Film writers often express bewilderment when faced with Casablanca's enduring appeal or, more specifically, with their own slightly embarrassed affection for the old Warner Brothers relic. "Some undefinable quality in Casablanca seems to make it better with each viewing," write Don Whitemore and Philip Alan Cecchettini in their essay on Michael Curtiz, the prolific director of Casablanca, while Harvey Greenberg calls his essay on the film "If It's So Schmaltzy, Why Am I Weeping?" In his famous gloss on the film, Andrew Sarris throws up his hands and calls it an "accident," singling out the work of "lightly likable" Curtiz as "the most decisive exception" to his auteur theory. Richard Schickel is probably not alone in declaring Casablanca to be his favorite film, even though acknowledging its limitations as "a somewhat better-than-average example of what the American studio system could do when it was at its most stable and powerful."
Even the film's cult status is problematic. Casablanca reached the full flowering of its culthood only in the 1960s when Harvard students regularly attended Humphrey Bogart film festivals during finals week.  More than a decade before The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Casablanca initiates would shout "The Germans wore gray; you wore blue" and "Is that cannon fire, or is it my heart pounding?" along with the projected images of Rick (Bogart) and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman). Casablanca needed twenty years to become a cult item, perhaps because it did not take the usual route to that status. The film's success within the industry -- it won the 1943 Academy Award for best picture -- was helped in no small part by the Allied invasion of North Africa, which preceded the film's initial release by a few days, and the meeting of Roosevelt and Churchill in Casablanca, which took place during the film's national release. Later, more "conventional" cult films like Rocky Horror, Pink Flamingos, and Eraserhead had much less auspicious beginnings. How can a popular wartime melodrama, promoted initially as home-front propaganda, continue to find such devoted audiences?
For Umberto Eco, the key to Casablanca is its "glorious incoherence, " producing enough contradictory material to support new meanings for each new audience. Not only does Casablanca contain several archetypal situations, writes Eco:
"When all the archetypes burst in shamelessly, we reach Homeric depths. Two cliches make us laugh, but a hundred cliches move us because we sense dimly that the cliches are talking among themselves and celebrating a reunion." 
If Eco had watched more products of the American studio system, he might have observed that, from the beginning, Hollywood films have constituted a never-ending reunion of archetypes. We suspect that the film's appeal has more to do with its ability to tap into the unconscious concerns that regularly drive audiences to the movies. Psychoanalytic theory provides the royal road to understanding the American cinema, especially the films of the "classical" period that began with the acceptance of sound films around 1930 and culminated at about the time that Casablanca was made in 1942. But since psychoanalysis has in the last two decades ceased to be a monolithic method for film scholars, we have adopted a pluralist approach, deploying a range of psychoanalytically based methodologies around Casablanca. We share the view that "a psychoanalytic reflection on any phenomenon is incisive to the extent that it employs more than one dimension." The "star" performances of Bogart and Bergman, the music of Max Steiner, the romantic tensions of the narrative, even the film's handling of American politics can be approached through psychoanalytic thought. We are as interested in illustrating the heterogeneity of psychoanalytic film theory as we are in offering a thorough reading of Casablanca.
Oedipus in North Africa
A wealth of Oedipal material awaits anyone wishing to interpret the film along classical Freudian lines. Like Sophocles's Oedipus, Rick Blaine is an outcast from his home country. At least in the fantasies of Capt. Renault, Rick may have fled because he killed a man. In fact, as Greenberg has observed, Renault's speculations have a great deal of Oedipal resonance. Because Rick will not divulge the real reasons that brought him to Casablanca, Renault wonders if Rick absconded with the sacred money of the church or if he ran off with a senator' s wife. Renault says that the romantic in him would like to believe that Rick took a man's life. Rick's response that he left America because of a combination of all three can be read as more than a glib piece of verbal sparring. Greenberg suggests that the sacrosanct stolen treasure [is] the wife of a preeminent older man; her husband is the one murdered -- and by the love thief. Thus, the essence of the "combination" of offenses is the child's original desire to kill his father and possess his mother. In Casablanca's one flashback, Rick's Parisian interlude with Ilsa can be understood as the realization of this desire to possess: the blissful union with an all-good, nurturing woman completely unattached (at least in Rick's mind) to a threatening paternal figure.
