Leaving on a Jet Plane

One of my cat nips is when characters in a book or film debate the meaning of another work of art. Think 500 Days of Summer (2009), in which the narrator tells us that Tom misunderstands the ending of The Graduate (1967), while his love interest, Summer, does not. Or Tiffany Reisz’s The Siren in which Nora and Zach tussle over whether O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” is romantic or terrifying. Or KJ Charles’s A Seditious Affair in which Dominic wrestles with the meaning of several William Blake poems, demonstrating that he’s compatible with Silas and that he’s finally gotten over his first love, Richard.

And any conversation about this kind of intertextuality would likely include When Harry Met Sally (1989). In director Rob Reiner and writer Nora Ephron’s friends to lovers romantic comedy, the titular Harry and Sally constantly jaw about pop culture. From board games to journalists, museums to music, the film’s script bursts with the characters’ opinions about other texts. But the reference that comes up multiple times, and reveals the most about the characters, is Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca (1942).

Seven years ago–how is that possible?–I wrote a brief post about Casablanca, one of the primo romantic dramas of the Hollywood studio era. The love triangle between Rick, the cynical saloon owner; Victor, the idealistic resistance organizer; and Ilsa, the woman torn between them, has been endlessly parsed in our living rooms and our pop culture. But–spoiler alert!–while Ilsa might end up with Victor, when Casablanca pops up in other works, it seems like most people are on Rick’s side.

What does the cultural preference for Rick say about us? While there are some structural reasons why people might find Rick more sympathetic, I think the real issue is that American culture has tended to celebrate the kind of hard, cynical, and even cruel masculinity Rick embodies rather than Victor’s restrained, gentle, and more idealistic mode. So I’d like to suggest, as I did on Twitter yesterday, that Ilsa made the right choice and that Victor would be a better and more supportive partner than Rick.

To take just two examples of the general pro-Rick tenor of the discourse, When Harry Met Sally uses Casablanca to show the initial conflict between Harry and Sally and then, over time, to illustrate that their world views have changed and thus they now belong together. Specifically, Sally shifts from believing Ilsa should have left with Victor to the into the de facto pro-Rick position, and Harry…is nice enough not to point out that she’s changed positions.

Here’s their first conversation about Casablanca:

HARRY: He wants her to leave. That’s why he puts her on the plane.

SALLY: I don’t think she wants to stay.

HARRY: Of course she wants to stay. Wouldn’t you rather be with Humphrey Bogart than the other guy?

SALLY: I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in Casablanca married to a man who runs a bar. That probably sounds very snobbish to you, but I don’t.

HARRY: You’d rather be in a passionless marriage –

SALLY: – and be the First Lady of Czechoslovakia –

HARRY: – than live with the man… you’ve had the greatest sex of your life with, just because he owns a bar and that is all he does.

SALLY: Yes, and so would any woman in her right mind. Women are very practical. Even Ingrid Bergman, which is why she gets on the plane at the end of the movie.

When Harry Met Sally

You may recall that Harry then suggests that Sally only holds the pro-Victor position because she hasn’t yet had great sex–because that’s the only possible explanation for thinking that Ilsa made the correct choice. /rolls eyes/

Note that Harry believes Rick, and not Ilsa, has the agency in Casablanca. Harry doesn’t think Ilsa chooses to go with Victor as much Rick makes the decision for everyone. Harry doesn’t seem to credit Victor with any power, and he assumes that Victor and Ilsa’s marriage is “passionless.”

For her part, Sally doesn’t stake out an affirmative pro-Victor position but instead offers a class-based rejection of Rick. She thinks “practical” Ilsa would rather be “First Lady of Czechoslovakia” than a mere saloonkeeper’s wife. Which merits another eye roll.

It’s interesting that both Harry and Sally refer to Victor by his character’s name and to Rick and Ilsa by the names of the actors who portray them. It’s as if Rick/Humphrey and Ilsa/Ingrid are more real to them than Victor/Paul is, and it’s another way that Victor is seen as less than Rick and Ilsa.

