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2020 marks two anniversaries. The first is the 40th anniversary of the murder of ex-Beatle John Lennon (1940 – 1980) by the social misfit, Mark David Chapman (1955 – ). The second is the 70th anniversary of the release of Sunset Boulevard. Although they are separated by some thirty years, each event acts as a reminder of what can happen when the desire for fame gets out of hand.
At 10.50pm on December 8th, 1980, Chapman watched as Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono (1933 – ) made their way through the entrance of the Dakota building, dropped into a combat stance, and fired five shots from his Charter Arms .38 Special revolver. Four bullets struck Lennon in the back and shoulder. The fifth missed and shattered a window.
Lennon was rushed to the Roosevelt Hospital where three doctors, two to three medical attendants, and nurse spent ten to twenty minutes trying to revive him. The doctors even tried opening his chest to perform a manual heart massage, but the damage to the vessels around his heart were too great. John Lennon was announced dead on arrival at 11.15pm.
Lennon had been shot at close range by four hollow-point bullets. Two had passed through his body, one had lodged itself in his upper left-arm, and a fourth had lodged itself in his aorta. The autopsy concluded that Lennon died of “hypovolemic shock, caused by the loss of more than eighty-percent of blood volume due to multiple through-and-through gunshot wounds to the left shoulder and left chest resulting in damage to the left lung, the left subclavian artery, and both the aorta and aortic arch.”
John Lennon’s murder and the plot of Sunset Boulevard mirror one another in many ways. Lennon was murdered by a deranged lunatic who believed he could achieve notoriety for himself by murdering a popstar. Similarly, Sunset Boulevard tells the story of a long forgotten, and equally demented, film star who achieves a return to fame by murdering her gigolo.
Sunset Boulevard was the product of a collaboration between Billy Wilder (1906 – 2002), Charles Brackett (1892 – 1969), and Donald McGill Marshman, Jr. (1922 – 2015). The story was based, in part, on the Evelyn Waugh (1903 – 1966) novel, The Loved Ones which recounted the author’s experiences in Hollywood and the funeral business. Wilder, who had become fascinated by American culture whilst living in Berlin, dreamt up a story about a long forgotten silent film star who resides in one of Sunset Boulevard’s grand houses. Brackett suggested making the story about the star’s comeback, whilst Marshman, Jr. suggested using it to explore the relationship between the forgotten film star and a young man.
Sunset Boulevard’s success was aided by three factors: the writing of Wilder, Brackett, and Marshman, Jr., the direction of Wilder, and the cinematography of John Francis Seitz (1892 – 1979). Seitz gave Sunset Boulevard a dreamlike quality in which fantasy and reality blend together almost seamlessly. The fantasy world Norma Desmond inhabits is shot in deep focus and made to look dark and ominous. By contrast, the real world that Joe Gillis inhabits is depicted as well-lit and filmed in a documentary-style fashion.
Numerous actors were considered to play Joe Gillis, including Fred MacMurray (1908 – 1991) and Montgomery Clift (1920 – 1966). Clift was originally signed to play the part, but withdrew from the project at the last minute. The role eventually went to William Holden (1918 – 1981).
Joe Gillis is a down and outer. Prior to meeting Norma Desmond, Gillis’ situation is so dire that he actually considers returning to his newspaper job in Dayton, Ohio. He is hounded by debt collectors, forced to use the telephone at Schwab’s drugstore because he cannot afford one of his own, and is even fired by his own manager. Gillis believes that he can live the life of an expensive playboy by reading Desmond’s script and entertaining her deluded fantasies. The problem is that he has to make a Faustian pact in order to do so.
The reason Gillis finds Desmond’s offer so tempting is that he has become jaded about the Hollywood system. He represents the writer as just a mere cog in the movie-making machine. He notes the general lack of recognition for the writer and his craft, the writer’s uncertain prospects, the likelihood of executive meddling, and the ever-present risk of plagiarism. He complains that Hollywood will reject your script if it is too original or if it is not original enough.
