“Play It Again…and Again”
Janet Raye Sevens
Anyone who’s ever met me quickly learns two things: I have a deep interest in the history of the World War II era and I love old movies. Put those two interests together and you won’t be surprised to learn my favorite movie of all time is Casablanca. That film has everything: action, suspense, romance, a memorable story, a whole café full of quirky characters, and humor. Lots of
humor in unexpected places that cuts through—and sometimes heightens—the tension.
I still remember the first time I saw Casablanca, in college, on a date. I can’t remember my date’s name, but the movie made a lasting impact. I laughed; I cried a few times. I chewed my fingernails at the tense moments and cheered with the rest of the audience at the unexpected, but thoroughly satisfying, ending. Since then, I think I’ve seen the movie over 100 times in a theater
and on TV.
After college, I went to film school, where I met my husband and got a degree in film studies. My thesis, surprising no one, was The Image of Women in Films of the World War II Era, examining Hollywood’s depiction of women’s roles in support of the war (conclusion: you can be strong, but feminine too!). Casablanca was one of the films I analyzed, partly to study Ilsa’s complex and catalytic impact on the story, but also as an excuse to watch my favorite movie again and again.
How do I love Casablanca? Let me count the ways. No, maybe not, because that would take a week, maybe two if we broke for lunch. Here are just five, in no particular order:
1. The setting, specifically Rick’s Café Americain. That place is a character in itself. A mini-United Nations where champagne is poured, cigarettes lit, shady deals made, and bon mots dropped. The supporting players and extras all have their own stories (and amazing costumes!). Just look closely at the background actors next time you watch, and you’ll see.
2. The young Bulgarian couple. Of all the supporting players and extras, this couple’s story is the most heart-wrenching. They’re in almost every scene for the first half of the movie, frantically moving from place to place looking for some way to escape Casablanca. Their desperation snares them in Captain Renault’s wolfish paws—and gives cynical Rick a chance to show his
true noble nature.
3. Two words: Captain Renault. Claude Rains is the movie’s MVP, deftly playing a man with delicious wit and cunning schemes, making Renault unforgettable and eminently quotable 80 years later.4. That moment. You know the one, when Rick has tied up all the loose ends except one: how to avoid getting arrested for shooting Major Strasser. Things look grim for our hero. Until a crafty little fox named Renault saves the day with one of the most quoted lines in movie history.
5. That other moment. “Play La Marseillaise. Play it,” Viktor Laszlo demands, and with Rick’s okay, the orchestra launches into a rousing version of the French national anthem. This key scene reflects current events in real time. Rick throws his lot in with the Allies. Viktor Laszlo shows who’s the boss. Major Strasser ends up with egg strudel on his face. This moment is particularly poignant as many of the supporting players were refugees who’d fled to the US from countries caught up in the war. Modern audiences can only imagine the emotions the cast felt shooting such a scene, with the outcome of the war so uncertain.
Needless to say, Casablanca has greatly influenced my writing style, especially in my recent book, A Moment After Dark, a WWII-set paranormal suspense. All the elements are there, drama, danger, crackling dialogue, humor, and a touch of romance, all with a supernatural twist. On Dec. 1, 1941, Addie Brandt’s power of second sight shows her a terrifying future event—an attack on a US naval base. She sets out to raise the alarm—will anyone listen?
She sees the future with a touch. A powerful gift in a time of war. The enemy wants her. The Allies need her.
I don’t have a piano player or copious champagne in A Moment After Dark, but there is a smoky nightclub, spies and intrigue, a ruthless villain with a fearsome paranormal power, a tough guy hero with a tender heart, and a resourceful and feisty heroine tested by both outside forces and her own inner demons.
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Janet Raye Stevens Bio:
Meet author Janet Raye Stevens – mom, reader, tea-drinker (okay, tea guzzler), and weaver of smart, stealthily romantic tales. A Derringer Award and a double Falchion Awards finalist, as well as RWA Golden Heart and Daphne du Maurier award winner, Janet writes mystery, time travel, paranormal, and the occasional Christmas romance with humor, heart, and a dash of suspense. She lives in New England with her handsome better half and their equally impressive children. Connect with Janet at https://janetrayestevens.com/