It’s December 1941 in Casablanca. What time is it in Springfield?

casablanca simpsons poster

Ixnay on the Omarmay

Moe Szyslak as Rick (Humphrey Bogart)
Like Rick, Moe likes to present himself as a grouchy lowlife sulking in his dank bar. But he harbors a secret benevolence and hates it when people notice. Remember how angry he got when Flanders called him out as the nice man who reads to sick children in the hospital on Wednesday nights?

Oh Mindy, you came and you stopped me from something

Mindy Simmons as Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman)
Pretty, sweet, and smart, but without much personal agency. Mindy made it through college with a degree in engineering AND a job interview with Mr. Burns, so we think she would have the right…what’s that stuff? to live her life on the lam from the Nazis if she had to.

There are a few key relationships that keep The Simpsons on course: Bart & Lisa’s plucky sibling camaraderie, Selma & Patty’s mutual hatred of Homer, and Smithers’ blind love of Mr. Burns. The most central and important to the series though is the mutual love between Marge and Homer. For all the ups and downs they’ve had, there is no denying that they are head over heels for each other. Even if he says he [understands but] doesn’t care, you just know Homer’s love for Marge is the strongest force in his life. As for Marge, she didn’t hesitate for a second when asked to remarry him in “A Milhouse Divided”  (Season 8, Episode 6).

It’s a cliché to say that love makes us better people–but not a bad one. It can make a hero of a coward, a leader of a rebel, a saint of a sinner. It can also break hearts, and crush the most embiggened spirit. CASABLANCA  is one of the most romantic movies ever made (and it makes a good case for the top spot). Unlike most films where the love story is built around ‘the chase’ though, by the time we enter Rick’s Café Américain the sheen of love has already rusted. Morocco is filled with frightened and broken people, if they have anything ,they’ll barter it for escape, and love is just another currency to trade.

Mr. BOOGERstrom

Mr. Bergstrom as Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid)
Brilliant, driven, and brave, Mr. Bergstrom is the Jewish cowboy who wins your heart by virtue of what a great guy he is. And Laszlo, even though he is technically Rick’s rival in the game of love, you can’t help but root for him – even cynical Rick takes risks to help him in his mission.

Bake 'em away, toys

Chief Wiggum as Captain Renault (Claude Rains)
Renault and Wiggum are as similar in that they are each portrayed as stooges, but they can do the right thing when they really, really have to. When Renault directs his police to “round up the usual suspects” for Strasser’s murder, we’re reminded of Wiggum calling to warn the Homer that agents are on their way to nab his fugitive mom.

These letter of transit will rust up on ya like that, er ... shut up, Gil. Close the deal!

Gil as Ugarte (Peter Lorre)
Ugarte is the luckless sleazeball who peddles the stolen letters of transit at Rick’s cafe – and look where it got him. Played by Peter Lorre, he’s also one of the silver screen’s great sniveling cringers of all time.  Finally, a job Gil can excel at!

Why must you turn my office into a house of LIES?

Dr. Wolfe as Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt)
Dr. Wolfe, owner of Painless Dentistry (formerly Painful Dentistry) is a mean and vaguely German character. We needed someone mean and vaguely German, and those German power plant buyers were more of the “smiles and sunshine (and chocolate)” variety.

Blood and Guts Murphy

Bleeding Gums Murphy as Sam (Dooley Wilson)
Though Bleeding Gums’ instrument of choice is the saxophone, I could see him fitting in well at Rick’s cafe, easing customers’ troubled souls with the right tune.

Senor Strasser no es macho, y es solo un borracho

Linda Ronstadt as Woman with Guitar (Corinna Mura)
A perfect fit. Rick’s other musical entertainer, a flamenco-style guitarist and singer, can do a rousing version of the French National Anthem. She could probably also rock the Plow King jingle.

It's too hot today

Cayman Islands Guy as Signor Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet)
Such a perfect fit that I’d be shocked! SHOCKED! if the Simpsons didn’t base Krusty’s off-shore banker on this character. Ferrari is the proprietor of the Blue Parrot bar, but his main jam is dealing in Casablanca’s black market. Does he seem like the kind of dope who’d give details about “illegal, black market trade” on the phone to an investigator.  . . . Oh crap

May we have a brief, friendly chat?

