Classic Scene: La Marseillaise
by Michael Curtiz in 1942
The Scene: The visiting Nazi party decides to celebrate at Rick’s club, by starting a chorus of Die Wacht am Rhein much to the chagrin of everybody around them. Having had enough of it, freedom fighter Victor Laszlo starts up the band and with Rick’s approving nod they begin to play the French national anthem La Marseillaise. Soon all of the refugees from the Nazi’s war on Europe begin to sing along drowing out the Nazi officers who eventually are forced to give up.
Deconstruction: It was 1942 and the German war machine was busy plowing through the European landscape, leaving thousands of refugees in it’s wake. In order to escape the madness man of these displaced people immigrated to the United States to restart their lives; many of them having had success in their respective native land’s film industry make it to Hollywood. During the making of the film Casablanca, the filmmakers aimed to make the setting feel as real as possible so they cast many of these immigrants as extra to fill out the world of the film with people who were actually seeking refuge from the war playing people in the same situation. This scene takes place at the height of tension in this neutral city between, idealistic crusader Victor Laszlo and the Nazis who are trying to keep him from ever leaving the city. In what they believe to be a moment of relaxation, the German officers sing a round of one of their more patriotic songs; because when you’re used to going unopposed you can do stuff like that.
Laszlo’s musical rebuttal against them, proves to the viewer as well as the neutral and world weary Rick the importance the man holds to the morale of the Allies. Because he is barely in this particular scene; make no mistake it is all about Rick. With just a single approving nod, the jaded American club owner proves his allegiance to a cause he has spent the entire movie denying. No matter what I type here it can not fully express the power of this simple moment in film history; because those who sing along with Laszlo are actors who are truly singing with every bit of passion they can muster, not just as the character that they’re playing but as people who have truly experienced the worst the war could throw at them at yet they persevere on.
Best Bit: The minor character, Yvonne is featured prominently in this scene. She was played by Madeleine LeBeau, a famed French actress in real life who was forced to flee to the US with her Jewish husband.