September 29, 2023
Here’s looking at you, kid…

Here’s looking at you, kid…

Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca (1942) is still one of the most political films in history.

A new Casablanca film could inform, unite and inspire us to endure what could be coming next from Mr. Putin.

If history repeats itself and the world is on the brink again, can a film unite one side and push them to victory? It happened during World War II and now people are beginning to wonder if the Ukraine war effort might be aided by the big screen. Could a new Ukrainian Casablanca help the war effort?

What will Russia’s war on Ukrianian look like in a year’s time?

Ukrainian Casablanca
Ukrainian Casablanca

As strong and heroic as the Ukrainians have been defending themselves, Russian history is full of long and drawn out wars. The strategy most often deployed by the Russian military tradition has been attrition, to wear down the opposition.

Ukraine is now facing a long-term war that could drag on, with Mr. Putin eventually looking to choke the nation by controlling its outlet to the sea – Odesa. Vladimir Zelensky will certainly need a booster shot to deal with such problems.

Numerous political pundits have commented, “it’s only a matter of time until the public loses interest” in Russia’s war on its neighbor. There’s nothing better to explain and interest people in political issues than a feature film. We are a world of film watchers.

Today a shrewd filmmaker should be looking back in history to a film that could shed some light on the Ukrainian’s current plight. Casablanca, which won the 1943 Best Picture Oscar, still is one of the most influential movies in film history.

What’s Casablanca have to do with the war in Ukraine?

Ukrainian Casablanca
Ukrainian Casablanca

To begin with, at a crucial moment in American history, Casablanca impacted our perception of intervention in the Second World War, and of intervention in foreign affairs. Casablanca helped to start a trend which continued in such events as Vietnam, Korea and more recently the post 9/11 war on terrorism, where America intervenes in difficult world situations.

No longer could America stand idly by and permit undemocratic evil to overtake the earth. This was the message of Casablanca in late 1942. It was time for America to flex its muscles and enter the fight. America was to become the cagey curator of democracy. Chiefly America has funded and supplied freedom fighters worldwide; there isn’t a reason this should end now that Russia’s attacked their neighbor.

How dangerous would supporting Ukraine be?

A Ukrainian version of Casablanca wouldn’t come close to triggering the intervention of U.S. troops; remember, Russia is a nuclear power. However realistically, Ukraine will continue to need a sufficient flow of aid and support – humanitarian and military weapons. The nations supporting the Ukrainian resistance are democracies and the western populations will, in the end, determine if Ukraine will survive. And because of the original Casablanca, we know that populations can be persuaded or reminded of the issue at stake by poignant well-made films.

How did Casablanca change the way people think about Hitler?

Ukrainian Casablanca
Ukrainian Casablanca

Casablanca opened at New York City’s Hollywood Theater on Thanksgiving Day, 1942. This was just 18 days after the Allied Forces had landed at Casablanca. Moreover, Casablanca’s general release date was January 23, 1943, which was in the very midst of the Casablanca conference of the Allied Powers. In other words, the release schedule of Casablanca happened to be very timely, to say the least.

To explain further, the filmmakers in America at that time, related to the War, was centered around the idea of personal commitment. In a political sense, this feeling corresponded to America’s commitment to the global political scene. We can say that Casablanca tapped into the mood of the times when released, because the film was about the making of personal commitments as the entrance of politics into individual lives occurred.

In 1942-1943, Americans were toying with the same issues about the war that the characters in Casablanca confront. Today Ukrainians (and Americans) are exploring the same issues. Ukrainians are considering their morality and Americans are weighing the extent we should fund and supply the resistance.

Could a new Ukrainian Casablanca awake a sleeping giant?

One of Humphrey Bogart’s famous lines in the film was “I bet they’re asleep in New York – I bet they’re asleep all over America.” This line received a lot of attention in 1943. Casablanca served an important function in waking up Americans, not just to the necessity of international intervention, but to an entire new world in which, tyranny was clearly defined and exposed, but also that the support of resistance would become the accepted norm.

Will a new Ukranian Casablanca be award material?