Norma Desmond, Sunset Boulevard’s antagonist, was based on a myriad of silent film actresses. The name is believed to be derived from the silent film star, Mabel Normand (1892 – 1930) and the film director, William Desmond Taylor (1872 – 1922), who’s sensational 1922 murder has never been solved. Suggested models for Desmond include Norma Talmadge (1894 – 1957), Mary Pickford (1892 – 1979), Pola Negri (1897 – 1987), Mae Murray (1885 – 1965), Clara Bow (1905 – 1965), and Valeska Surratt (1882 – 1962).
Norma Desmond was played by former silent film star, Gloria Swanson (1899 – 1983). Like Desmond, Swanson had been a major silent film star and was known for her beauty, talent, and extravagant lifestyle. And like Desmond, her film career faded with the coming of sound. Unlike Desmond, however, Swanson was able to accept the end of her film career, moved to New York in the early-thirties, and pursued a successful career in theatre, radio, and television.
Norma Desmond has come to symbolise an entire generation of silent film stars whose were thrust aside by the advent of sound. When her star fell, Desmond retreated into her gothic mansion and built up a fantasy world where she was still a big star. At one stage she tells Gillis that she had the floor of her ballroom tiled at the behest of Rudolph Valentino (1895 – 1926), as though Valentino was still a big star. She speaks in melodramatic tones, acts like an infatuated schoolgirl in Gillis’ company, and engages in acts of emotional blackmail through mock suicide attempts.
Desmond refuses to admit that the “parade has long since passed her by.” Incapable of functioning in the real world, she has constructed a fantasy life for herself. Any attempt to bring her out of her stupor is met with either denial or indignation. Towards the end of the movie, Gillis informs her: “Norma, you’re a woman of fifty, now grow up. There’s nothing tragic about being fifty, not unless you try to be twenty-five.” And just like John the Baptist in Salome (the 1891 Oscar Wilde tragedy Desmond has chosen to adapt), Gillis pays for the faux pas with his life.
When Sunset Boulevard premiered, Louis B. Mayer (1884 – 1957) reportedly shouted at Billy Wilder: “You bastard! You have disgraced the industry that made you and fed you. You should be tarred and feathered and run out of Hollywood.” Mayer had reason to be angry, too. Sunset Boulevard is perhaps one of the most scathing criticisms of Hollywood ever made. The film indicted Hollywood for its treatment of the writer, its obsession with youth, its toxic star system, and cult of celebrity worship.
In a world of social media and reality television, the murder of John Lennon and the story of Sunset Boulevard is more potent today than ever before. Thanks to reality TV and social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, it is far too easy for mentally unstable people to achieve easy fame. How long will it be before society produces another Mark David Chapman or Norma Desmond?
In today’s world of twenty-four-hour news cycles, infinite information, and endless news sources, knowing who to trust has become a virtually impossible task. To make this endeavour easier, I have compiled a list of the twenty conservative journalists, thinkers, and speakers I rely upon.
20. DAVE RUBIN
David Joshua Rubin (born 1976 in Brooklyn, New York) is a television personality, talk show host, and comedian. With a degree in political science from Birmingham University, Rubin was originally a host on The Young Turks before becoming the host of the popular, crowd-funded Youtube talk show, The Rubin Report.
The show, which has over half-a-million subscribers, features guests from both the political left and the political right and has been praised for its honest and politically incorrect approach to complex issues. Rubin, who considers himself a classical liberal, encourages discussion on all topics, no matter how controversial they might be.
Rubin is passionate about illustrating the difference between liberals and progressives and is responsible for popularising the expression “regressive left.” He has commented on issues like political correctness, free speech, mass media, religion, and more.
19. ANDREW BOLT
Andrew Bolt (born 1959 in Adelaide, Australia) is a journalist, editor, columnist, radio host, and television host. Armed with an arts degree from Adelaide University, Bolt began his career with a cadetship with The Age. Later he would move to The Herald where he worked as the paper’s Asian correspondent: fist in Hong Kong and then in Bangkok.