Later in WHMS, Harry and Sally watch Casablanca in their respective apartments while talking on the phone.

HARRY: Now you’re telling me you would be happier with Victor Laszlo than Humphrey Bogart?

SALLY: When did I say that?

HARRY: When we drove to New York.

SALLY: I never said that. I would never have said that.

HARRY: All right, fine. Have it your way.

When Harry Met Sally

While Sally doesn’t outright say, “I think Ilsa should have remained in Casablanca with Rick,” she’s clearly not pro-Victor any longer. She is no longer “practical” and now prizes whatever it is that Rick, not Victor, offers to Ilsa. (Great sex? Good quips? Free booze?)

It’s worth pointing out that only Sally has really changed in the years between conversations one and two. As I suggested above, the only “growth” this conversation demonstrates in Harry is that he doesn’t keep hounding Sally about her new position, while early in the film, he probably would have made a big stink about her flip flopping. So Sally had to grow more than Harry for them to be as perfect for each other as they (apparently) think Rick and Ilsa are.

The question that Harry and Sally see Casablanca posing has also shifted a tiny bit. It’s not about what the characters “want” any longer, it’s instead about who would make “you…happier.” (NB that Harry conflates Ilsa and Sally with that “you.”) It’s a small change, but it may represent how older Harry and Sally are still searching for happiness and not merely acting on desires any longer. In their conversations, though, there is still slippage between Rick/Humphrey while Victor has remained just Victor.

(BTW, immediately after the section I’ve quoted, Harry uses Casablanca to criticize Sally again, saying that Ilsa is “low maintenance,” and, in contrast, Sally is the “worst kind” of woman: a “high maintenance” one who thinks she’s low. I do like WHMS, I do, but there are definitely aspects that make me grind my teeth.)

Anyhow, to return to the matter at hand, the arguments made in WHMS broadly reflect the consensus about Casablanca: that Ilsa should be with Rick and that Victor is a non-factor.

To present just one more example that overlaps a bit, in the episode “Natural Born Kissers,” The Simpsons offered an alternate ending to Casablanca. Bart discovers an old film reel that has a different ending. After the plane carrying Victor and Ilsa departs, Sam saves Rick from an armed and dangerous Captain Renault, then Ilsa (who now bears a resemblance to Lauren Bacall) parachutes back to Casablanca and saves Rick from Hitler (who has popped up from inside Sam’s piano). Ilsa and Rick then marry. Victor pretty much never appears, and no one ever wonders what happens to him in this new ending. (Is Ilsa a bigamist here? Has Ilsa become Lauren?)

Bart and Grandpa Simpson exclaim in joy over this new, happier ending, but another patient at Grandpa’s nursing home admonishes Bart and Lisa to bury the reel because the extant, bittersweet ending is better and this tacked on HEA only reflects the bad taste of film studio executives–and perhaps the audience as well.

What interests me here is that The Simpsons acknowledges that most people might prefer Rick and Ilsa to be together, but posits that the film is better for having Ilsa go with Victor. The Simpsons seems to be saying, “Sure, most people want the happy ending–which is to say, with Rick and Ilsa together–but the film is a classic because it doesn’t give us that.”

However, as it is, Casablanca does offer an HEA, it’s just one for Victor and Ilsa. The film’s ending is only bittersweet if we imagine it as Rick’s narrative.

I definitely understand why we read Casablanca this way. We meet Rick first and he’s on-screen more than Ilsa or Victor. Plus we’re (generally) in his limited POV, and we (mostly) only have the information that he has (e.g., we don’t know that Ilsa was married during in Paris before the war until she explains that to Rick). All of that makes us more sympathetic to Rick’s desires and more sensitive to his hurts. Since we’re identifying with him, we read the conclusion as a rejection of Rick/us, and we feel sad about it.