We doubt that any other actress could have fulfilled this role quite as completely as Bergman, whose screen image projects the most desirable qualities of mother and lover. Whenever Curtiz's camera closes tightly on her face, she appears to be as innocent and nurturing as she is sensual and compliant. Rick was not the only one who responded to Bergman's face in this manner: The American media worked itself into a frenzy in 1949 when Bergman bore a child out of wedlock to Roberto Rossellini, after years of being portrayed in the press as the ideal wife and mother, Bergman so thoroughly flouted American mythology that she was denounced on the floor of the U.S. Senate, and a legislator in the Maryland state senate introduced a bill to condemn Stromboli, Bergman's first film with Rossellini.
Rick's flashback at first depicts a dream-like paradise of prewar, pre-Oedipal Paris, where he toasts Ilsa amid romantic settings. The lovers create a dyed that comes to its inevitable end with the arrival of Nazi armies, a nightmare image of the jealous, castrating father. Ilsa, as nurturing mother, has even warned Rick that the Nazis will take special pains to look for him. Later on, in Casablanca, Rick enters a more advanced stage of Oedipal development when he comes face to face with Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). Although some viewers may consider Henreid's Laszlo something of a cold fish, there is no question that the intellectual/freedom-fighter manages to be more heroic, virtuous, understanding, and forgiving than the most idealized hero of romantic fiction. Laszlo's entrance presents Rick with a typical conflict of the Oedipal-phase male child. Does he challenge and attempt to replace his rival, or does he renounce the forbidden object of his love and identify with his father?
Unlike Oedipus, whose entire, undisplaced story has never really been taken up by Hollywood, Rick negotiates the Oedipal phase with success. He renounces his incestuous object of desire and identifies with father/Laszlo, Ilsa's original mate whose place Rick could usurp only temporarily. When he guns down the evil Nazi Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt), Rick kiss the principal enemy of his father surrogate, thereby becoming a man himself. Alternately, we might also regard the killing of Strasser as the displacement of Rick's Oedipal rage onto a less stigmatizing individual, but one who is nevertheless associated with the pre-Oedipal disruption brought about when the Nazis entered Paris. Like Ernest Jones's Hamlet, Rick is an indecisive, passive individual until he renounces mother, identifies with father, and kiss the villain. In terms of the film's political/Oedipal nexus, Rick's decision to fight the Nazis corresponds with his realization that the paradise he has lost was an illusion sustained only by a refusal to acknowledge the existence of father. Casablanca resembles most Hollywood films of the classical period in its highly involving combination of myth and politics with melodrama.
Another aspect of Rick's dilemma is that the man he wishes to replace is a figure of unimpeachable integrity and virtue, thus complicating his efforts to integrate his positive regard for Laszlo with his murderous wishes toward him. Similarly, it is difficult for Rick to view this forgiving and saintly leader of the resistance as a castrating, punitive father who will retaliate against Rick for his lustful yearning toward llsa. Because of Rick's difficulty in integrating these representations of himself and Laszlo, he appears to regress from the task of integration that accompanies the Oedipal phase. The result is a splitting of the father figure into the benevolent Laszlo on the one hand and the sadistic Major Strasser on the other. Even the ultimate identification with Laszlo at the end of the film comes at the expense of his murdering the disavowed and split-off "bad" aspects of the internalized father. One could argue, then, that resolution of the Oedipal conflict is only partial since a true integration of "good" and "bad" aspects of the father has not been achieved.
"Here's Looking. . ."
These classically psychoanalytic readings of Casablanca are not typical of the theoretically oriented writing that currently fills most academic film journals. By isolating the characters as case histories, this application of Freudian theory casts the viewer in the role of ideal analyst, completely free from any countertransferential reaction to the images on the screen. As Shoshana Felman has observed, the actual experience of text puts the reader/viewer in the dual position of analyst and analysand, attempting to take charge of the story at the same time that the story takes charge of its consumer. The Lacanian- inflected psychoanalysis that has dominated film theory in the academy for several years now is usually presented as the alternative to a classically Freudian film criticism. Too often in the lacanalysis of films, however, will-of-the-wisp theoretical positions are read back into films with such iron rigidity that some of the most salient aspects of a film are entirely overlooked. As Kaplan argues, we must hold applied psychoanalysis to the same conceptual standards as clinical psychoanalysis. Most notably, Lacanians tend to ignore the specificity of actors: Bogart and Bergman, for example, are almost texts unto themselves, and any thorough reading of Casablanca must account for how their star qualities, their histories, and the meanings encoded in their cinematic images transform the films in which they appear. We undertake a Lacanian reading of Casablanca to illustrate one of several possibilities in the application of psychoanalysis to the Hollywood cinema.