Bolt is known for his socially and politically conservative views. He has been at the forefront of many social and political debates and has talked about environmentalism, Islam, and many other topics. Radio host, Alan Jones referred to Bolt as a man who “sticks his head up (…) writing with clarity and conviction.” His columns and articles are published in The Herald Sun, The Daily Telegraph, The Advertiser, Northern Territory News, and The Courier News. He can be seen weeknights on The Bolt Report on Sky News.
18. MIRANDA DEVINE
Miranda Devine (born in the 1960s as the daughter of the legendary newspaperman, Frank Devine) is an Australian conservative columnist. With a degree in journalism from Chicago’s North-West University and a bachelor of science from Macquarie University, Devine began her career working for the Boston Herald as a feature writer and reporter. She returned to Sydney in 1989 and took up a position at the Daily Telegraph. Whilst Devine primarily works for The Daily Telegraphs, her columns are also published in The Sunday Telegraph, Sunday Herald Sun, and the Sunday Times. Devine also formerly hosted the Miranda Devine Show on 2GB radio until it was cancelled in 2015.
17. KATIE HOPKINS
Katie Olivia Hopkins (born 1975 in Devon, England) is a television personality, radio presenter, and columnist. Bursting onto the scene in The Apprentice, Hopkins has made a name for herself as a professional provocateur, writing for The Sun since 2013, and The Daily Mail from 2015 t 2017.
Holding no punches, Hopkins has tackled topics ranging from ginger-haired babies and social class to obesity and Islamic terrorism. She has been involved in numerous media stunts. In 2015, Hopkins gained and then lost a significant amount of weight to prove that obesity was caused by lifestyle and not genetics.
16. GLENN BECK
Glenn Lee Beck (born 1964 in Washington) is a talk show host, producer, entrepreneur, and political commentator. He is a defender of the US Constitution and is a supporter of free markets and individual liberties. Beck is the founder of The Blaze, a conservative news site in 2011 and owns Mercury Ink, a publishing imprint, in a partnership with Simon and Schuster. Beck’s radio show, The Glenn Beck Program, is nationally syndicated and is one of the most popular radio programs in America. He is married with four children.
15. MICHELLE MALKIN
Michelle Malkin (born Michelle Maglalang in 1970 in Philadelphia) is a television personality, blogger, syndicated columnist, and the author of six books, including: Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists, Criminals, and Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores (2002), In Defence of Internment: The Case for ‘Racial Profiling’ in World War Two and the War on Terror (2004), Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild (2005), Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies (2009), Who Built That: Awe-Inspiring Stories of American Tinkerpreneurs (2015), and Sold Out: How High-Tech Billionaires & Bipartisan Beltway Crapweasels are Screwing America’s Best and Brightest Workers (2015).
Malkin started her career at the Los Angeles Daily News in 1992. In 1996, she moved to the Seattle Times. Since then she has founded Twitchy and Hot Air, has had her popular newspaper columns nationally syndicated through Creators Syndicate, has been a frequent contributor on Fox News, and has been a guest on MSNBC, C-Span, and numerous radio programs. She is married with two children.
14. GAVIN MCINNES
Gavin Miles McInnes (born 1970 in Hitchin, UK) is a writer, actor, commentator, columnist, comedian, and entrepreneur. McInnes grew up in Canada and graduated from Concordia University in 1991 with a Bachelor of Arts. He co-founded Vice Media in 1994 with Suroosh Alvi and Shane Smith. Since then, he has written for Takimag, Truth Revolt, and The Federalist, has been a contributor and content-producer for Fox Digital and has been a frequent guest on The Blaze.
McInnes is the host of the Gavin McInnes Show on Compound Media. He considers himself a God-fearing, pro-life Catholic and is a member of the Knights of Columbus. McInnes has described feminism as a movement that “trivialised motherhood”, forces women to “pretend to be men”, and makes women “miserable.” He is the founder of the Proud Boys movement and has described himself as a “western chauvinist.” He is married with three children.
13. BILL WHITTLE
William Alfred Whittle (born 1959 in New York City) is a blogger, political commentator, film director, screenwriter, film editor, pilot, and author. Describing himself as “the voice of the common-sense resistance”, Whittle is a former writer for National Review Online, and is known for appearing in numerous PJ Media Youtube videos and short films.
