I wrote two blog posts yesterday that grew out of the same comment: something Walt wrote:
And yet: those photos in the (msm) newspapers of the cool kids smoking at the Met, and a series like MadMen likely did more to help us than almost anything I can think of. They have an unbeatable subtext: Sexy. Normal. Fun. Relaxed. And, more recently, Defiant.
It’s always been unbeatable. It was unbeatable back in WW2- which was in some profound senses a war between smokers (Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin) and antismokers (Hitler). At least one of the participants was well aware of it.
Hitler frequently pointed out that he had quit smoking in 1919, and that fellow fascists Mussolini and Franco were also non-smokers, unlike Allied enemies Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt.
Famously smoky movies like Casablanca were probably as a big a part of the war effort as 1000-bomber raids. Back then they told you what you were fighting for. And they tell us today what we’re still fighting for. Because we’re always fighting for the same things. And we’re still fighting against the same enemies.
For no doubt when you came out of the cinema in 1943, and rejoined your unit on its way to Sicily or Salerno, you knew you were fighting for Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), for music and romance, and for drinking and smoking and gambling. You were, in short, powerfully reminded that you were fighting for freedom.
Originally planned to be released in the spring of 1943, the movie had its rushed world premiere on November 26, 1942, in New York City, shortly after the successful Allied landings in North Africa:
Operation Torch, the Algeria-Morocco military campaign, began on November 8, 1942, and ended on November 11, 1942.
US and British forces, commanded by American General Dwight D. Eisenhower, carried out this campaign. Three task forces landed on the beaches near Casablanca on the Moroccan Atlantic Coast; near Oran in western Algeria; and near Algiers, more than 250 miles to the east in Algeria.
Casablanca was released on January 23, 1943, at a pivotal point in the war.
At the Casablanca Conference, from January 14 to 24, 1943, Roosevelt, Churchill, and de Gaulle, had just announced the demand for the “unconditional surrender” of the Axis.
And on January 22, 1943, General Friedrich Paulus had asked Hitler for permission to surrender his surrounded Sixth Army in Stalingrad to the Soviets. When it eventually did surrender, on 2 February 1943, it marked the most significant defeat for the Axis, and perhaps the turning point of the entire war. Thereafter, the Allies would begin to believe that they were winning.
The status of Casablanca as a movie seems to have been something that has only ever been rising. By the 1960s Humphrey Bogart had become an iconic figure, principally for his role in Casablanca.
It was something that emerged in Woody Allen’s 1972 tribute, Play It Again, Sam.
And the Pink Floyd’s 1987 Yet Another Movie has fragments of Casablanca dialogue playing at back.
Because Casablanca is as relevant today as it was in 1943, perhaps even more. Probably, back in 1943, nobody noticed how smoky the film was. For it simply reflected real life as it was lived back then: people smoked everywhere. But over 70 years on, with antismoking nazis again in ascendance, much as they were in 1941 or 1942, Casablanca is a smokers’ movie, which may as well have been made by smokers for smokers. And most likely actually was. And it’s still unbeatable.