Bob Dylan At The Movies: Casablanca

By Larry Fyffe

“Casablanca” is a movie that’s set in a French Protectorate during World War II; it features Humphrey Bogart as ‘Rick’, Igrid Bergman as ‘Ilsa’, and Claude Rains as ‘Renault’, a captain in the Vichy police.

Rick is cynical because his love affair with Ilsa did not last; he considers human nature fickle and self-centred; nevertheless, he helps members of the French resistance in their struggle against the Nazis occupation.

Singer/songwriter/musician Bob Dylan draws from the film’s artistic well of memorable quotes.

There’s the Cafe scene in Casablanca containing the following dialogue:

Strausser: “I’m not entirely sure which side you’re on”
Renault: “I have no conviction if that’s what you mean. I blow with
the wind, and the prevailing wind happens to be from Vichy”
(Capablanca)

Dialogue that echoes in song lyrics below:

Praise be to Nero's Neptune, the Titanic sails at dawn
Eveybody's shouting, "Which side are you on?"
(Bob Dylan: Desolation Row)

In the following song, Captain Renault’s amoral attitude is questioned. The wind symbolizes a spirit of unselfish love that rises above concern for one’s own physical existence:

Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn't see?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
(Bob Dylan, Blowing In The Wind)

The French police captain in the movie is no ideologue; he’s an opportunist who observes that at this point in time the Nazi occupiers are winning and that members of the French Resistance are being chased down. So best it be to present oneself as on side of the occupiers:

Renault: “This is the end of the chase”

A broader picture is painted in the song lyrics below. Painted in black because no matter what, death awaits everyone. This fact causes the singer/songwriter to combine the cynical attitudes of both Renault and Bogart, and grind it all down to the necessity of an individual having to make Existential decisions:

Well, I've walked over two hundred miles, look me over
It's the end of the chase, and the moon is high
It won't matter who loves who
You'll love me, or I'll love you
(Bob Dylan: When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky)

Added is a line taken from another Bogart film:

Bogart: “All we’ve got is that maybe you love you, and maybe I love you (The Maltese Falcon).

In contrast to Renault, Rick chooses to side with the oppressed French (albeit colonists) rather than with the German oppressors; he makes a decision based on Romantic idealism:

On the other hand, the police captain’s remarks are cynical and sarcastic:

Renault: “The winning side would have paid you better”

The persona in the song lyrics below strikes out at such self-centred behaviour:

You've got a lot of nerve to say you got a helping hand to lend
You just want to be on the side that's winning
(Bob Dylan: Positively Fourth Street)

The Devil in the movie, as in Milton’s epic poem ‘Paradise Lost’, gets the best lines:

Renault: “I like to think you killed a man. It’s the Romantic in me”

Akin to black humour that appears in the following song lyrics:

They say I shot a man named Gray
And took his wife to Italy
She inherited a million bucks
And when she died it came to me
I can't help it if I'm lucky
(Bob Dylan: Idiot Wind)

In the same series…

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