But the simple truth is that there are affirmative reasons for Ilsa to go with Victor, and she could be happier long-term with Victor than she would have been with Rick.

For starters, while Rick in the Paris flashback montage is certainly cynical, Ilsa’s rejection apparently totally embittered him. The Rick we meet in Casablanca not only claims to have no loyalty, he can be outright cruel. He’s cutting to his recent lover, Yvonne, and also to Ilsa.

When Ilsa tries to explain what happened in Paris, he snaps at her, “Tell me, who was it you left me for? Was it Laszlo, or were there others in between? Or – aren’t you the kind that tells?” I mean, ouch. He’s drunk and extremely hurt, but I don’t think that justifies this attack. It’s pretty hard to recover after you call your ex-lover a whore. For me, it’s hard to see Rick as a romantic hero after this moment.

And Rick’s petty cruelty, while bad on its own terms, suffers further when you compare it to Victor’s behavior. Victor was married to Ilsa and would have good reason to feel betrayed, but instead, he broaches Ilsa’s history with Rick in this way:

VICTOR: Ilsa, when I was in the concentration camp, were you lonely in Paris?

ILSA: Yes, Victor, I was.

VICTOR: I know how it is to be lonely. I love you very much, my dear.

ILSA: Yes. Yes, I know. Victor, whatever I do, will you believe that I–

VICTOR: You don’t even have to say it. I’ll believe.

Casablanca

Victor doesn’t demand that she explain herself. He doesn’t yell or name call. He simply offers her his faith and love. And this is one of the rare scenes in the film for which Rick isn’t present. Rick doesn’t see how Victor and Ilsa are together, which might allow him to pretend that Ilsa doesn’t love her husband the way she loved him.

Another argument we saw Harry make in support of Rick being a better match for Ilsa is that Ilsa and Victor’s marriage is “passionless.” In fairness, I can see why Harry might think this. Ilsa describes her courtship with Victor in this way: “a girl who had just come to Paris from her home in Oslo. At the house of some friends, she met a man about whom she’d heard her whole life. A very great and courageous man. He opened up for her a whole beautiful world full of knowledge and thoughts and ideals. Everything she knew or ever became was because of him. And she looked up to him and worshiped him… with a feeling she supposed was love.”

(Immediately after she finishes her story, Rick again compares her to a whore and suggests she’s inventing this story. He’s so charming.)

She’s speaking here in the third person, which definitely gives the story an oddly emotionally distanced quality. Her word choices aren’t exactly blistering with heat: “she supposed was love” and “she looked up to him,” for example. Also, she’s speaking to her ex-lover, so her tale is performative and rhetorical. It tells us at least as much about Rick and Ilsa as it does about Victor and Ilsa.

But two key points: first, Ilsa is trying to ease Rick’s pain. She’s not going to rub her marriage in his face by saying, “I deeply love my husband, and, PS, he’s better in bed than you.” And second, even if Ilsa and Victor’s marriage started out with some emotional distance, that doesn’t mean that it stayed that way. While Rick and Ilsa only had a few weeks together in Paris, Ilsa and Victor have been married for several years. Even though there have been periods of separation–the whole “the Nazis put him in a concentration camp” thing–they have a substantial history that she and Rick lack.

(Another aside: the film might play very differently if there were a second montage of years of interactions and intimacy between Victor and Ilsa. But it is, in so many ways, Rick’s movie.)

To wit, in another scene without Rick, Victor and Ilsa visit a different Casablanca cafe, The Blue Parrot, to try to obtain exit visas. The proprietor says he might be able to get Ilsa out of town but not Victor. She refuses, and Victor argues, though with characteristic gentleness. He insists that if there were only one visa, he would take it and leave her. She replies,

ILSA: Yes, I see. When I had trouble getting out of Lille, why didn’t you leave me there? And when I was sick in Marseilles and held you up for two weeks, and you were in danger every minute of the time, why didn’t you leave me then?

VICTOR: I meant to, but something always held me up. I love you very much, Ilsa.