Whittle is a frequent guest-speaker at Republican, Tea Party, High School, and University events. He has frequently appeared as a guest on radio and television, appearing on Fox News, The Dennis Miller Show, and Sun TV. He is the current host of PJ Media’s Afterburner, is the host of Firewall, and is the co-host of Right Angle with Stephen Green and Scott Ott.
12. STEPHEN CROWDER
Stephen Blake Crowder (born 1987 in Michigan, USA) is an actor, comedian, podcast host, and political commentator. He is a former Fox News contributor and is a frequent guest on The Blaze, The Glenn Beck Show, and The Dana Show.
Crowder is well known for satirising the political left through videos produced by various conservative media outlets, including PJ Media and Big Hollywood. He is the host of the conservative podcast, Louder with Crowder (available on I-Tunes and streamed on Youtube) which covers news, politics, and popular culture.
11. ANDREW KLAVAN
Andrew Klavan (born 1954 in New York City) is a novelist, screenwriter, political, commentator, and podcaster. He is the author of True Crime (adapted into a film directed by Clint Eastwood) and Don’t Say a Word (adapted into a film starring Michael Douglas), and has won the Edgar Award Twice.
Klavan has written essays and opinion editorials on politics, religion, film, and literature for a variety of conservative news publications, including City Journal and PJ Media. He has starred in a series of Klavan on the Culture videos and is the host of The Andrew Klavan Show which airs Monday through Thursday. He is married with two children.
10. DENNIS PRAGER
Dennis Mark Prager (born 1948 in Brooklynn, New York) is a radio host, musical conductor, political commentator, television host, and the author of The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism (1976), Think a Second Time (1996), Happiness is a Serious Problem (1999), Still the Best Hope (2012), and The Ten Commandments (2015).
Prager has a double-major in history and anthropology from Brooklyn College and studied Arabic, comparative religion, and international history at the University of Leeds. In 2010, Prager launched the Prager University Youtube Channel which features short videos explaining the conservative view on particular subjects.
09. WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, JR.
William Francis Buckley, Jr. (1925 – 2008) was an editor, author, political commentator, and television personality who was described by the historian, George H. Nash (1945 – ) as “arguably the most important public intellectual in the United States in the past half-century. For an entire generation, he was the preeminent voice of American conservatism and its first great ecumenical figure.”
Armed with a Bachelor of Arts with honours in political science, economics, and history, and buttressed with a transatlantic accent, wide vocabulary, and a sophisticated wit, Buckley was the founder of National Review, a publication for conservative intelligentsia, and the host of Firing Line, a public affair show that aired from 1966 to 1999. Over the course of his career, Buckley wrote over forty books, including several spy thrillers. His column, On the Right, was published in more than three-hundred newspapers.
Buckley was a devout Catholic who frequently attended Latin Mass. He married Patricia Taylor in 1950 and had a son, Christopher Taylor Buckley.
08. DINESH D’SOUZA
Dinesh Joseph D’Souza (born 1961 in Mumbai, India) is a conservative policy analyst, public speaker, writer, filmmaker, political commentator, and Christian apologist.
While studying at Dartmouth College, where he was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa, D’Souza wrote for the Dartmouth Review, an independent newspaper financed by alumni of Dartmouth College. Following his graduation with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 1983, he became the editor of the monthly journal, The Prospect – which was financed by Princeton University alumni. The journal would become controversial under D’Souza’s tutelage as it criticised, among other things, the University’s affirmative action policies.
Between 1985 and 1987, D’Souza worked as a contributing editor for Policy Review, a journal published by the Heritage Foundation. In an article entitled, The Bishops as Pawns, D’Souza opined that Catholic bishops were being used as pawns by the American left in an attempt to manipulate the public into opposing the use of American power abroad and the build-up of the US military.
D’Souza was made a national fellow at the Hoover Institute from 1998 to 2000 where had expertise in affirmative action, American cultural and principles, civil rights, education, political sociology, and American culture and values.
