and avoids commitment to either side in the conflicts that are sweeping Europe, having been driven to bitter misogynist cynicism by Ilsa’s sudden and unexplained breakup of the torrid relationship they had shared for a few weeks in Paris. There are, however, clear signs that Rick is really a “sentimentalist” beneath his tough exterior, and we quickly learn that he actually has a long history of antifascist activity, including running guns to the Ethiopians to aid their fight against the 1935 invasion by fascist Italy and personally taking part in the republican fight against Franco’s Spanish fascists in 1936. Moreover, his complete neutrality comes into question early on when he agrees to accept and hold the crucial stolen letters of transit for Ugarte (Peter Lorre), apparently the man who killed the couriers.

Ugarte is subsequently arrested by the French authorities (as representatives of the Gestapo look on), then killed while in custody. In the meantime, Rick’s bitterness boils into hatred when he sees Ilsa suddenly walk into his bar accompanied by Laszlo, a famous antifascist leader who has escaped from a concentration camp and then evaded Nazi pursuit all over Europe. Ilsa is surprised to see Rick as well, and soon attempts to explain to him why she had to leave him in Paris. We eventually learn the whole story. She had for some time been married to the much older Laszlo, who acted as a sort of mentor figure for her when she first came to Paris. At the time of her affair with Rick in Paris, she had thought Laszlo dead; she had then broken off the affair after learning that her husband was still alive but was unable to explain this situation to Rick because of the arrival of the Nazis in Paris. It becomes apparent, though, that her feelings for Laszlo consist primarily of respect and admiration, while her true passion is for Rick.

At point in the film, Laszlo declares that he loves Ilsa. She responds by saying, “Yes, I know,” but does not declare her love in return. Laszlo then bids her farewell (not knowing if he will see her again) and kisses her goodbye—on the cheek. Soon afterward, Rick and Ilsa are briefly re-united with a passionate kiss on the lips. With the Germans determined to see to it that Laszlo never leaves Casablanca alive, Ilsa then offers to stay with Rick in Casablanca if he will only give one of the letters of transit to Laszlo so that he can escape Casablanca. Rick, however, decides that Ilsa is an important support for Laszlo in his work. He then executes a complex plan that leads to the escape of both Laszlo and Ilsa, while Rick is left behind to take the heat, which will apparently be considerable, especially after he kills the Gestapo’s Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) at the airport in the obligatory movie gunfight. All ends well, however, as French police Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains), depicted throughout as apolitical and self-serving (if charmingly jocular), suddenly shows his own heart of gold by ordering his men to “round up the usual suspects” in the killing of Strasser, even though he witnessed the shooting and knows Rick is the killer. Renault then arranges to flee Casablanca with Rick so that both of them can join the Free French forces gathered in Brazzaville and thus actively fight against fascism.

Laszlo kisses Ilsa on the cheek.
Rick and Ilsa share a passionate kiss.

As Ray has discussed, Casablanca is in many ways a classic American work that shows considerable tensions in its attempt to tell its antifascist World War II story by reworking motifs derived from traditional American culture, such as Huckleberry Finn and movie westerns (89–112). The Casablanca of the film is, for example, a clear displacement of the typical Western frontier town, allowing the film to incorporate a number of elements of the Western genre and thus to have a certain built-in appeal at a time when Westerns were becoming immensely popular after the success of John Ford’s Stagecoach in 1939.

One should note, however, that the film’s setting in Casablanca also associates it with an Orientalist[4] strain in American film that goes back to the silent film era, when The Sheik (1921) and Son of the Sheik (1926) made their young star Rudolph Valentino one of the sensations of the silent film era—though he had already died of peritonitis (at the age of thiry-one) by the time the second film premiered. Other major stars were featured in Orientalist silents as well, such as Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., as the swashbuckling hero of The Thief of Bagdad (1924), while the trend continued in early sound films, as in the Marlene Dietrich vehicles Morocco (1930) and The Garden of Allah (1936). Morocco, for which Dietrich won an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, plays heavily on the atmosphere of Oriental decadence in its setting, famously featuring Dietrich (as cabaret singer Amy Jolly) performing a song in a man’s suit, during which she provocatively kisses another woman. Such gender-bending scenes were, of course, highly unusual at the time, though Hollywood films were a bit more daring before the installation of the Production Code in 1934. Still, such scenes were also greatly enabled by the exotic North African setting, where aberrant behavior is only to be expected—much as the decadent and lawless atmosphere of Rick’s Café Américaine was clearly meant to be at least partly a result of its setting in Casablanca a little more than a decade later.

