Extract from Teacher's Commentary: 

SEQUENCE 1 (DVD Chapters 1/2/3: 6 minutes)
Let the film roll until Major Strasser says “... Mr Rick himself”

The credits roll over a map of Africa. Music reminiscent of Morocco and exotic bazaars plays. As the music credit appears there is a change, and the notes of the French national anthem, the Marseillaise, sound. Music and credits fade after the director’s name (Michael Curtiz) appears. So the film opens with its setting suggested by the map and the music. The action will take place in French-occupied Morocco. The themes of imperialism and conquest have been introduced and will run through the film. Europe has moved into Africa and set up provinces there. The imagery, in the form of the musical score, reinforces this theme; the French anthem has replaced the native African music. The Marseillaise will become an important motif as the story unfolds.

In a fade-out/fade-in the credits finish and we see a globe revolving slowly. An authoritative male voice gives us the time setting for the film - the coming of WWII. We associate the image of the globe and the sound of the voice with the newsreels that used to be part of the experience of going to the cinema in the days before television. Indeed TV news programmes still use this iconography. The documentary footage adds to the sense of historical reality. Europe is “imprisoned”. “The Americas” represent freedom. In fact many of the actors working on this film were European exiles who fled before the march of the Nazis in the 1930s. (The director himself was born in Budapest and had come to the United States before the upheaval of the 1930s.) The dark area on the map shows the extent of Nazi occupation. The northern half of France is in the territory of The Third Reich. Southern France is coloured gray and is governed from Vichy by a regime that collaborates with the Nazis. The brightly coloured areas denote the Allies and neutral or unoccupied territories.

The documentary clips show images of refugees: men, women and children flee before the Nazi onslaught. They cross to Oran and we notice that part of Morocco is denoted as Spanish. When Casablanca is mentioned we see that it is situated in French Morocco. So Europe is being overrun but in its time it has overrun great swathes of the continent of Africa. There is no judgement expressed in the film on this aspect of European imperialism. German expansionism, however, is presented as a sinister development. America lies outside all this conflict in the old Europe.

At the time this film was being made the United States entered the war. American troops landed on the shores of Africa with the Allied forces in 1942. Around the time of the completion of the film a conference involving Roosevelt, Churchill and de Gaulle was held in Casablanca. The film is based on a play which was neverproduced, Everybody Goes To Rick’s. The new title, Casablanca, meant that it was immediately recognised, as the city itself had become an important place in the war effort of the Allies. American national feeling would be roused by a film that would show America coming to the aid of Europe against the threat of totalitarian Fascism. Humphrey Bogart’s character, Rick, can be read as a metaphor for American involvement in WWII - initial isolationism followed by committed involvement.

The camera is lowered into a bazaar. The scene is exotic - a mosque tower and crowds of Africans who throng the streets in their native costumes. The music adds to the strangeness of the setting. As the camera gets to street level, the narrator’s voice repeats the word ‘wait’.

We cut to a police officer who is recognisably European, as he takes an urgent message. He relays this message to all officers and declares it “important”. Two couriers have been murdered on the train from Oran. They were heading for Casablanca. Two letters of transit have been stolen. These letters will drive the action of the film’s major plot. Narrative often works like this - a disruption occurs early on and acts as the engine that propels the story to its final resolution.

Extract from Student's Guide: 


Read the following questions and then let the film roll until Major Strasser says "... Mr Rick himself"

What associations do you have with the type of music that plays as the credits roll? Do you recognise the piece of music that starts up as the last three titles appear? What country might you expect to see on the screen as you hear this tune? How is the musical score being used here?

What do you make of the male voice in the prologue, as we cut to the turning globe? Have you any associations with that kind of voice? ... with that kind of image? How is Europe described? What is associated with “the Americas”? Why did people want to get to Lisbon? Where is Casablanca situated? What is the first image of Casablanca that we see? What aspects of the city are emphasised? 

What is the gist of the ‘important’ notice? How do the details fit with the information we’ve just been given in the prologue? What kind of people are being rounded up? How does the editing contribute to the atmosphere in this scene? How do the police behave?

Why does the man being questioned run away? Can you translate the notice on the wall as he is shot? What symbol is on the piece of paper taken from the man’s hand? In the musical score can you make out the opening notes of the Marseillaise? Can you translate the words on the coat of arms we cut to? Do you know where they come from?