In 2010, D’Souza was made the President of The King’s College in New York. That same year he published The Roots of Obama’s Rage, it was later described as the best book of the year and formed the basis of the 2016 documentary, Obama’s America.
07. DAVID HOROWITZ
David Joel Horowitz (born 1939 in Queens, New York) is a conservative writer and intellectual. He graduated from Columbia University in 1959 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and subsequently earnt a master’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley. He is married with four children.
Horowitz is the founder of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, the founder of Students for Academic Freedom – an organisation dedicated to battling left-wing indoctrination and political correctness in higher education, the director of Discover the Networks – a website that keeps track of the connections between various left-wing groups and individuals, and the editor of FrontPage Magazine.
06. DOUGLAS MURRAY
Douglas Kear Murray (born 1979 in London, England) is a journalist, political commentator, and the author of five books, including: Bosie: A Biography of Lord Alfred Douglas (2000), Neoconservatism: Why We Need It (2005), Bloody Sunday: Truth, Lies, and the Saville Inquiry (2011), Islamophobia: A Very Metropolitan Malady (2013)), and The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam (2017). Murray is the associate editor of The Spectator.
As a journalist, Murray has written form Standpoint, The Wall Street Journal, and The Guardian on a wide variety of topics, including UK and US foreign policy, the Middle East (specifically Iran and Israel), national security, national defence, multiculturalism, Northern Ireland, Islam, domestic radicalisation, and terrorism. He has appeared on the BBC, Al-Jazeera, Question Time, News Night, Fox News, and Sky News. He is also a frequent debater at both the Oxford Union and the Cambridge Union.
Murray is the founder of the Centre for Social Cohesion, and is the associate director of the Henry Jackson Society. He has described multiculturalism as “the idea that Governments should bend over backwards to accommodate migrants”, dismisses the term ‘Islamophobia’, and has warned of a “creed of Islamic fascism – a malignant fundamentalism, woken from the dark ages to assault us now.”
05. MARK STEYN
Mark Steyn (born 1959 in Toronto, Canada) is a journalist, political commentator, author, and human right’s campaigner who has been described by the Boston Phoenix as “the most toxic right-wing pundit you’ve ever heard.”
Steyn is the author of three books: America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It (2006), After America: Get Ready for Armageddon (2011), and Climate Change: The Facts (2015. As a journalist, Steyn publishes his ‘Steynposts’ – his commentary on current affairs – Monday through Friday. He has been published in The Daily Telegraph, National Post, The Australian, The Irish Times, The Jerusalem Post, the Wall Street Journal, and many other publications.
Steyn hosted The Mark Steyn Show for two months before it was cancelled. He has been a regular guest on the Rush Limbaugh Program, The Sean Hannity Show, The John Oakley Show, and is a frequent guest-host on Tucker Carlson Tonight.
As a human right’s campaigner, Steyn is committed the protection of free speech and has been instrumental in the repeal of Canada’s section thirteen hate speech laws. He has spoken to the Canadian parliament, Australian parliament (where he was introduced by Julia Bishop), and the Danish parliament. He is married with three children.
04. ANDREW BREITBART
Many commentators have credited Breitbart changing the way people wrote about politics. He founded Breitbart in 2005, followed by Big Government, Big Hollywood, and Big Journalism.
Breitbart’s online campaigns made him a hero of the right. Breitbart was famous for using undercover videos to illustrate his point. He played a central role in the ACORN 2009 undercover videos controversy, was central to the firing of the Georgian State Director of Rural Development, Shirley Sherrod (1948 – ), and was instrumental in the downfall of the Democratic congressman, Anthony Weiner (1964 – ). He left behind four children.
03. PETER HITCHENS
Peter Jonathan Hitchens (born 1951 in Silema, Malta) is a journalist, political commentator, Christian apologist (in stark contrast to his brother, the atheist Christopher Hitchens), and the author of several books: The Abolition of Britain (1999), Monday Morning Blues (2000), A Brief History of Crime (2003), The Broken Compass (2009), The Rage of Against God (2010), The War We Never Fought (2012), and Short Breaks in Mordor (2014).