A major similarity between lacanalysis and classical psychoanalysis is an attention to Oedipal triangles. Raymond Bellour, especially eminent among Lacanian theorists, has suggested that the Oedipus story is the masterplot of all Hollywood narratives. A Lacanian reading of Casablanca would focus not so much on the dynamics among the characters but on how the viewer is constructed within a larger discursive field that positions the viewer in a circuit of looks.
Richard Corliss has suggested that "Rick's famous toast--`Here's looking at you, kid'--can be read as meaning, `Here's trying to look into your soul, kid, to figure out who you really are.'" A Lacanian would have no difficulty conceptualizing the remark somewhat differently, in terms of how the viewer is positioned through Rick, its surrogate. So long as the audience is in control of the gaze, looking at Ilsa but also at everyone else, it need not acknowledge the range of differences that the classical realist text works so hard to conceal. The possibility that someone or something may be looking at Rick raises the possibility of difference and the possibilities of castration that marks the entry of the subject into the symbolic register. As long as the viewer controls the look, it can safely remain in the imaginary register where there is no difference between itself and mother.
Significantly, when Rick's looking toast is interrupted in the flashback by Gestapo loudspeakers, Sam (Dooley Wilson) warns him that the Germans will soon be in Paris, "and they'll come lookin' for ye." The invading Nazis represent not only the castrating father but the castrating gaze of the Other as well. The coincidence of the Nazis' arrival with the baffling disappearance of Ilsa leaves Rick as an object in someone else's plot, his previously omniscent gaze reduced to a limited point of view. Similarly, the Oedipal trajectory that leads Rick to the reconciliation with Laszlo and the elimination of Strasser restores him to a sense of origin and identity offered by the father. Rick surrenders Ilsa to Laszlo only after he has completely regained control over the narrative, writing a script to which he holds the only copy. As a result, he has regained the right to utter the looking toast once again. His newly found father, unjealous and supportive to a fault, then tells him, "This time I know our side will win."
". . . at You, Kid"
Beginning in 1975 with the publication of Laura Mulvey's extraordinarily influential essay, "Visual Pleasure and the Narrative Cinema," Lacan' s theses on the look and castration have been central to feminist film theory. According to Mulvey and the many writers who have followed in her wake, the patriarchal order of the Hollywood cinema provides two basic solutions to the fear activated in men by women' s implied threat of castration: Either the woman's lack is part of her punishment for some wrongdoing, usually sexual transgression, or she is fetishized so that a portion of her body (breasts, hair, face, legs, bottom, even the entire body) becomes important enough to compensate for the lack of a penis. Male viewers can then derive voyeuristic pleasure from a cinema that provides fetishized images of women to exorcise male castration anxiety. The most commonly cited example here is Busby Berkeley, who directed all those production numbers of Warner Brothers musicals in which entire armies of women are fetishized, their body parts reduced to geometric patterns.
The plot of Casablanca consistently emphasizes the sufferings of Ilsa, carefully placing the burden of transgression on her more than on the two male leads. Both Rick and Laszlo have loved her unselfishly, but she has been unfaithful to both. Although the film finds narrative means for repressing her guilt, justifying her conduct in terms of a legitimate romantic dilemma, there is no question that she has deceived Laszlo through her silences as much as she has deceived Rick by concealing her marriage to Laszlo. As Greenberg has observed, there is little sense in the Laszlos' decision to keep their marriage a secret in order to protect Ilsa from the Gestapo. It would be just as logical for the Germans to interrogate a lover as a wife, perhaps even more logical. Ilsa has no real justification for not telling Rick of her marriage, just as she has no sound reason for concealing her affair with Rick from the infinitely forgiving Laszlo.