Indeed, Casablanca actually begins with an explanation of the role played by the city of Casablanca as a stopping off point for refugees from European fascism who were traveling to Lisbon and from there to “the freedom of the Americas.” Then the city of Casablanca is introduced, via a scene in a busy street market where traders haggle with customers, with parrots and monkeys among the items on prominent display. Stereotypical Middle Eastern music plays in order to help establish the exotic atmosphere. A donkey bearing goods is being led through the narrow and congested street that winds through the market. But then the scene suddenly shifts to a French colonial police officer who is announcing by radio that “two German couriers carrying important official documents” have been murdered on the train from Oran to Casablanca and that the killer or killers are suspected to be heading for Casablanca itself.

Image result for casablanca 1942 street market

This shift brings us into the main plot of the film, in which the Moroccan locals do not figure. It also emphasizes the contrast between the setting in Casablanca, where the locals are depicted as still practicing traditional ways that have been in place for centuries, and the modern world, which has intruded with the onset of colonialism—and even more with the onset of World War II, which has drawn Casablanca into its orbit. We see little of the locals after the initial atmosphere-setting scene in the market, however. It is the modern world of the Germans, French, and Americans that dominates this film and its plot, though the Casablanca setting does establish a certain licentiousness via which the Westerners in the film can get away with questionable activities that might be frowned upon in the West itself.

Despite such politically problematic elements, Casablanca is, if nothing else, a film with stellar anti-fascist credentials. Many of the principals involved in making the film had such credentials themselves. Appropriately enough, Paul Henreid, who plays Victor Laszlo, the film’s most staunchly anti-fascist character, was a Hungarian actor who fled the Nazis in 1935 and maintained such a strong anti-fascist stance that he was officially declared an “enemy of the Third Reich.” Ugarte, another key foe of the Nazis in the film, is played by Peter Lorre, a Hungarian Jew who worked prominently in the German film industry before fleeing Germany when the Nazis took power in 1933. Even the German Major Heinrich Strasser, the film’s most important Nazi character, is played by an anti-Nazi actor. Conrad Veidt was a German actor who had fled his native country with his Jewish wife to escape the Nazis in 1933. From that point, he worked in the British film industry and remained highly active in anti-Nazi causes, ultimately donating much of his personal fortune to the British government to help in the war against Germany. Moreover, he moved to Hollywood in 1941 specifically to join the Popular Front effort to convince the United States to join Britain and the Soviet Union in the war against Nazi Germany and its fascist allies. In addition, director Curtiz was a Hungarian-born Jew, while the film’s three screenwriters were all Jewish—and one of them, Howard Koch, was particularly active in Popular Front causes.

In addition to the general political situation in Casablanca, the film itself also includes some specific anti-Nazi touches. Perhaps the most striking of these occurs early in the film. After the murder of the German couriers has forced the local French police to begin a roundup of potential suspects, one of these suspects is brutally shot down while attempting to flee the police, who have discovered that his papers have expired. As he is shot, he falls to the ground at the base of a wall bearing a large poster with a picture of Marshall Philippe Petain, the head of the Vichy French government. It also contains, in large block letters, a quotation from Petain: “Je tiens mes promesses memes celles des autres” (“I keep my promises, just as I keep those of others”). That viewers will be reading this with a dead body lying on the ground, shot down by French police just beneath them adds a note of irony that is impossible to mistake as anything but a criticism of the hypocrisy of Petain, the aging World War I hero who was little more than a Nazi puppet during the Vichy regime.

