The Best Scene In Movie History Is Rooted In Reality, And We Need It Now More Than Ever
Of course this is subjective: several scenes in Porky's also come to mind. But I've always called the La Marseillaises scene in Casablanca the best of all time, and many agree. It's tense and dangerous in a way no conventional shootout or car chase could ever hope to be, and establishes too many plot points to count.
But on a day in which Paris is so besieged in the wake of apparent terrorist attacks, it might be good to hit play there below a couple of times.
Of course this scene is important because it also leads to possibly the greatest line in movie history. When Victor Lazslo leads the orchestra in playing the French National Anthem, in a full-scale battle of the bands with Colonel Strasser and his Nazi entourage, it results in Strasser closing down Rick's cafe for the night. So when Captain Renault breaks the news to Rick, we get:
The French often get a bad rap here in the U.S., especially among conservatives, who stereotype them as weak and prone to surrender. But the French have been through shit that we can only imagine here. Casablanca was filmed during World War II, just at the beginning of U.S. participation in the war and at a point when the outcome was far from determined. It was also during the German occupation of France, where simply being a patriot could get you arrested or killed.
The scene above is imbued with strength and defiance, and one reason is that few involved were acting. Most of the extras, and some principals, were actual European refugees who had escaped the Nazis. Madeleine Lebeau, who played Yvonne (face shown in closeup as the anthem played), was crying as she sang, even though the script didn't call for tears. In real life she had escaped France just before the film was made, and was forced to leave her parents behind in a concentration camp.
Many think of Casablanca as based on the relationship between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, but I've always seen it as the love story between freedom and the human race. And so I think of it now, a movie made in America and set in Morocco, but showing better than any other France's defiant harmony of spirit and ideal.
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