Significantly, Ilsa's sins are those of omission rather than commission, resulting from the absence of voice rather than from too much. Kaja Silverman has extended Mulvey's work on the role of women in the visual register of the cinema to a study of woman's cinematic voice. Classical cinema does not stop at confining women to an inferior function in which a male-driven diegesis stops so that the woman may be exhibited. In addition, the voice of a woman is seldom given the powerful position of voice-over narration. With rare and problematic exceptions such as Hitchcock's Rebecca, extradiegetic voiceover is inevitably male in Hollywood films, including Casablanca with its voice-of-god newsreel voice in the prologue. The subordination of women in patriarchal cinema has even been extended to situations in which heroines are quite literally deprived of voice, the most often cited example being Johnny Belinda. Appropriately, at the end of Casablanca, Ilsa has very little to say to either Rick or Laszlo, her lying silences giving way to a continuing renunciation of voice after the crucial love scene "up a flight" in which she asks Rick to do the thinking--and speaking- -for both of them.
The film's sadistic treatment of Ilsa takes a substantial toll in tears, often revealed in tight closeups of her fetishized face. The almost kittenish sexuality of Ingrid Bergman's face, combined with her country-girl wholesomeness, provides the male viewer I with an object of aesthetic perfection sufficient to ward off the thought of castration. Significantly, the first Mt. Rushmore closeup of Bergman in Casablanca takes place as she listens, lost in thought, to Sam playing "As Time Goes By." Mulvey points out that musicals are typical of the patriarchal order of classical cinema in their careful separation of performance numbers--often featuring scantily clad females--from the diegesis so that the viewer can divert all his attention to contemplating the female body. There is always a risk in interrupting the diegesis, however, because the involving flow of the story effectively stops. Mulvey mentions the "buddy movie," in which the eroticized display of women is entirely eliminated, as one solution to this problem. The long closeup of Bergman's face as she listens to the music is perhaps an even better solution, integrating a moment of fetishized display into a diegetic sequence that prepares us for the climactic reunion of Rick and Ilsa.
"Moonlight and Love Songs Never Out of Date"
Until recently, little work had been done on the importance of background music in classical cinema. Claudia Gorbman is one of a handful of critics who have productively brought psychoanalytic theories of music into film study. She cites a number of Lacanian writers who have associated music with a pre-Oedipal stage in which the child lives in a "sonorous envelope" dominated by the pleasingly rhythmic sound of the mother's heart, and later by the soothing, musical sound of her voice. By promoting "benign regression" to the blissful time before the child senses that it is separate from the mother, movie music "invokes the (auditory) imaginary. " Furthermore, music is free from linguistic signification and other kinds of representation, and thus it can more easily bypass defense systems and penetrate to the unconscious. Gorbman accepts the arguments of Metz and others that dominant cinema attempts to erase the signs of its workings by casting the viewer as the subject rather than the object of the film' s enunciation. "Music greases the wheels of cinematic pleasure by easing the spectator's passage into subjectivity."
Although she does not dwell on Casablanca, Gorbman devotes an entire chapter to the work of Max Steiner, the prolific composer who scored Casablanca, in order to illustrate "classical Hollywood practice."  After establishing a set of principles for the use of music in Hollywood films (invisibility, "inaudibility," signifier of emotion, narrative cuing, continuity, unity, and the legitimate violation of any principle at the service of another), Gorbman undertakes a discussion of "the epic feeling" of music that is especially relevant to the appeal of Casablanca. Remarking on the anthropological analysis of musical elements in rituals that bind together human communities, she notes how music in classical cinema can be put to use for the pleasureful creation of the sense of commonality. The most obvious example of this phenomenon occurs diegetically in Casablanca when Laszlo leads the non-German patrons of Rick's Cafe Americain in a performance of "La Marseillaise," eliciting patriotic tears even from the sexually collaborationist Yvonne (Madeleine Le Beau). The extradiegetic music in Casablanca is carefully constructed to elicit appropriate emotions from the audience, usually the same emotions that the film attributes to Rick. The most striking example is the string orchestra voicing of "As Time Goes By" that is superimposed on Sam's diegetic piano after Rick insists on hearing the song. Steiner's music intrudes "inaudibly" at this crucial moment in order to seal us into Rick's -- and the film's--imaginary, the pre-Oedipal scenes in Paris before the arrival of the Germans and the departure of Ilsa.