How are we being invited to view the posh British couple? What is the man’s attitude to the local language? What reference is made to Capt. Renault? What advice is given by the man with the cane? What is ironic about that warning?

What kind of expression is on the faces of the crowd of people who stand staring up at the aeroplane? What are these people doing in Casablanca? What has the black haired girl to say to her husband? Whose name appears on the screen as she says, “Perhaps tomorrow we’ll be on the plane!”

How is the German officer, Major Strasser, greeted by his fellow Germans? ... by Capt. Renault? Is there a particular emphasis on any part of his welcome? How does the Italian officer behave? What has Major Strasser to say about the climate? What is he referring to? Why has he come to Casablanca? What has the German officer, Heinze, to say about the murderer of the couriers? Is Capt. Renault helpful? ... efficient? How does the director keep our attention focused on Strasser and Capt. Renault as they walk away from the aeroplane? Whose café is mentioned? Is this the first reference to it in the film?


This mode refers to the world of the text:
- what kind of people live in this world?
- what sense of place is built up and how is this achieved?
- in what period of history is it set (time)?

To re-read the film in this mode you should choose a number of key moments (i.e. scenes or sequences) that feature the world of Casablanca. You need to examine the power structures, attitude and values, rituals and customs of the people who inhabit this world - the ethos of their society. All the action of this film is set in Casablanca. This city is a mirror image of all aspects of the war that engulfs Europe. The globe at the start of the film shows Europe in three shades: the bright shade stands for the Allies and for those countries that remain neutral or are unoccupied by the Nazis; the gray denotes that part of France that is being governed from Vichy, and the dark shade stands for the Nazis, their allies and the territories they have occupied.

* Choose three to five key moments (i.e. scenes or sequences) that highlight features of the world of Casablanca. Examine them by asking yourself what we learn about them under various headings, e.g. structures, values, manners, morals, lifestyle, occupation, attitudes etc.

* Get familiar with the key moments you have chosen by watching them again and answer all the questions in Stage One that relate to the social setting/cultural context in these key moments.

* Consult the notes in your Response Journal for your chosen key moments.

* People
There are several groups of people in Casablanca: the Germans who are presented in an unsympathetic light as brutal aggressors; the refugees from occupied Europe who are trying to flee to the freedom of America to escape the tyranny of The Third Reich; the members of the resistence and, finally, those who take advantage of people in a cynical way, profiting from the misfortune of others. You could look at the people in Rick’s world as being selfish or self-less, as serving themselves or serving a cause. Some people say they are helping others but are really lining their own pockets. Others are doing as much as they can for others. Make a list of the main characters under the headings ‘self-serving’ and ‘serving a cause’. Does anyone cross from one group to the other in the course of the film?
For each key moment ask yourself questions like:
   What kind of people appear in this key moment?
   Who has power in this key moment?
   What is this power based on?
   How is this power used?
   What values do these people see as important?
   How do these people behave towards each other?
   Do all these people act in the same way?
   What quality of life have the people in this world?
   What is the attitude of the people in this world to Rick?
   Would you have respect for these people? Why?

* Place
This film is set in Casablanca. The airport features at the beginning and at the end. Almost all the action of this film takes place in or just outside Rick’s Café Américain. Some of the action takes place in The Blue Parrot and in Capt. Renault’s office. How are these settings presented to us? How are we being invited to view them? Are there differences between the various settings? Have they anything in common?
For each key moment ask yourself questions like:
   What are the main features of this place?
   What goes on here?
   Who has power here?
   What is the atmosphere like here?
   How suitable is this place for what goes on in it?
   How are we being invited to view this world?
   Would you like to live in this kind of a world?

* Time
In the key moments you have chosen what indications are there that this film is set in WWII.

* Imagery   
    How is the mise en scène, costume, camera, lighting, dialogue and editing (Page 29) used to get the world of the film across to us?
   How are we, the film audience, positioned by the camerawork, lighting and sound to view this world?
   Do aspects of the setting act on a symbolic level in this key moment?
   Do any of the props take on a symbolic role in this key moment?
   How is the lighting used in this key moment?

* Repetition
A director may repeat dialogue, actions, camera angles, music etc. for a number of reasons. What examples of repetition can you spot in the key moments you have chosen? Do they form a pattern? What is the director’s purpose in such repetition? What effect has it on our view of the world of the film?