ILSA: Your secret will be safe with me.

Casablanca

It was this scene that got me thinking about Casablanca, and why I find the romanticization of Rick and the clear cultural preference for him so problematic. Paul Henreid and Ingrid Bergman’s performances in this moment leave me in no doubt that Victor and Ilsa are, by this point in their marriage, very much in love. While I don’t doubt that Ilsa also cares for Rick, I just don’t see any lack of passion with Victor.

(A final aside: you really do need to watch this moment, but, interesting, I can’t find this scene on YouTube. I would posit it’s because we’re too fixated on Rick when Victor is right there being awesome.)

And, further, Victor himself makes his intense–nay, passionate!–love for Ilsa clear while he’s trying to convince Rick to take his wife to safety. Victor says to him, “Apparently you think of me only as the leader of a cause. I’m also a human being. Yes, I love her that much.” Victor is insisting that he’s not an abstraction, but he is a flesh and blood person. In other words, that he has a libido.

So while Rick literally and repeatedly suggests that Ilsa is a whore for leaving him, Victor’s like, “I’m so deeply in love with Ilsa that I’d rather she live with another man than remain close to Nazis.”

I freely admit that Victor might not be everyone’s cup of tea. In the Twitter thread I linked to above, someone suggested that Victor seemed like a mansplainer–and I can totally see that. And being married to him means being married to his cause. Though…it’s a good cause.

But I guess what I’m really objecting to is the narrative that Rick is obviously the better choice and/or that in leaving Rick, Ilsa acts selflessly and only for Victor’s sake not her own. In his final big speech, Rick says to her, “You’re part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it,” implying that she’s settling or sacrificing herself for Victor’s sake. I get why Rick needs to believe this, but I don’t think that means she agrees with his assessment. It feels like we’re falling for the POV character and missing Victor and Ilsa’s Great and Epic Love (TM).

So what I’m saying is that in a future book, my characters are going to fight about the meaning of Casablanca, but this time, Victor will win.

Author: Emma

Emma is a novelist, full-time mama, recovering academic, and former political staffer. When she’s not reading or writing, she loves her twins' hugs, her husband’s cooking, her cat’s whiskers, her dog’s tail, and Earl Grey tea.

8 thoughts on “Leaving on a Jet Plane”

  1. Hmmm, interesting. I’ve never read the film’s end this way at all. B/c what “wins,” in the end, isn’t Rick, Viktor, or Ilsa … it’s no longer about what we want and we no longer have the luxury of making purely personal, individual choices. No one wins, everyone sacrifices.

    The real HEA, for yours truly, is Rick’s awakening political consciousness. It’s not just his “doesn’t amount to a hill of beans” comment, it’s his resolution to take political action, different from Viktor’s, not intellectual, and that is where Ilsa cannot follow. It’s too dangerous. So, Rick says what he says, but he also knows, being the sexy bad boy that he is, that Ilsa’s weakness for him might lead her into his newly-resolved dangerous territory, the resistance he’ll be joining with Capt. Renault, who has also had a change of heart. The HEA is that Vichy bottle falling in the trash, the political awakening of not one, but two characters and the necessity that everyone must sacrifice for the ultimate victory against the Nazis, symbolized by the Vichy bottle. The parallel to the scene when everyone sings the Marseillaise. Rick’s awakening to sacrifice and love comes when he helps out that couple: how can he allow himself an HEA? It’s not who he is anymore.

    1. I do agree with you that if it’s Rick’s film, the ending is optimistic because he’s given up his bitterness and come back to morality. (And I would say that the rising music cue at the very end of the movie is pretty definitive in this regard. It’s not a tragic sound cue, but then again, neither is the music at the end of Roman Holiday, and I’d like someone to explain that to me.)