Citing an example from Steiner's score for Curtiz's Mildred Pierce, Gorbman has written, "the appropriate music will elevate the story of a man to the story of Man." Much the same can be said for the long closeup of Bergman as she listens to "As Time Goes By." With Ilsa's face providing additional validation, Sam's interpretation of the lyrics elevates a love song to a song about Love. Surprisingly, the song was almost excised from the film. "As Time Goes By" was written by Herman Hupfeld and first performed in 1931 in a Broadway show called Everybody's Welcome. The song is central in the unproduced play on which the script for Casablanca is based. When shooting was completed and an edited print of the film was presented to Steiner, he objected to the use of "As Time Goes By" and asked to substitute a song of his own composition. Steiner said that he disliked the song, but he also knew that he would surely benefit from the royalty checks if his own song became popular. At first, producer Hal Wallis consented to cut the scene in which Bergman requests "As Time Goes By" by name and to shoot additional scenes in which Steiner's song would be used. But since Ingrid Bergman had by this time received a rather severe haircut for her role in For Whom the Bell Tolls, Wallis realized that a new scene with Bergman and Wilson was out of the question. Steiner subsequently learned that he would have to work with the original scene and hence with "As Time Goes By."
It is as difficult to imagine Casablanca without "As Time Goes By" as it is to imagine the film with Ronald Reagan, Ann Sheridan, and Dennis Morgan, the leads who were originally projected for the film.  In its day, the film gained an element of nostalgic power by using a well-known song. Many in the audience may have associated a romantic experience of their own with the music, thus adding an additional level of audience subjectivity to Ilsa's, and later Rick' s, reaction to the song. For a moment, Ilsa and the viewer return to an earlier time, but the audience has the larger-than-life face of an idealized maternal figure to facilitate regression to a moment even more pleasant than the one recalled by the heroine. Although more contemporary audiences are likely to associate the song with the same era as the film, the music is still crucial in associating the experience of the film with a simpler, more romantic era to which the viewer can bliss fully return.
The Death of the Author/Father
One of the consequences of feminist film theory's ascendancy is an undermining of "la politique d'auteur" that recently observed its twenty-fifth anniversary in American film criticism. The auteur theory of cinema--which identifies the director as the true author of a film--can be understood as a means of "centering" the reading of a film around a single artistic vision, giving movies the same aesthetic legitimacy as, for example, a symphony of Beethoven or a painting of Van Gogh. In this sense, auteurism helped clear room in the academy for film study, bringing with it an aesthetics and a canonical list of director/ authors. By characterizing classical cinema as fundamentally a transmitter of the dominant (patriarchal) ideology, feminist theory has "decentered" film study, granting less importance to the director' s vision. One of the more intriguing developments in recent feminist criticism involves postauteurist approaches to male directors, such as Tania Modleski's study of Hitchcock, as well as to female directors, such as Kaja Silverman's work on Liliana Cavani.
We doubt, however, that there will ever be much interest--among male and female critics--in reading Casablanca across the life and career of its director, Michael Curtiz. In fact, the life of Curtiz is a dark continent on the globe of film history, especially considering his voluminous filmography. According to Kingsley Canham, Curtiz began his career by working on over thirty silent films in Hungary. In Sweden, Germany, Italy, France, and Austria, he directed more than twenty films before leaving for America in 1926. Between 1930 and 1939, when he was most productive, Curtiz directed forty-four filmss for Warner Brothers. Before his death in 1962, he had signed nearly one hundred American films, many of them considered genre masterpieces: The Sea Hawk, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Mildred Pierce, Mystery of the Wax Museum, The Kennel Murder Case, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Angels with Dirty Faces, and Casablanca. Perhaps the sheer bulk of his output has intimidated scholars who might search out the signature and obsessions of a less prolific director.
Nor is enough known of Curtiz's life to anchor the kind of psychobiographical studies that directors such as Chaplin, Hitchcock, and Welles have inspired. Even the substantial bibliography on Casablanca makes no connection between the expatriate American Rick Blaine living in exotic Morocco and the expatriate Hungarian director living in exotic Hollywood. It should be remembered that directors like Welles, Chaplin, and Hitchcock have inspired psychobiographical speculation not so much because of the stories they have told but because of stylistic eccentricities that separate them from the Hollywood mainstream. From the beginning of his Hollywood career, Curtiz learned to submerge himself in the conventions of his craft, intentionally becoming the transmitter of ideology that anti-auteurists have sought to find in all Hollywood directors. But the willing denial of his own subjectivity, especially in terms of his identity as a Central European Jew, suggests interpretive possibilities. So does Curtiz's long working relationship with Errol Flynn: After directing Flynn in twelve films, Curtiz and the actor ended their relationship in 1941 during the filming of Dive Bomber, possibly because of statements that Curtiz made about Flynn's estrangement from his wife, the French actress Lily Damita.  Curtiz made an international star of Damita while directing her in three filmss just before his departure for America in 1926. Curtiz' s self-effacing style may explain the absence of critical speculation on Curtiz's handling of the Rick-Ilsa Laszlo triangle just one year after he severed his own triangular relationship with Flynn and Damita.
