80 years later, Casablanca relevant and reassuring

Newt Gingrich
Conservative Opinion

Newt Gingrich

Former House Speaker; Chairman of Gingrich 360
Archive |

As tensions rise around the world, a cinematic classic provides much-needed comfort and inspiration just as it did back in the 1940s. Casablanca premiered 80 years ago, in the midst of World War II. Humphrey Bogart plays a cynical expatriate who’d been jilted by a woman he loved in Paris, played by Ingrid Bergman. When she shows up with her husband, a resistance leader, Bogart’s Rick Blaine makes the difficult decision to help the couple escape Europe.

Toward the end of the film, as Bogart says goodbye to Bergman, he tells her they must sacrifice to win the great conflict with the Nazis.

It captured almost precisely what the American people wanted to be reassured about in 1942: that they were gonna fight. They were gonna win. They were on the right side, and that it was worth every sacrifice to defeat the Nazis. And the truth is knowing, what we now know about how evil Hitler was, how evil the Nazis were, how evil the Holocaust was, how many millions of people were ruthlessly put to death: It was a war. It was a war worth fighting.

It was in every respect, a good war between civilization and evil. And luckily, civilization won. It’s not a bad reminder at a time when we are once again faced with real challenges.

When we have dictators on the march, we have the democracies confused and we have an American leader who doesn’t know what he’s doing. 

The fact is that we were very fortunate at a key moment in American history. We rallied to the cause, we got the job done, and I’m an optimist. If we have to, we’ll get the job done again. 

As we all continue to monitor the situation with Russia and Ukraine, it’s nice to know we can always escape to the movies.

At the time when we’re all worried about the Russian threats to Ukraine, the Chinese communist threats to Taiwan, the confusion of the Biden administration, the announcement that we may send 8,500 troops in Eastern Europe. The world’s probably not on the edge of a giant war, but it certainly has the potential if totally mismanaged to drift into a conflict of enormous scale.

And it reminded me that this is the 80th anniversary of the opening of Casablanca. Casablanca is in many ways the archetype movie of World War II, it was really shot because Warner Brothers had a lot of extra space, in terms of the contracts with their actors. They brought together a very interesting group, really led by Humphrey Bogart, and by Ingrid Bergman who was gorgeous in the movie.  It also had in its cast a tremendous number of refugees from Europe.

In fact there’s a famous scene where they sing the MarseillaiseThis is the French national anthem, and people are crying because it turned out that they were actually refugees from France. So they really were feeling this. 

The heart of the movie is an effort to leave Europe, to escape the Nazis to go to America. And you had to go through Casablanca to get the airplane to Lisbon, Portugal, where you could get the plane to the United States. 

The essence of it is that in a very cynical kind of role, you have Humphrey Bogart playing a man who used to be an idealist, who’d fought in the Spanish civil war on the side of the Republic, which was the idealists side in that era, who had fought in Ethiopia on the losing side against the Italians, and who had sort of given up on idealism, had become an embittered cynic in part because he felt he’d been jilted by the girl he loved in Paris, played by Ingrid Bergman. She and her husband show up and they desperately need to get to Lisbon to go on to America. Her husband played by Paul Henreid is the very influential resistance leader that the Nazis want to capture or kill. 

And as they go through all this with one of the most famous scenes being the song As Time Goes By, which is a recurring theme of the movie… that you’ll always, you know, a kiss is just a kiss, but love is like this, and you’ll always have each other. 

It’s a very poignant film. It’s a film that captures how bad the Nazis were. It captures how confused the Italians and the French were. It captures the desperation of the refugees. 

And in the middle of all this, you have the personal story of the woman who really loves Bogart, but felt that she had to do her duty.  She thought her husband was dead because he was in a Nazi concentration camp. He escaped. And when he escaped, she felt her duty was to help him as a resistance leader. She gets convinced that in fact, she should stay with Bogart who she’s really in love with, but Bogart who has reverted to this romantic figure, the guy who had fought for the good guys, puts her on the airplane with her husband and has this very poignant scene where he says, look, there are huge things going on in the world. We’re just two little people. And we have to recognize that we have to sacrifice to win this great conflict with the Nazis.

It sounds hokey until you see it, then you realize it’s a remarkable film, a great romance story, and a very historic story.

It captured almost precisely what the American people wanted to be reassured about in 1942, that they were gonna fight. They were gonna win. They were on the right side, and that it was worth every sacrifice to defeat the Nazis. And the truth is knowing what we now know about how evil Hitler was, how evil the Nazis were, how evil the Holocaust was, how many millions of people were ruthlessly put to death.  It was a war. It was a war worth fighting.

It was in every respect, a good war between civilization and evil. And luckily, civilization won. It’s not a bad reminder at a time when we are once again faced with real challenges.

When we have dictators on the march, we have the democracies confused and we have an American leader who doesn’t know what he’s doing. 

The fact is that we were very fortunate at a key moment in American history. We rallied to the cause we got the job done, and I’m an optimist. If we have to, we’ll get the job done again. 

But it is a reminder that it changed lives, that it was a historic event, and that Casablanca, which is just a remarkable film. The music, the people, the locations, the Warner Brothers did a great job of putting something together, which 80 years later is still a classic and still worth your seeing.

 


Get unbiased straight facts, context, and perspective!