      But in the same way that Jane Austen’s novels aren’t strictly romances but get read as romances, I think the discourse around Casablanca–and I don’t mean the scholarly discourse, which I don’t know anything about, but the pop culture discourse–focuses so much on the film’s romance plot as to sort of unbalance or decenter the movie. It is a movie about Rick–but it’s also and a movie about who will end up with Ilsa. (It reminds me of War and Peace in this way, where Natasha becomes a metaphor for Russia itself.) So I guess I’d justify my reading of the movie not in terms of Casablanca qua Casablanca, but in terms of a response to how people read Casablanca, if that makes sense.

      1. It makes perfect sense in that context, of course.

        I hadn’t thought about the music cue at the end, but the sight of Rick and Renault going off on “the beginning of a wonderful friendship” is a positive note of alliance for future resistance and America’s entry into the European arena. I really always end the film with the idea that Rick won’t make it through the war alive, but Ilsa and Viktor will. (As for Roman Holiday, what’s up with that?!)

        I guess I interpret the film in this way b/c I’ve never thought of it as a romance! Though I can see, given the blurring of “romance” in popular terms with godawful stuff like The Notebook (*shudders*) that the popular reception is as you describe it.

        I guess I’ve always also read it as allied propaganda. No matter it’s con? in?ception, it’s a film that calls for rich and varied interpretation and I look forward to your characters’ discussion of it! (Maybe some spinster-type can argue for mine!?)

    2. It’s interesting to me that once Rick is no longer carefully political neutral, he’s…neutered. (And I forgot to mention in my original post that another likely reason American viewers emphasize with Rick is his nationality. And obviously Rick’s trajectory in the film is, on one level, an allegory for the US moving from neutrality to engagement, etc.) Rick’s sacrifice is in terms of his romantic life; he gives up Ilsa. Is this merging with the the Harry reading in which she doesn’t have any agency. Does that mean Ilsa’s sacrifice is giving up Rick? What is Victor’s sacrifice, leaving Europe?

      Even in the two political scenes you mentioned, Victor’s action is public and communal–it brings people together, and it’s more witty and indirect than shooting someone–while Rick and Renault’s moments of resistance/political awareness are performed by individuals in secret and involve overt violence. So the differences between Rick and Victor’s styles, the types of manhood that they represent, are present even at that level.

      After I read your second comment, as I was falling asleep, I was thinking about how Casablanca structurally is a bit like Rear Window. That film appears to be about Jeff/Jimmy Stewart: he’s the protagonist and his problem is that he’s stuck in his apartment with a broken leg. But instead the film fixes the problem of the stealth protagonist, Lisa/Grace Kelly, who wants him to commit to their relationship. At the end of the movie, he’s still stuck in his apartment and now he has two broken legs. But Lisa got exactly what she wanted, and the rising sound cue celebrates her. It’s like a switcheroo.

      Anyhow, Rick has two problems, I think: bitterness brought on by romantic disappointment and untenable political neutrality in the face of Nazis. Getting Ilsa back, temporarily, and then giving her up does solve his problems, or maybe it obviates the first one. Makes it no longer an issue for him (as you suggest). But the audience, or at least some people in the audience, want him to get everything or want him to be able to do it without any sacrifice. And in the face of that, the film also solves Victor and Ilsa’s problems, maybe more neatly and handily than it does Rick’s.

      And I haven’t talked about Renault at all, but I think this is why the film feels so ripe for a slash reading. Rick does get everything, including an HEA, if we imagine his “beautiful friendship” with Renault as being romantic. Then there’s no sacrifice at all.

      I don’t know, I need to think about this more, but I do continue to wonder if Ilsa is the stealth protag of the movie and I definitely prefer Victor’s brand of masculinity to Rick’s.

      1. Hmm, so much food for thought here!

        I think Viktor’s sacrifice is letting Ilsa decide for herself. I think he’d like to play the he-man, but choose not to. And I also think that Viktor’s cause is his greatest mistress. I agree that he loves Ilsa and that she loves him, but their marriage is sacrificed to the cause. It has to be. When Rick gives Ilsa up, he finally makes the same decision Viktor does, to sacrifice to the cause. Rick knows what his weapons are, not necessarily violence, though he wouldn’t hesitate to use it, but stealth definitely. I see him infiltrating enemy lines as a spy. Not necessarily combat and a uniform, not in the conventional sense.

