Deconstructing Cinema's Greatest Scene

The movie Casablanca was released in 1942, while war was raging in Europe and the US had just joined the fray. The complicated plot follows characters from all over the world stuck in the Moroccan port city for one reason or another, all with different motivations and schemes for getting what they want. The movie doesn't waste any words or closeups. You can watch Casablanca many times over and find something new in the film. But the most powerful of many powerful scenes is the singalong in Rick's Cafe Americain, featuring “La Marseillaise.”  

The power of this scene is helped, of course, by the indisputable fact that “La Marseillaise” is an incredible national anthem. While I’m by no means an expert, it’s the best one I’ve ever heard from any country, and its association in my mind with this scene is highly likely to always keep it there. But the scene is also helped by the people in it. The main actors are at their finest here, and I already mentioned how supporting actors gave great little tidbits in the German soldier part.

Yet perhaps the greatest thing in this scene is that most of the people in it weren’t actors at all; rather, director Michael Curtiz filled the scene with actual French refugees. Keep in mind, this movie came out in 1942 and was filmed at the height of World War II, at a time when Germany looked nearly unbeatable and Nazi occupation of France was indefinite. And here was a group of refugees from that occupation, given the chance to sing their anthem with defiant pride. For one brief moment, this wasn’t a movie. It was real life, and it was tragic, and it was brave. Reports have said that extras were crying on set during filming, and the passion is evident any time you look past the main actors to the background singers.

David Youngblood picks apart every character in the scene and how their emotions change in less than two minutes, and how the incident steers the film in a new direction. Oh yeah, the video is there, too, so bring a hankie.  -via Metafilter


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