Hitchens served as a foreign correspondent in Moscow and Washington. He has worked as a reporter on education and industrial and labour affairs, then as a political reporter, and finally as deputy political editor for The Daily Express. He left the Daily Express in 2000 and currently writes for the Mail on Sunday. Hitchens was awarded the Orwell Prize in 2010.
Hitchens is a proud Christian and a social conservative who has described himself as an Anglican, social democrat, and Burkean Conservative. He has been critical of both the Labour Party and the Conservative party, is a supporter of traditional, Christian morals, and advocates a society ruled by personal conscience and the rule of law. He is married with three children.
02. MILO YIANNOPOULOS
Milo Yiannopoulos (born 1984 in Kent, England) is a journalist, author, political commentator, public speaker, and publisher. After failing to gain a degree from either the University of Manchester of Cambridge University, Yiannopoulos began his career in journalism when he gained a position at The Catholic Herald.
Yiannopoulos first came to prominence reporting on the Gamergate controversy. He fought against the politicisation of video games and described those who wished to politicise video game culture as “sociopathic feminist programmers and campaigners, abetted by achingly politically correct American tech bloggers.”
Yiannopoulos has been described as a cross between a pit-bull and Oscar Wilde. A vehement anti-feminist and critic of Islam, he holds no punches when it comes to attacking and ridiculing his opponents. All are targets for his ire and ridicule.
Yiannopoulos has been described by his enemies as a white supremacist and a member of the alt-right. Labels that he rejects. In reality, he is a contrarian, a fly in the ointment that has made name for itself as a professional troll and talented provocateur.
01. BEN SHAPIRO
Benjamin Aaron Shapiro (born 1984 in Los Angeles, California) is a political commentator, columnist, the co-founder and former editor-in-chief of Truth Revolt, the editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire, and a New York Times best-selling author. Among the books he has written have been: Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America’s Youth (2004), Porn Generation: How Social Liberalism is Corrupting Our Future (2005), Project President: Bad Hair and Botox on the Road to the White House (2008), Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV (2011), Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America (2013), The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against the Obama Administration (2014), A Moral Universe Torn Apart (2014), What’s Fair and Other Short Stories (2015), and True Allegiance (2016).
Shapiro began his career writing for The Daily Bruin, the student paper of the University of California at Los Angeles. He was suspended from The Daily Bruin after he complained on radio talk shows that the paper had refused to publish an article he had written accusing Muslim student groups of supporting terrorism. By the time he was seventeen, Shapiro had become the youngest nationally syndicated journalist (he was so young, in fact, that his parents had to sign his contract on his behalf).
Ben “facts don’t care about your feelings” Shapiro has become one of the most prominent voices of the millennial conservative movement. Holding no punches, Shapiro possesses a remarkable ability to demolish left-wing arguments with a lawyer’s precision and debater’s skill. He is a pro-life, anti-Black Lives Matter, and supports reductions in taxes on the rich, the privatisation of social security, and the repeal of Obamacare.
Shapiro is a frequent speaker on US college campuses and is a regular commentator on television and radio, including The O’Reilly Factor, The Lars Larson Show, Fox and Friends, The Dennis Prager Show, and more. Shapiro’s daily podcast, The Ben Shapiro Show was named the second-most popular I-Tunes podcast in the US after Oprah Winfrey. It is available on I-Tunes.
Ben Shapiro holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of California at Los Angeles and a Juris Doctor from Harvard University. He is an Orthodox Jew and is married with two children.
For our weekly cultural article, we will be looking at the film Casablanca. Released in 1942, Casablanca delves deeply into themes of morality and human sacrifice, tentatively exploring both the good and bad aspects of humanity.
The American Film Institute ranks Casablanca as the second greatest film of all time (ranked behind Citizen Kane).
The fact that Casablanca is still so revered, even after seventy-five years, is nothing short of a miracle. The film was made on a tight budget in the style common to the studio system of the time, having been made on set with a studio director, studio writers, and studio actors.