        I think what attracted Ilsa to Rick was his single-minded attraction to her, his focus on her. And let’s not forget Ilsa’s abandonment/rejection of Rick: once he realizes why she did what she did, he’s a lot more forgiving. He has the vindication of being loved. If Ilsa is the stealth protagonist, she’s certainly played her hand best of everyone. And let’s not forget: does Ilsa have a political stance? Does it come through? I never get that sense from her. She reminds me of Caddy: we never quite get her POV, but she’s the nucleus of all the male characters’ actions. For Viktor, he can’t allow this to go as far as it does. As for not leaving her behind, Viktor wouldn’t leave any comrade behind. OTOH, I think the idea of the GraceKelly character in Rear Window getting her all makes sense: it’s not wartime and no sacrifices need be made. The stakes aren’t terribly high.

        This is a fun convo! Reminds me of our epic Great Gatsby one!

  2. I *love* this convo!

    The only thing we get about Ilsa’s politics is when she says to Rick, speaking of her courtship with Victor, “At the house of some friends, she met a man about whom she’d heard her whole life. A very great and courageous man. He opened up for her a whole beautiful world full of knowledge and thoughts and ideals. Everything she knew or ever became was because of him.” From this, I take it that she was at some level involved in or connected to the resistance and that that’s how she met Victor. I suspect her role is smaller and less formal than his, but I think his cause is her cause.

    And maybe that’s part of the attraction of Rick for Ilsa; their relationship was pure escape, pure fun. There’s no obligation or movement. Just love.

    If Victor’s sacrifice is giving Ilsa agency, that makes me love Victor even more.

    I think you’ve convinced me that the movie as it is is Rick’s movie and is about Rick’s choice (Harry got that part right!). But I think what I find compelling about it is that the characters are rich enough that I can imagine another movie that overlaps with this one, a marriage in trouble romance in which Ilsa and Victor get their HEA, recommitting to each other and their political activism. That narrative is present in Rick’s, but only in pieces. And when viewers bemoan that Ilsa leaves Rick, it bothers me that they can’t see this other narrative, and it speaks to, among other things, our persistent flirtation with a harmful kind of masculinity.

    1. Former film major reporting for duty…! Oh, the papers the much younger me wrote on Bogart and films of the 1930s/1940s/1950s.
      I agree with Miss Bates that Casablanca isn’t about who gets Ilsa or even Rick’s romantic life. It’s about Rick letting go of his explicit toxic selfishness (“I stick my neck out for nobody” “I’m the only cause I’m interested in”) and embracing the greater world (“Where I’m going you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can be no part of. I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world”). A good lesson in 1942 and maybe an even better one today.
      IMO people don’t focus on Victor and Ilsa’s relationship because, again IMO, neither Victor nor Ilsa is a full-fledged character. I see them as plot devices.
      After the scene in which Ilsa confronts Rick with the gun, she has her agency taken from her and becomes a ping pong ball bouncing between Victor and Rick. They volley her back and forth until she finally ends with Victor. They make the choices for her, she doesn’t have much of a say. First, Victor tells Rick to take care of her. Then Rick tells Victor to take care of her. She’s pretty much just the plot device that caused Rick to lose his idealism and then regain it, and the story object that keeps Victor working for the greater cause (I find it interesting Victor told her never to reveal their marriage – granted, it was to protect her, but that’s another decision made for her that she blindly obeyed). What does Ilsa truly want? The audience doesn’t know, and the story goes out of its way to make her an unreliable narrator. Both Victor and Rick call into doubt whether she’s telling the truth or just saying what she thinks the other wants to hear to get to the desired outcome. I think it’s pretty much due to Ingrid Bergman’s luminosity, expressiveness, and acting skills that Ilsa seems anywhere near a three-dimensional character; it’s not really in the script IMO.
      IMO, Victor is Rick’s mirror. He’s what Rick could become – including a happy marriage/partnership – if he would give up his toxic ways.
      And there is a contemporaneous HEA/HFN version of Casablanca! Bart didn’t need to find the reel. To Have and Have Not, also starring Bogart, repeats many of the same beats of Casablanca but replaces the married Ilsa with the much more available Slim (Lauren Bacall). But yet, Casablanca is considered the classic and sticks in the pop culture collective unconscious despite a more schlocky director (Michael Curtiz is no Howard Hawks) and despite the real-life Bogart/Bacall romance. And yes, Casablanca has a better-structured story (although THaHN does it best to rip it off) as well as more memorable enemies/frenemies. But I think Casablanca catches the imagination not because we flirt with Rick’s harmful masculinity (which, yes, hello, dominant Hollywood cinema template) so much as that masculinity doesn’t get rewarded with the girl-shaped object. His reward is to embrace the world and to do good. So I guess I agree with Grandpa Simpson’s nursing home buddy.
      Anyway, all this to say that I can’t wait to read your characters arguing about Casablanca.