Image result for casablanca 1942 petain poster

That this poster is in French (when the French characters all speak English—and the most important French character is even played by a British actor) provides a bit of cover for this overt political critique, given that most American viewers would probably not be able to translate the inscription. It is as if the filmmakers wanted to slip in this bit of commentary to get their sentiments on the record but wanted to make sure that the film’s politics did not get in the way of its romance. Julius Epstein, one of the film’s screenwriters, noted in a 1984 interview (cited in his 2001 New York Times obituary): “There wasn’t one moment of reality in Casablanca. We weren’t making art. We were making a living. Movies in those days were prevented from reality.”

The evasion of reality in Casablanca (and in Golden Age Hollywood film in general) involves a number of elements in addition to the romantic presentation of the relationship between Rick and Ilsa. The depiction of Casablanca itself is pure Hollywood, of course, and not just because the film was shot on Warner Brothers sound stages in California. Casablanca is a very large city (today the metropolitan population is approximately seven million); in the film, however, it seems like a relatively small town, which enables the frontier Western atmosphere that pervades the film, while also enhancing the exotic Oriental aspects of the atmosphere, which are hard to maintain in a thoroughly urban environment. And, of course, the film de-emphasizes the reality of the indigenous population of Casablanca in order to reduce the political oppositions of the film to Western ones, with fascism as a general concept serving as the film’s true villain, and the film’s heroes all being Westerners.

The rhetoric of Casablanca is completed by the inherent tensions between Rick and Laszlo throughout the film, tensions that Ray describe as typical of the Western as a genre, with Rick playing the archetypal “outlaw hero” and Laszlo playing the archetypal “official hero.” But this opposition is complicated still further by a precarious balancing act. The conventions of the Western genre strongly work to shift audience sympathy in the direction of Rick and essentially to demand that the film focus on Rick’s point of view in order for it to be able to function at all. Yet the film’s entire raison d’etre is to generate support for Laszlo’s point of view.

As I have noted, the politics of Casablanca are very much in line with the Popular Front effort to encourage the United States to enter the war against fascism. But the film’s point of view differs from that of the Popular Front in that the film was made a year after the U.S. had entered the war. Its purpose, then, is not to encourage American entry into the war but to convince the American populace to overcome its deeply rooted isolationist sympathies and to wholeheartedly support the Allied war effort.

The film performs this mission almost entirely through its portrayal of the competition between Rick and Laszlo, which essentially takes on allegorical dimensions. In terms of the literal plot of the film, Rick and Laszlo directly compete for the love of Ilsa, and it is telling that Ilsa figures in the film largely as a prize on which the two men can focus their competition. Even though she is played by one of the greatest stars in film history (playing in what would remain her best-known role), Ilsa is a rather static, secondary figure. Granted, the film stipulates that her support is crucial to the success of Laszlo’s political project, but it is only support. She has no real project of her own, and there is no indication that she herself might be an effective anti-Nazi leader, independent of Laszlo.

Peter Kunze discusses “the suppression of Ilsa’s agency” in his analysis of the film, concluding that “the patriarchal ideology underlying the narrative commodifies Ilsa, leading Rick to exchange her with other men in an act of friendship and solidarity as well as to dissuade any perception of queerness between the strong male friendships in the narrative” (20). For Kunze, the more important relationships in the film are those between male characters: Rick and Sam the piano player (played by Dooley Wilson), Rick and Laszlo, and Rick and Renault. From this point of view, the romantic relationship between Rick and Ilsa, then, is essentially a smokescreen designed to allow the film actually to be built on male-male relationships, but without homoerotic connotations.