Its script has been voted by the Writers Guild of America as the greatest ever written. That, too, is a miracle. The script was based on a play that was never performed: “Everybody Comes to Rick’s”, by Murray Burnett (1910 – 1997) and Joan Alison (1901 – 1992). The task of adapting the play to film was given to three separate screenwriters, who completed their task in three different locations. Julius G. and Philip G. Epstein (1909 – 2000; 1909 – 1952) would finish theirs just a few days before filming began. Howard Koch (1901 – 1995), on the other hand, wouldn’t hand his in until filming was well underway.
And even then, scraps of dialogue and scene rewrites were being rushed to the set, the ink still wet on the page.
Perhaps one reason for its long lasting success is its refusal to be categorised. Casablanca is one part war film – being presented against the backdrop of the Second World War, one part love story – Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), and Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) are embroiled in a bitter love triangle, one part political thriller, and one part allegory – presenting both the best and worst aspects of human nature.
Another reason is the stellar cast it boasts: Humphrey Bogart (1899 – 1957) – considered the greatest film star of all time by the American Film Institute, Ingrid Bergman (1915 – 1982) – one of film’s most naturally beautiful women, Claude Rains (1889 – 1967), Sydney Greenstreet (1879 – 1954), Paul Henreid (1908 – 1992), and Peter Lorre (1904 – 1964).
Naturally, no one thought Casablanca would be a hit, people weren’t even sure if the allies would win World War Two. However, as Alrean Harmetz wrote in Round Up the Usual Suspects: the Making of Casablanca, Casablanca seemed almost destined to be a film classic:
“There are better movies than Casablanca, but no other movie better demonstrates America’s mythological vision of itself – tough on the outside and moral within, capable of sacrifice and romance without sacrificing the individualism that conquered a continent, sticking its neck out for everybody when circumstances demand heroism. No other movie has so reflected both the moment when it was made – the early days of World War II – and the psychological needs of audiences decades later.”
I believe Casablanca‘s long lasting success boils down to its depiction of the goodness of human beings in the wake of great evil. Early in World War Two, Casablanca was Vichy France, and therefore Nazi German, territory. In the film, Casablanca is depicted as a world of corruption, a crossroads where Nazis, members of various resistance forces, criminals, spies, and traitors come together. It is a fascist society where the oppressors imprison millions, where human life is a commodity to be traded for benefits. No one cares about anyone, save for themselves.
The imprisoned respond to their imprisonment in different ways: some fight against it, others try to escape it, and others try to profit from it. In one scene, a man is shot dead trying to escape. He falls under a poster of Marshall Philippe Petain (1856 – 1951), the Chief of Vichy France. We learn he was clutching a Free France handbill.
Desperate attempts to escape to freedom are understandable. But the film also presents us with an array of lowlifes and criminals, and, remarkably, even asks us to express pity for them. Signor Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet) is a shrewd and callous gangster who, it is suggested, profits from the sale of human beings.
The total disregard for human life is depicted in a scene where Ferrari offers to buy Rick’s friend and piano player, Sam, portrayed by Dooley Wilson (1886 – 1953). Rick refuses, saying “I don’t buy or sell human beings.” “Too bad”, Ferrari replies, “that’s Casablanca’s leading commodity.”
Then there’s Signore Ugarte (Peter Lorre), the North African black market dealer who represents disorganised criminal who profits from the misery of others. Rick ignores his pleas for help as he is arrested for murdering two German couriers in order to steal non-rescindable, French General Marshal Weygand signed, letters of transit.
Ultimately, Casablanca is a film of redemption and human sacrifice. It asks its audience to not only imagine winning the loves of their lives but asks them to imagine giving them up for the greater good.
Rick starts out as a cynical and resentful anti-hero. “I stick my neck out for no one”, he tells us at one point. By the end of the film, he has been transformed into a selfless hero. “It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world”, he tells Ilsa.
In the end, Casablanca shows the power of sacrifice and brotherly love over tyranny and evil. Even when everything is lost, hope can be found among those few human beings who are willing to put their personal needs aside and sacrifice themselves for others.