Dueling Anthems: Memo From Hal Wallis

Memo from Casablanca producer Hal Wallis to Max Steiner, composer:

On the Marseilles, when it is played in the Cafe, don’t do it as though it was played by this small orchestra. Do it with a full scoring orchestra and get some body to it.

They don’t make producers like that any more, folks.

It is one of the greatest scenes ever filmed. Without it, Ilse’s choice of men at the end might not make sense. You can already see the choice she will make in this scene. And so much of the power of the scene has to do with the giant almost martial swell of sound that erupts when the bar starts singing the Marseilles en masse.

Aljean Harmetz, author of The Making of Casablanca, writes:

Of the seventy-five actors and actresses who had bit parts and larger roles in Casablanca, almost all were immigrants of one kind or another. Of the fourteen who were given screen credit, only Humphrey Bogart, Dooley Wilson, and Joy Page were born in America. Some had come for private reasons. Ingrid Bergman, who would lodge comfortably in half a dozen countries and half a dozen languages, once said that she was a flyttfagel, one of Sweden’s migratory birds. Some, including Sydney Greenstreet and Claude Rains, wanted richer careers. But at least two dozen were refugees from the stain that was spreading across Europe. There were a dozen Germans and Austrians, nearly as many French, the Hungarians SZ Sakall and Peter Lorre, and a handful of Italians.

“If you think of Casablanca and think of all those small roles being played by Hollywood actors faking the accents, the picture wouldn’t have had anything like the color and tone it had,” says Pauline Kael.

Dan Seymour remembers looking up during the singing of the Marseillaise and discovering that half of his fellow actors were crying. “I suddenly realized that they were all real refugees,” says Seymour.

And listen for that “unrealistic” symphonic orchestra swelling. And take a moment to bow, with respect, towards Hal Wallis.

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15 Responses to Dueling Anthems: Memo From Hal Wallis

  1. Alessandra says:

    The first time I watched Casablanca, I almost jumped from my couch and yelled “Vive la France!” with the actors. This scene shows patriotism, which can be so ridiculous and mean, at its most beautiful. It´s perfect, the whole movie is. Every other movie is a little flawed because it´s not Casablanca.

  2. mitchell says:

    the marseillaise is truly one of my favorite tunes..remember when vanessa redgrave sings it at the end of Playing for Time…she is almsot dead, dehydrated and uses it as a tool of definace and rebellion and survival…um..well..anthemic!!!

  3. A favorite scene in a favorite movie but I shall use Alessandra’s line from now on: “Every other movie is a little flawed because it´s not Casablanca.” ir some variation thereof.

  4. ted says:

    Great stuff – I read this and thought – yes, this scene makes me tear-up EVERY time. What is it? It makes me want to do little Casablanca experiments. Like – if the film were in color instead of black and white, would I react then? If they used a made-up anthem – what then? If it weren’t WWII – would I feel the same way? And it is so great, because once you have experienced the feeling of the war through the warring anthems, you are set to go emotionally for the rest of the film. It’s a total immersion in the feeling of the time. Totally brilliant film making. It exemplifies how important a part of the director’s job it is to create the right atmosphere.
    BTW, I just read your Comment Policy while checking out your bold new look. It’s fab.

  5. red says:

    Ted – yes! Total immersion – you are so right! It just SPEAKS volumes – it is timeless, I think.

    Also, great bit of trivia – you know the part where the band glances over at Humphrey Bogart to see if it’s okay – and there’s a close-up shot of Bogart nodding, like, ‘Go ahead”?

    Apparently, Bogart had no idea what he was nodding at – it was a pick-up shot, they had to do it quickly – Michael Curtiz just said to Bogart in his garbled English – “Please just nod seriously” – and Bogart did.

    Ha!! So much for needing to know backstory – and context … Just do what you’re told, and let your talent do the rest. (I mean, I’m oversimplifying, but still …) The moment of Bogart nodding – is so poignant and potent, I think – it says it ALL about Rick, Mr. “I stick my neck out for nobody” … but there, in that moment, he’s giving the go ahead to this very dangerous Marseilles playing –

    Just love it – because I think sometimes actors (I speak for myself) can overcomplicate things. Watch how Bogart nods there – and then reflect on the fact that he had no idea what he was supposed to be nodding about!!!

  6. red says:

    Oh, and Ted – hahaha with my comment policy – I know!! I sound vaguely like a maniac, I think – but it certainly makes my point!!

    I remember I wrote some post about John Irving and some dude showed up and started blasting some comment Irving made about abortion and how Irving’s liberal outlook made this dude lose all respect for Irving. “Moral idiocy” was I believe his term. This, in the middle of a great conversation about, you know, Irving’s actual BOOKS. I didn’t even need to fight with the dude – just provided him a link to my comment policy, because he broke all the rules at once, almost. Ha!

  7. red says:

    Jonathan – I totally agree – Alessandra’s line is pretty kick-ass!!

  8. ted says:

    No, I totally love your comments policy!

    And I love that nod story! But he DID have a back story, only that back story has nothing to do with the story of Casablanca. But his talent, as you say, was his ability to let the moment through and let the story take care of itself!

    I was shaving after reading your warring anthems post and found myself singing Edelweiss. It made me think of two movie anthems that are invented specifically for the movies – that one and The Sun on The Meadow from Cabaret. Both also really work on your emotions – one to touch and the other to chill. Actually ‘How do you Solve a Problem Like Maria’ is also an anthem of sorts. It’s her anthem and when it is re-used ceremonially in her wedding, it becomes very touching.

    It also made me think how the French and American anthems are somehow more moving than the British because “God Save the Queen” has the complexity of “This Old Man, he played one…” but you really have to be mindful to sing our’s or the Marseilleise. Or maybe I would feel differently if I were British!

  9. red says:

    Eddie Izzard has a great bit about anthems – he bitches about the British one (as a Brit he’s allowed to) – and he says something like, “Look, this queen is surrounded by bodyguards and a cement wall around her palace – I think that is one saved fucking queen…” hahahahaha

  10. red says:

    Speaking of anthems (and I love your thoughts on them!!) – if you scroll down to the Youtube clip I posted of Josh Groban – you can see him singing “Anthem” from Chess – sort of a rumination on anthems in general, and nationhood. I love how he sings it – I think you’ll like it too. Talk about knowing when to NOT do anything – just sing, just stand, don’t ADD unless you really need to.

  11. ted says:

    That Izzard bit is hilarious!
    I have so much studying to do it’s insane, that’s why I’m glad that you’ve provided me with lots of YouTube clips to watch like the Groban ! His guileless quality works nicely for Anthem, he’s like a channel, unfussy, as you say,. I don’t think that song could take much more, I think it’s about one of those experiences you just can’t question, you know?

  12. red says:

    Yes – the song definitely needs to be played simply. No big gestures … it’s already dramatic. I just love how he does it. Bravo.

  13. red says:

    And good luck with your studying!!

  14. God you write so well. That scene gets me every time, but I never really thought about why until just now.

    I also find myself nervously humming the Wicked Witch’s theme as Major Strasser is speeding towards the airport.

  15. nightfly says:

    I’ve read that there was a similar moment during the filming of Amadeus – it may even be in the imdb trivia section – they were filming in Prague, behind the Iron Curtain, and they had bunches of Soviet apparatchiks keeping an eye on them during large scenes. On July 4th, I believe they were filming one of the opera scenes, and the crew popped open an American flag. Everybody in the building who knew the words started singing The Star Spangled Banner, while the apparatchiks sat there – like a real-life Casablanca.

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