Psychoanalytic thought is relevant to Casablanca's political agenda as well as to the film's expression of American ideology. We are most concerned here with the extent to which the "dream work" of the film censors or displaces political material that may be intrinsic to American mythology but incompatible with the war effort. Michael Wood was one of the first critics to observe that Rick is portrayed as a patriot ultimately dedicated to fighting the Nazis even though he represents a well-established breed of American heroes, who are more suspicious of compromising entanglements with friends than with the predictable hostility of enemies. According to Wood, the well-known poster of Bogart as Rick, "staring into the middle distance, a giant of heroic self-pity in his eyes . . . is a picture of what isolation looks like at its best: proud, bitter, mournful, and tremendously attractive. " When Rick hands over Ilsa to Laszlo, he tells her, "where I' m going, you can't follow," and yet if Rick and Laszlo now share the same cause, why is it suddenly so essential that she follow Laszlo and not Rick?
In A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema, Robert B. Ray categorizes Casablanca as "the most typical" American film. Ray uses Casablanca as a tutor text for what he calls the "formal paradigm" of Classical Hollywood as well as the "thematic paradigm" that addresses the conflict between isolationism and communitarian participation. Thematically, the film is typical in its appropriation of an official hero (Laszlo), who stands for the civilizing values of home and community, and an outlaw hero (Rick), who stands for ad hoc individualism. Although these mythological types at first appear to be at odds, they share a common purpose by the end, just as they do in films as generically dissimilar as Angels with Dirty Faces, Shane, and Star Wars.
Formally, Casablanca abundantly illustrates the importance of a number of "centering" techniques that create the illusion of realism while at the same time disguising the complex apparatus that lies behind each shot. Although Ray does little to develop a Lacanian reading of Casablanca, he relies upon the Lacanian-inflected writings of the Screen critics to develop his thesis of the formal paradigm. Ray, however, is less interested in castration and the gaze than he is in adapting psychoanalytic thought to a theory of how "the concealment of the necessity for choice" determines the sequence of shots in classical cinema. By pinning the viewer's consciousness to Rick' s, most of what happens takes its logic from his point of view. The fusion of Rick and audience begins when we first catch a glimpse of nothing more than Rick's hand as it signs a check. Ray observes that the shot is striking because the hand comes directly out of our space, as if a (right-handed) viewer were to reach up to the screen and sign the check himself. Shortly after this shot, the entire body of Rick emerges from the viewer's space as he walks into the frame to confront the arrogant German who tries to force his way into Rick's inner sanctum.
Earlier, the personal magnetism of Rick seems to exert an inexorable pull on the camera. After being told that "everyone comes to Rick' s" and having seen the sign with his name above the cafe door, the viewer enters the cafe and is drawn steadily toward Rick as the camera drifts always to the left in a series of tracking shots. The camera pauses first to close in slightly on Sam, allowing him to be centered against a background that loses a bit of the definition that deepfocus cinematography usually grants to establishing shots in this and most other classical Hollywood films. The tracking shots eventually arrive at Rick's table where he is engaged in a solitary game of chess. The audience is then granted its first good look at Bogart's face, a visage that Casablanca cultists have called "existential." Ray points out that this concealing of the necessity for choice also governs the thematic paradigm in Casablanca. The film invites the audience to identify with Rick rather than Laszlo even though official American wartime sentiments are consistently voiced by Laszlo. Rick regularly insists upon unmediated self-interest ("I stick my neck out for nobody," "I'm the only cause I'm interested in"), a position that Ferrari (Sidney Greenstreet) explicitly identifies with a discredited American tradition: "My dear Rick, when will you realize that in this world today isolationism is no longer a practical policy?" [emphasis added]. Casablanca is typical of classical Hollywood in its willingness to confront, at least initially, its audience's most important concerns, in this case, "the deep-seated, instinctive anxiety that America' s unencumbered autonomy could not survive the global commitments required by another world war." Although the film never puts Rick in a position to retract his innately American reluctance to give up his independence, he ultimately does exactly what Laszlo--and the United States government--would have him do. Of course, Rick's decision to fight the Nazis is related to his feelings for Ilsa rather than a change of heart about being an isolationist. By means of this well- established Hollywood pattern of reconciliation, Casablanca could support the war effort without disturbing the foundations of American myth.