Casablanca is a film that walks a fine line in a number of ways. Not only must it avoid any hints of homoeroticism (because of the Production Code and because such hints might undermine the film’s political project), but it must also be cautious in presenting Ilsa in a way such that audiences can sympathize with her despite the fact that she is a woman who has engaged in an adulterous relationship. Given the strong double standards of 1940s America, this fact alone might make her an object of audience disdain. After all, it seems clear that Rick and Ilsa were involved in a sexual relationship in Paris, which is in itself problematic, despite the fact that the film is careful to stipulate that Ilsa believed her husband to be dead. Presumably, though, the fact that Ilsa engages in extramarital sex in Paris is mitigated by the fact that it is Paris and also by the near-apocalyptic conditions of the German advance on the city.

Ilsa is made more sympathetic, of course, by the fact that she is played by an actor with the inherent on-screen charisma of Bergman, just as the casting of Bogart makes Rick more sympathetic, even when he is at his most bitter and cynical. What complicates the moral situation still further, though, is that, in Casablanca, Ilsa offers to leave Laszlo to be with Rick if Rick will provide Laszlo with the papers he needs to leave the city safely. Again, though, this is clearly coded in the film, not as licentiousness, but as a sacrifice in the interest of the fight against fascism. There is a moment in Casablanca when the film must tiptoe particularly carefully in this regard, however. After that passionate kiss with which Rick and Ilsa are reunited, the film cuts away to a suggestive shot of a phallic light tower, then cuts back to Rick looking out the window of his quarters, smoking a potentially post-coital cigarette. Critics have argued over whether we are supposed to assume that Rick and Ilsa have just had sex, but it is certainly the case that the signs in the film point toward this interpretation as strongly as any Hollywood film of the time ever pointed toward the performance of sexual intercourse. Casablanca at this point comes perilously close to making Ilsa a cheating wife, but it also carefully casts this scene within the context of her dedication to saving Laszlo. In any case, this scene was necessary to inject additional emotional charge into the Rick-Ilsa relationship, setting up the poignant “sacrificial” ending.

In this sense, it might be noted that Ray also appropriately questions whether it is finally clear whether Rick has really made a sacrifice in sending Ilsa away or whether he is simply escaping from the confinement of a romantic commitment so that he can go away with Renault into an all-male world of rugged adventure in darkest Africa. This reading, as Ray notes, would place the film within a long tradition in American literature, with Huck Finn’s escape from the Widow Douglas and eventual escape into the Indian territories being the classic example. In this and other ways, the politics of Casablanca are far from radical. The film is careful, for example, to portray Laszlo’s battle against the Nazis as a moral, rather than political one. Laszlo’s actual politics (which would probably, in the real world, be communist) are never specified. Meanwhile, the United States, with the help of heroic transnational individuals such as Laszlo, is depicted as the principal obstacle to the Nazi advance, even though, in 1942, the Nazis had been virtually unopposed in Europe for more than a year by anyone except the Soviet Red Army, which ultimately played the key role in the Nazi defeat. Still, Casablanca is an interesting illustration of the way in which the romantic and individualist conventions of Hollywood film adapted to the exigencies of the war.

These exigencies, though, do force the film in an important new direction that sets it apart from most of its predecessors in American culture. It is probably difficult for citizens of twenty-first-century America, accustomed to a view in which the United States is viewed as the world’s policeman, to appreciate the extent to which Americans, at the beginning of the 1940s, were averse to any American involvement in foreign conflicts, an aversion that had a long historical background. As Ray notes, World War II erupted at a time when the “most fundamental projection” of America’s “national ideology” was “the image of America as separate, unique, and remote from the Old World’s entangling responsibilities” (91). The aggressiveness of the German Nazis (and of their allies, the Japanese Empire) was such that the United States had no choice but to become involved in World War II, but this did not mean that there was not still considerable work to do to convince the American populace that this involvement was a good idea.

Casablanca was an important contribution to this project, and it employs a brilliant rhetorical strategy in making this contribution. For one thing, the film makes little effort to demonize the Nazis, taking it as a given that Americans, by 1942, understand the evils of Nazism. The question addressed by the film, instead, is whether the United States should intervene in any European conflict, regardless of how clear the terms of that conflict might be. In order to address this question, the makers of Casablanca employ a number of tried-and-true Hollywood strategies, focusing on character and both encouraging and exploiting audience identification with one particular character (Rick).