Due to Casablanca’s timely embrace of the war issues, the film achieved victory in its own war: the Academy Awards war. Out of its eight nominations, Casablanca won Best Picture, best screenplay and best director. This is evidence of how expertly the film played off of the times and was, in fact, instrumental in transforming the time. Humphrey Bogart lost out to Paul Lukas’s performance in Watch for the Best Actor award, but of course it is now Bogart’s performance that is remembered.

In 1977, when the American Film Institute asked its members to select the ten Best American films of all time, Casablanca finished third behind Gone with the Wind and Citizen Kane.

Would a new Ukrainian Casablanca inspire young people?

But what would a new Ukrainian Casablanca’s general effect be on today’s young people?  What did Casablanca have to offer the young people of the 1940s? They eagerly sacrificed to defeat the Nazis and Japanese.

In light of recent events, it is important for us to see how today’s youth are not only attacking the American establishment, but they are in open revolt, and it’s tied to long-held American beliefs of free speech and protest.

The characters of Casablanca, like the young Americans of the 1940s who walked into fields to perhaps sacrifice all, are “real Americans” lost in a unfriendly locale, fighting to open up a new horizon.

Is the city of Odesa exotic enough for a Casablanca story?

Ukrainian Casablanca
Ukrainian Casablanca

The enduring appeal of Casablanca, through the years and up to the present, rests on the melding of various thematic elements: colorful, eccentric characters involved in a risqué love story; an exotic, foreign locale; melodramatic political incidents; tough, cynical and humorous repartee; sentimental, idealistic interludes (virtual speeches); heroic, selfless commitment to a cause, etc.

In these thematic elements we can see many connections to what would become the American current protest movement, including the emphasis on individualism, suggestions of a sexual awakening, the escape offered by drug usage (exotic places), the drama of 2020s politics, a new kind of humor that was critical and smart about American traditions, the simplification of idealism, and the tuning out of the old world. From this perspective, Casablanca’s renewed popularity today becomes perfectly logical. The line “I bet they’re asleep all over America” obviously understood by today’s youth.

Although the film is as racist, sexist, and patriotic as almost any film of the 1940s, it is nevertheless embraced by today’s college students as an expression of their nonconformity. Casablanca’s message to the youth of the 1940s was that there was a secret stamp of approval for rebelliousness, hidden somewhere in American history. Worldwide, young people are looking for another secret stamp of approval.

What does Casablanca actually say?

Ukrainian Casablanca
Ukrainian Casablanca

The language of Casablanca became a part of almost every culture on the planet; the film now has a permanent influence. Many of the great lines in the film still garner applause from audiences. The toughness combined with sentimentality that is the crux of Casablanca’s many great lines, even today informs the oratories of many top American politicians, including recent presidents.

For instance, the famous, famous line “Play it again, Sam” – just in this short phrase, we can see a microcosm of what Casablanca is all about. The film is a meeting point between Ukraine’s search for “Mars” and Ukraine’s “Venus” that is looking fondly to the past but clearly wanting to be part of Europe.

And what can we say of Humphry Bogart’s farewell to Ingrid Bergman: “We’ll always have Paris. The problems of three people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” Sentimental words sure, but they were delivered with the most stern emotion.

Another favorite line was “Round up the usual suspects.” Another was “Here’s looking at you, kid.” The song As Time Goes By also achieved a special place in American culture. The longevity of the film’s popularity can also be traced to its words. People have gone to see Casablanca again and again, and will continue to do so, specifically to hear their favorite lines.

Is a Ukrainian Casablanca really needed?

A new Ukrainian Casablanca will never replace the original, but the current events demand a new film. A new film could inform, unite and inspire us to endure what could be coming from Mr. Putin in the next several years.

Is there a Casablanca script ready to go?

I’m aware of a script written by a retired professor of political science, Alan Nafzger. The screenplay seems to get the job done more than adequately. While is departs from the 1942 film, the basic story structure is there. Rick has been replaced by a former professional soccer player; he’s considering exiting the conflict. Ilsa has been replaced by a Ukrainian supermodel; she’s been separated from her husband and must rely on a man possibly running away from the conflict.

By Aquilino Managbanag (Manila-News-Intelligencer)