      1. What a terrific comment; I really appreciate your perspective. I agree that Rick and Victor are the mirror images of one another. Even though Victor has less screen time, pretty much everything we see him do has a corresponding moment with Rick reacting to a similar situation in the opposite way, at least until the end in which Rick makes a very Victor choice.

        (I now want to write something about how Rick tells Ilsa get on the plane because that’s what Victor would do. That in changing himself, Rick has taken Victor for a model, and thus Victor, and not Rick, has scripted the end.)

        There’s a funny thing that happens, right, when a work of art becomes as popular as Casablanca is. You have to consider the work itself…and everything that’s been built on top of it. I’m thinking now of Jane Austen. The adaptations of her novels focus so intensely on the romance arcs, often to the exclusion of other elements, that you could argue they aren’t in keeping with the spirit of the works. After all, Austen wasn’t writing genre romance; her books are comedies of manners in which the marriage plots are but one strand–and certainly that’s true on one level. But at this point, those far more romance-y retellings of her stories, not to mention all the the “Mr. Darcy is My Book Boyfriend” stuff, have taken on a life of their own. From a reception studies perspective, they seem equally as valid as the original works, equally canonical, equally worth of analysis.

        With Casablanca, there’s the actual film, but then there’s the Casablanca cottage industry. I mean the line, “play it again, Sam” isn’t even in the movie, but I doubt most people know that. So I guess I remain fascinated that so many of the allusions, reworkings, and parodies of Casablanca focused on the romance plot. There’s a little about the film’s noirish aspects, but very little riffing on Rick’s return to idealism, even though, as you and Miss Bates correctly point out, that’s the central thrust of the film.

        (An aside: I really should have talked about the movie Play It Again, Sam–though who wants to give Woody Allen any oxygen these days?–but you literally have a guy modeling himself on Rick and getting sucked into a love triangle with a married woman, until he realizes that acting like Bogart has screwed up his life.)

        You’re also right that a lot of the fascinating with the film’s love triangle may be due to Bergman’s performance and how lovely she looks on screen. All those white costumes of hers literally glow!

        But setting Ilsa aside, I wonder what a star studies reading of the movie would look like. Rick is a very Bogart type. (And to your argument about To Have and Have Not is fascinating. I’ll admit that, THaHN, Key Largo, and Dark Passage have all melded in my head into one big hybrid Bogart-Bacall movie. I’ve seen them all, but I couldn’t tell you anything about any of them separately. Lol.) Is Victor a typical Paul Henreid role? Did he often play the gentler, more cerebral, almost beta hero? He does in Now, Voyager, but those are the only movies of his I’ve seen, and maybe these two roles were off brand for him.

        Anyhow, it’s amazing to me that there’s so much to say about Casablanca.

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