As Ray notes, “Casablanca, like so many of Classic Hollywood’s most popular movies, employed areluctant hero story” (90). This reluctant hero is, of course, Rick, who thus occupies a role that had been demonstrated to be one Americans most enthusiastically admired and with which they most strongly identified. And viewers are encouraged to identify with Rick in other ways as well, beginning with the casting of the charismatic Bogart—named in a poll conducted by the American Film Institute as the greatest male “screen legend” in the history of American film—in the part of Rick. The film then further encourages audience identification with Rick by quickly recapping, a bit more than a third of the way through the film, Rick’s earlier, incredibly romantic, whirlwind courtship with Ilsa after the two of them met and fell in love in Paris, shortly before the German invasion there. Seen via a flashback that resides in Rick’s memories, they drive together through the French countryside, Ilsa’s head on Rick’s shoulder as he drives[5]. They drink champagne, lounge by the Seine, and dance to romantic music. Rick begins to think in terms of a permanent life together, though Ilsa is clearly reluctant to talk about either the future or the past, preferring to live in the romance of the moment.

Image result for casablanca 1942 rick and ilsa

It’s very quick, and the Germans arrive only a bit more than three minutes of screen time after Rick and Ilsa meet. This arrival is bad news for Rick, whom we learn is already on the Nazis’ blacklist (which of course makes him only more attractive to American audiences). As the flashback continues, Rick plans to flee Paris with Ilsa, who agrees to meet him at the train station to leave the city. Then she learns that her husband is, in fact, alive, and Rick is left alone at the station, without an explanation, driving him into the state of bitterness and cynicism in which we find him in the present-day scenes in Casablanca.

In the Paris segment, we get a glimpse of Rick’s softer and more vulnerable side, while also getting an explanation for the attitudes he expresses in Casablanca: “I stick my neck out for nobody” and “I’m the only cause I’m interested in.” And this explanation is crucial, because it helps to ensure that Rick’s cynicism will not prevent audiences from identifying with him and rooting for him. The film also clearly suggests that Ilsa truly loves Rick and does not love Laszlo so much as admire him and support his political agenda. Meanwhile, Laszlo is played by Henreid, a gifted actor but one who lacks Bogart’s charisma. Laszlo is, in fact, played by Henreid as a rather cold and distant figure, devoted more to his cause than to Ilsa, and making it difficult for audiences to root for him to “get the girl.”

As a reluctant individualist outlaw hero, Rick is clearly figured as an allegorical stand-in for America itself. Laszlo, meanwhile, is a European intellectual of the sort from whom most Americans would instinctively recoil, given the twin strains of isolationism and anti-intellectualism that run through American history. The opposition between the two men is thus perfectly set up: Rick is a prototypical American movie hero; in terms of his general demeanor (and foreignness) Laszlo is the kind of man who might normally be a villain. And yet we know that it is actually Laszlo who is being heroic in his battle against the Nazis, while Rick, in his self-serving neutrality, is enabling evil.

It is also worth noting that Rick’s Café Américaine is a rather disreputable establishment. It is a gathering place for outlaw figures of various types, and its main businesses would seem to be the serving of alcohol (anathema to most of the local Muslim population) and gambling (officially banned by the Vichy government, even though the thoroughly corrupt Renault is more than willing to look the other way—as long as he gets his cut). But Rick, from the very beginning, is depicted as a positive figure. For one thing, Rick’s café is clearly modeled on the saloons that are so familiar from their appearances in numerous Westerns. There is no mention of the fact that running a saloon might be problematic in a Muslim city, while the gambling that goes on is treated as harmless and even comical, with Renault’s mock expression of shock to hear that such gambling might be going on standing as one of the film’s most fondly remembered moments. Moreover, Rick is at one point shown fixing his own roulette game so that a young Bulgarian couple can win enough money to purchase exit visas and escape the city.