Ray acknowledges a debt to an essay by Charles Eckert on the 1937 gangster melodrama Marked Woman. Eckert argues that the corrupt, conspicuously affluent movie gangsters of 1930s Hollywood provided Depression-era audiences with ideologically sanctioned objects for the hatred they felt toward the rich. Although Eckert uses Marxist and Levi-Straussian methodologies to uncover the class conflict and myth-making that is submerged in Marked Woman, he is also interested in how Freudian concepts of the dream work can explain the process by which politically proscribed class hatred is displaced into familiar conventions of melodrama. We should also mention Brian Henderson's work on John Ford's The Searchers (1956) that reveals how the film's dialectic on the assimilation of Indians is also a displacement for American concerns about black integration in the months just after the "separate but equal doctrine" was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1954. Although Eckert and Henderson have both cautioned against reductive readings that ignore the overdetermined polysemy of Hollywood films, they have both acknowledged the importance of psychoanalysis in their larger semiotic project.
Casablanca's audience must never be asked to choose between Rick and Laszlo because everything in the film has prepared them to choose Rick, who represents the rejection of America's involvement in world politics. Instead, the film relieves the audience of the necessity of choice by displacing the film's political conflict into melodrama, where familiar emotions overwhelm ideas. To the extent that films resemble dreams, the film's latent political content--whether or not America should enter the war--appears in the manifest content as whether or not Rick should help Laszlo. Although Victor Laszlo is always in Rick's shadow, he stands for the values of the father and the prevailing American belief in 1942 that freedom is worth fighting and dying for. By censoring the theme of American reluctance to give up its autonomy, the film spares the audience the agony of siding against the values of the father, condensing the Oedipal resolution to another shared experience between Rick and the viewer.
What Makes a Cult Film? Once a cult is established, it can often sustain itself by means of its own inertia. After becoming a camp item in the 1960s, Casablanca attained the status of a classic by an alternative system of canon- building. Usually, a work of art finds its validation in the academy. Even though popular film is currently an accepted subject of university study, films like Casablanca need not establish their importance by impressing faculty committees as masterpieces. Although it existed briefly as a television series during the 1955-56 season, Casablanca did not become a fetish object until the Rick/ Bogie poster became popular and Woody Allen subsequently wrote the play (and movie) Play It Again, Sam. During the weeks in which this paper was written, allusions to the film have twice appeared in popular TV shows: a full-dress, five-minute parody of Casablanca was the dream of Bert Viola (Curtis Armstrong) in an episode of Moonlighting; and on Miami Vice, a lovable crook attempted to corrupt Detective Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) by telling him that a suitcase full of contraband was their "letters of transit," but Crockett replied, "this is not the beginning of a beautiful friendship." Now that it has been canonized, Casablanca is sure to continue as a universal signifier of romantic love, doing the right thing, and painful sacrifice. As for the qualities that made Casablanca a cult film and have made its appeal "never out of date," we can point to all the psychologically resonant aspects of the film discussed in this paper. Probably the most crucial ingredients in the film's success are (1) the star presence of Bogie and Bergman; (2) the subliminal but nostalgically potent music, both diegetic and extradiegetic; (3) the satisfyingly resolved Oedipal material; and (4) the reassuring message that the American outlaw hero (and by extension, all Americans) can be true to his instincts even in a world war. This last message may seem specific to the 1943 audience, but movies have been quite successful in keeping old myths alive, and when reconfigured for the Era of Reagan and Bush, these myths can be more vital than ever. Star Wars was the first in a cycle of "disguised Westerns" that has achieved extraordinary popularity by reviving the outlaw hero/official hero plot. Since then, Beverly Hills Cop I and II, Top Gun, Rambo III, and Lethal Weapon I and II have recycled the same basic myth with enormous success. As for the audience today, Casablanca has an extra level of appeal, offering a sense of control to repeat viewers. Just as "As Time Goes By" eased the 1943 viewer into a nostalgic imaginary, the film itself now grants the viewer benign regression to a lost moment when right and wrong were clear cut and going off to war could be a deeply romantic gesture.
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