Questions About CASABLANCA

Posted: October 28, 2011 in Uncategorized
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A Remake Chronicles Extra by Adam-Troy Castro

Why are the Nazis so stymied by this freedom fighter who walks around unmolested in this city whose police captain they believe they have in their pocket? Wh…y don’t they simply have a guy ambush him with a hood over his head or a bullet through his brain, then claim ignorance? Are they really that concerned with the letter of the law? Seen from the other side, why is Victor putting such weight on the letters of transit (signed, I note, by a guy who’s not in power)? Does THIS following scenario make sense?

MAJOR STRASSER: (Sneering) I have you now, Lazlo.

LAZLO: No, you don’t. Here are my letters of transit.

MAJOR STRASSER: (Reads the documents, his crest falling) They’re in order. May I validate your parking?

Assuming an authority that trumps Renault and the Nazis, why would these particular letters of transit still be valid when EVERYBODY OPENLY KNOWS that they were carried by couriers who have been murdered and that anybody in subsequent possession of them got them illegally?
And then there’s this: when Rick, Victor and Lazlo get to the airport to meet that plane, it ALL becomes a matter of Rick pulling a gun on Renault at the right moment; but EVEN BEFORE THEN, they meet no authority at the airport who EVEN ASKS FOR THEM. You could argue that the proper place to produce these hypothetical documents is at the destination, but that makes even *less* sense, since no foreign government would be under **any obligation whatsoever** to give a shit about them.

The letters of Transit are so clearly treated as the fascist equivalent of Superman’s kryptonite — i.e., once Victor and Ilsa get them, there is nothing the Nazis can do to stand in their way — that it is possible to point out the ludicrousness of the conceit by imagining an alternate scenario where Rick harbors Ilsa no bad feelings at all.

STRASSER: I need those letters of transit. Victor Lazlo must stay in Casablanca.

LAZLO: I must leave Casablanca to continue my great work.

RICK: (Choosing between them) You know, Victor, I like you more than I like this putz over here. Here, I just happen to have some letters of transit on me. Take them.

LAZLO: (Surprised) Oh, thank you. (Tugs on Strasser’s nose) Boop. (Runs with Ilsa to taxi stand)

STRASSER: (Sputtering) Foiled again!

There is, finally — though this can be hand-waved away — the question, just who is this freedom fighter Lazlo, whose “great work” will be just as influential in exile? Will he be raising money, writing fiery articles, or leaving Ilsa behind again, to return to occupy territories? This is never explained, but one thing’s for sure. If it’s the last option, he might want to think twice before taking more breaks from his crusade to get dressed to the nines and hang out in casino nightclubs.

None of that matters, of course. The movie’s still great. But I am wondering.

  1. I am reminded of Alfred Hitchcock’s response when asked about a story point in NORTH BY NORTHWEST. How, the questioner wanted to know, did the bad guys know on which train to place Eva Marie Saint to intercept Cary Grant? How could they have known in advance which train he would take? Hitchcock’s reply: “Don’t be droll, dear boy.”

    Some stories require airtight narrative logic, while others do not. An airy adventure yarn like NORTH BY NORTHWEST or a romantic suspense tale like CASABLANCA is often based largely on a kind of narrative sleight of hand. Like a good magician, the story gets you to look over here so that you don’t notice the monkey business going on over there. And if the misdirection is effective, if the story carries you along and engages your interest sufficiently to divert you from noticing the gaps and logical absurdities, then it has done its job. One can, of course, go back later and pick it all apart, but, as you point out, it doesn’t really matter, any more than a good magic act is diminished by pointing out afterward that the magician actually slipped the balls under the cups when you weren’t looking.

  2. NORTH BY NORTHWEST is a prime example, because it makes no sense at all. (Seriously? Your big plan for killing the hero is to lure him out to a rural crossroads and attack him with CROP DUSTER? Why not just pull up in a car and SHOOT HIM?)

    And CITIZEN KANE depends on a narrative error so glaring that Orson Welles once thundered at a questioner, “Don’t ever mention that again.” (Kane is alone when he dies muttering “Rosebud.” The rest of the movie depends on investigating what the word means. How does anybody know what he said?)

    It is good is everything hangs together, but if the story is emotionally true, much of the time any logical flaws go unnoticed.

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