Renault’s corruption and perfunctory performance of his duty in general are treated lightly in the film, presumably because any offenses he might commit in this regard are committed against his Vichy employers and their German masters. Indeed, Renault’s lack of devotion to enforcing the law throughout the film not only helps to reinforce the film’s Wild West atmosphere but also sets up the ending, in which he commits one last major offense by giving Rick a free pass for the killing of the local German commander, then goes off with Rick to join the fight against Nazism, proving what we had suspected all along, that he and Rick are actually good guys at heart and that the Nazis are such bad guys that even reluctant heroes such as Rick and Renault are ultimately moved to take action against them.

Rick and Renault, however different they might otherwise be, are both individualist outlaws—and American audiences love individualist outlaws. Here, though, the attitudes of Rick and Renault are also both touched with selfishness and cynicism, a characterization that identifies both ignoring the Nazis and collaborating with them as selfish and cynical. In this way, the film also suggests to these audiences that any inclination they might have toward isolationism is also informed in this case by selfishness and cynicism. It’s not an easy sell, and Casablanca knows it. Rick’s reluctance to help Laszlo in his fight against the Nazis thus mirrors the national reluctance of Americans to come to the aid of a Europe under threat of Nazi conquest. For Rick to look at the facts of the situation and to decide to help Laszlo’s cause and even to sacrifice his relationship with Ilsa in the interest of that cause then serves as an example designed to encourage Americas to recognize that, no matter how distasteful it might be for them to see their nation engaged in a European war, it is an engagement that is morally and historically necessary.

Casablanca is a film that was designed to achieve very specific political objectives when it was released during the early years of World War II. It uses a number of typical Hollywood strategies to achieve these objectives, including taking advantage of inherent audience sympathies for romantic narratives and for charismatic movies stars, such as Bogart and Bergman. What is perhaps most remarkable (and most telling) about the film is that these Hollywood strategies have continued to make the film appeal to audiences decades after its original political purpose had passed into history.


Denning, Michael. The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century. Verso, 1996.

Jackson, Kathy Merlock. “Playing It Again and Again: Casablanca’s Impact on American Mass Media and Popular Culture.” Journal of Popular Film and Television 27.4 (Winter 2000): 33–41.

Kunze, Peter. “Beautiful Friendship: Masculinity and Nationalism in Casablanca.” Studies in Popular Culture 37.1 (Fall 2014): 19–37.

Ray, Robert B. A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema, 1930–1980. Princeton University Press, 1985.

Roberts, Randy. “Casablanca as Propaganda: You Must Remember This.” Hollywood’s America: United States History through Its Films. Eds. Steven Mintz, Randy Roberts, and David Welky. 5th ed. Wiley-Blackwell, 2016. 156–65.

Said, Edward W. Orientalism. Vintage-Random House, 1979.


[1] On the widespread impact of Casablanca in American popular culture, see Jackson.

[2] Casablanca opened nationwide in January 1943. But it was rushed into an early premiere at the Hollywood Theater on November 26, 1942, just three weeks after the Allied invasion of North Africa.

[3] After the fall of Paris in June 1940, Petain’s puppet regime was established as the official government of France, though northern France (including Paris) was occupied by fascist armies and thus in reality controlled by the Germans and their Italian allies. After the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942, the Germans assumed direct control of all of France, with Petain’s Vichy regime in an even more subsidiary position. In December 1941, when Casablanca is set, the French Vichy government would have been officially in control of Casablanca, though their rule was very much conditioned by their continued cooperation with the German Nazis.

[4] “Orientalism” is the network of assumptions and prejudices through which Western artists and scholars have tended to represent the Eastern world (especially the Islamic world of the Middle East and North Africa) as inferior to the West. Orientalist discourse, as famously described by Edward Said, involves, among other things, an exoticist view of the East as a realm of law-breaking and sexual adventurism.

[5] In this scene, Rick drives on the left side of the road, as in England, which perhaps emphasizes the romantic foreign setting—even though French drivers actually drive on the right, as in America.