INSTRUCTOR: So let's look at how Casablanca was actually produced after the contract was signed and after the money had been paid and things had been set up. The Hollywood studio system took a script and assigned a number of writers to it. In the course of the writing of Casablanca and the production of the script, one can count at least seven writers who had something to do with it.
And of course, they wrote it in an atmosphere of constant dialogue, constant memos from Hal Wallis, the producer. And it's important, I think, as somebody trying to understand the historical role of a film to realize that, therefore, there is a sense in which the entire film, the script and the message that comes through in the cinematography and everything else, is a kind of collective product. And the attitudes and the moods of people tend to be reflected in the film as it comes out finally and as this film finally ended production at the end of the summer of 1942.
It is still true that much of what Murray Burnett put in the film, in fact, was still there at the end of the film. Much of his script survives-- as I said, about 80% of it. But the film as a collective product of people's attitudes and thinking is an important thing to keep in mind when we talk about what the problems were in making an argument in the film and putting together this argument when production began in June of 1942.
So we're going to look at the film as an argument-- an argument not so much about the nature of romance and the relationship between Rick and Ilsa. That will indeed be something that other people will talk about and have talked about. Let's look about it as an argument for America changing its attitude toward its responsibilities in Europe [INAUDIBLE].
And the problem in writing the script and shaping the film-- indeed, that was most important in this-- is Vichy France. What was Vichy France? How do we understand the relationship between Vichy France and the German soldiers who are there and Major Strasser's powers in the play?
France had been defeated militarily in June of 1940-- in May and June, actually, of 1940-- by the German armies. They signed an armistice. That armistice provided for a supposedly independent government in Southeastern France. It called itself the French state, but we all refer to it by the location of its headquarters in the town of Vichy, which was also, of course, a town that produced mineral water that people liked to drink, and that therefore, became a kind of symbol of the town. And Vichy also became a symbol of the entire regime.
Now, this regime became increasingly collaborationist. It was anti-Semitic, and it became increasingly anti-Semitic. It even had its own ideas on what to do about the Jews. It also was a dictatorial regime, and it was one that was, in fact, happy to collaborate with Hitler. It was headed by Marshal Pétain, hero from World War I, a man who was also indifferent to the needs of a democratic regime and had his own ideas of what he wanted to do with the Vichy regime.
The military head of the government, especially the man who ruled the French overseas territories militarily, was Marshal Pétain. If you were in Casablanca, then, in any time from June of 1940 up to the simmer of 1942, you were in a situation where, in fact, a supposedly independent regime was giving the orders which were supposedly coming from Vichy, in fact. And your policemen wore French uniforms, and you were French. But in fact, it was clear that German soldiers, and especially German policemen and German police operations and the Gestapo, could operate freely and had tremendous power.
This power, then, also would be even more increased when, in fact, the Germans occupied all of Vichy France. Their troops marched into these semi-independent territories in Southeastern France later on in November of 1942 right after the Americans landed in North Africa and in Casablanca.
- Very good to see you again, Major Strasser
- Thank you. Thank you.
- May I present Captain Renault, police prefect of Casablanca. Major Strasser.
- Unoccupied France welcomes you to Casablanca.
- Thank you, Captain. It's very good to be here.
INSTRUCTOR: Vichy, then, was officially a neutral country. America had to figure out what to do about that, and they appointed an ambassador and treated Vichy in a very special way, tried to take advantage of this distance that Vichy officially had, in fact, from Germany. They also tried to work with this and increase this distance.
So the Vichy had-- so that, in fact, the administration had a delicate situation with regard to Vichy France. And it would later prove to be indeed a very complex situation. At the same time, this film was set in part of Vichy France, as you know. And that was something that influenced, indeed, the production of it, and influenced some of the development of the script as well.
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Casablanca, released in 1942 by Warner Brothers, has for generations been listed as America's favorite movie, and certainly ranks as one of the most romantic movies of all time, few viewers know much about its role in breaking Americans out of their isolationist indifference to the Nazi threat. Even fewer realize that the film had its origins in the imagination and experience of a Cornellian, Murray Burnett.
This study room examines in detail how
Casablanca became a powerful argument for commitment to the anti-Nazi cause, concluding with a tribute to other ways that Cornellians helped to win the Second World War.
This video 4 of 6 in The Casablanca Connection series.