Casablanca

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For all its banality, “As Time Goes By” was the perfect theme song for Casablanca, a movie rife with Hollywood clichés. Some have suggested that the reason for its enduring hold on audiences is the warm familiarity of its plot and characters from previous films. The late Lincoln Kirstein put it this way: “Two clichés make us laugh but a hundred clichés move us because we sense dimly that the clichés are talking among themselves, celebrating a reunion.”

Perhaps. But there is another kind of reunion taking place in Casablanca that has gone largely unnoticed. It is the reunion of actors displaced by the Second World War. This was perhaps the most distinguished supporting cast ever assembled, and most were in Hollywood because of the upheaval of the war. Not only Paul Henreid, Conrad Veidt, Marcel Dalio, and Madeleine LeBeau but also Peter Lorre, Helmut Dantine, S. Z. Sakall, Ludwig Stossel, Curt Bois, and Ilka Gruning had fled their homelands to escape the Nazis.

Their presence in Casablanca was a subliminal reminder that the war was real even if Rick’s Café Américain was not.