Casablanca Condition

“Casablanca,” first released in 1942, holds down a spot on many top-10 lists of all-time great films. The Academy Award-winner last year got a new theatrical release, in conditions eerily similar to those in the film. 

“Unoccupied France welcomes you to Casablanca,” prefect of police Louis Renault (Claude Rains) tells Major Heinrich Strasser (Conrad Veidt). His fellow Nazis occupy most of France, and in the early going viewers see a mural of Marshall Philippe Pétain and his famous slogan, “Je tiens mes promesses, meme celles des autres,”—“I keep my promises, even those of others.” 

Back in 1940, the French World War I veteran, already in his 80s, struck an armistice with the German invaders. The Nazis made Pétain head of their puppet government in Vichy, allowing him to govern parts of France under their supervision. Non-veteran Joe Biden is also 80, and there the similarities begin. 

Conrad Black’s quip that Biden is a waxworks effigy of a president is too kind. The Delaware Democrat has trouble with basic motor functions and, for all but the willfully blind, is incapable of exercising national office. On the other hand, Biden is the ideal puppet to keep the promises of others: an axis of globalists, climate warriors, white coat supremacists, abortion celebrants, gender jihadists, institutional racists and Stalinist thugs, panting to take the summer of 2020 to a whole new level. 

Under these forces, as in wartime France, people flee to the freer regions and the Vichy types don’t like it. California, for example, is making it harder for those who move to shut down their nonprofit companies, and state Attorney General Rob Bonta once backed a bill that would tax people for 10 years even after they leave.

In “Casablanca,” many refugees believe they will never get out, and in the meantime everybody comes to Rick’s. Ugarte (Peter Lorre) tells proprietor Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), “You despise me, don’t you?” Without missing a beat, Rick says, “If I gave you any thought, I probably would,” one of the great put-downs of all time.

Ugarte has murdered two German couriers and stolen two letters of transit, guaranteed exit visas, authorized by General Charles de Gaulle. Rick hides the letters in Sam’s (Dooley Wilson) piano, but does nothing to protect Ugarte from the police, proclaiming “I stick my neck out for nobody.” That claim will soon face a challenge.

Resistance fighter Victor Laszlo (Paul Henried) shows up at Rick’s in the company of the stunning Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), whom Rick knew in Paris. They were going to flee when the Nazis marched in, but Ilsa failed to show up at the station. Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she now walks into Rick’s, and that sets up a conflict.

Major Strasser orders Renault to ensure that Laszlo never leaves Casablanca. With Ugarte gone, Rick recommends that the couple see Signor Ferrari (Sidney Greenstreet), proprietor of the Blue Parrot and in charge of all illegal activities in Casablanca.

“It would take a miracle to get you out of Casablanca,” Ferrari tells Laszlo, “and the Germans have outlawed miracles.” Even so, Ferrari believes Rick has the letters of transit, and Laszlo seeks him out.

Rick ran guns to Ethiopia and fought in Spain on the loyalist side, but as he now explains, “I’m the only cause I’m interested in.” The letters of transit are not for sale at any price. Rick ponders a plot to use one for himself and the other for Ilsa, leaving Laszlo stranded in Casablanca, where he might once again wind up in a concentration camp. As Major Strasser confirms, “in Casablanca, human life is cheap.”

Over at Rick’s, Strasser and his Nazis commandeer the piano and sing “Die Wacht am Rhein.” Laszlo tells the band to strike up the “La Marseillaise,” and Rick gives the nod. Laszlo leads the singing and punches up “aux armes, citoyens!” as adoring Ilsa looks on. “Vive la France!” shouts the dazzling Yvonne (Madeleine Lebeau).

The Nazis order Renault to shut down Rick’s club, even though, as he says, “everybody’s having such a good time.” Rick asks Renault if he is free French or pro-Vichy. The prefect blows with the wind, and the prevailing wind is from Vichy.

Rick retains the letters of transit but, as Ferrari says, one never knows what Rick will do. At the airport, he tells Renault to add the name of Victor Laszlo. Ilsa is the one who keeps him going, so she must get on the plane with Victor.

Laszlo welcomes Rick back to the fight, and “this time, I know our side will win.” His side did win, but in 2023 the future is a tough call. The hostile axis behind the Pétain presidency escalates on every front, doing its best to outlaw miracles. And as in Casablanca, human life is cheap.

Rick and Ilsa would “always have Paris,” but Americans may not always have the free country they have known. As Ferrari told Rick, “when will you realize that in this world today, isolationism is no longer a practical policy.” And as Rick told Ilsa, “here’s looking at you kid.”

If you don’t get on board with the cause of freedom, you are going to regret it. “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.”


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About Lloyd Billingsley

Lloyd Billingsley is the author of Hollywood Party and other books including Bill of Writes and Barack ‘em Up: A Literary Investigation. His journalism has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Spectator (London) and many other publications. Billingsley serves as a policy fellow with the Independent Institute.

Photo: Donaldson Collection/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images