Horst as Carl (S.Z. Sakall)
Rick’s right-hand man is a dead ringer for the cuddly German power plant manager in “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk”


Tito Puente’s singer as Sascha (Leonid Kinskey)
Rick’s shifty bartender is a dead ringer for the fiery singer for Tito Puente’s jazz ensemble. Bonus: the design for this character is exactly the same as the emcee for the ritzy club Princess Kashmir works at, it would have been even better if we could’ve grab a good picture of him from that setting.

Lisa, it's women like you that keep the rest of us from landing a husband.

Ms. Hoover as Yvonne (Madeleine Lebeau)
We had a really hard time casting this one. Yvonne was a local tart first seen pining for Rick, then hanging on the arm of a German soldier, and finally singing along to La Marseillaise with tears of patriotism streaming down her face. It would have been nice to get someone with the dew still on her, but Ms. Hoover seems the right combination of desperate but not terrible.

Hey, alley cats. Save it for the honeymoon!

Stanley and Martha Peterson as the Brandels (Helmut Dantine and Joy Page)
The Brandels were the Bulgarian newlyweds whose desperation moved Rick to help them win at gambling to avoid risking their young love by paying Renault’s price for an exit visa. We considered using young Homer and Marge, we settled on DMV employees Stanley and Martha because they seem so darn sweet and idealistic.

When casting our Casablanca, the not-too-obvious choice for Rick was Springfield’s own booze-slinging part-time smuggler, Moe Szyslak. There’s some debate among fans of the show as to whether Moe is a dirty, underhanded exploiter of addiction who occasionally shows an altruistic side, or a secret angel in Farah slacks who also shills cheap drinks. At the very least he’s a morally gray character, which is a rare trait in sitcoms and cartoons. We know Moe’s always harbored a sweet crush on “Midge,” and he’s come to the rescue of friends in need too, including saving the town’s stranded children from a deserted island. He’s even traveled the world via fan-chute to find himself and explore altruism. It really isn’t hard to imagine Moe going the distance for the woman he loves, or even the whole free world.

Ilsa wasn’t a hard casting choice either, there’s two women in Simpsons’ history who’ve been gold-hearted temptresses. First came Lurleen Lumpkin, the lowbrow but sweet ‘n sincere singer who Homer plucked from bar-dwelling obscurity. She idolized Col. Homer, but he wisely turned away from her carnal advances. A couple seasons later in “The Last Temptation of Homer,” Mindy arrives at the power plant as his gluttonous equal; a lady who shares his base needs, whom he was definitely smitten with too. In making our choice, Mindy makes more sense because there’s a mutual passion between Rick and Ilsa. Powerful and profound, the two love each other enough to be torn between their ideals and what they want–just like Homer and Mindy. Where Mindy comes really ahead though, is her decision to give up power to her paramour: “Homer, you know how I feel, so it’s up to you. Look in your heart. I think you’ll see what you want.” Ilsa doesn’t want to take her choice either, for different and even more compromising reasons, but she makes her personal desire known.

Would Moe make the same trade as Rick does in Casablanca? How secure can we feel about leaving the fate of the European Resistance in the hands of man who makes money off Russian Roulette in the back of his bar, on top of whale and panda smuggling? We can’t ever know, but time and time again when push comes to shove, Moe has grudgingly done what’s right, even if he does it with a gravelly sigh.

Comparing Casablanca to The Simpsons is an interesting exercise. The defining trope of sitcoms is that the cast can never really change, and aside from Lisa’s vegetarianism and some facets of a few minor characters, the show never really did over the course of 10 years. The Simpsons coalesced into more purified versions of themselves, but they remain remarkably consistent to their core personalities.

Casablanca though seems to be about upsetting the status quo of Rick and his family of expatriates, forcing the lead characters to make Big Important Decisions. Rick starts out like Surly the Duff–only looking out for one guy: Surly!–but after colliding with his lost love, and the living embodiment of Virtue that is Victor Laszlo, he can’t help but do the right thing. Not as much changes as you think, though. Ilsa arrives at the Café Américain with her husband, and despite some heart-rending effort eventually leaves with him too. Rick, Capt. Renault, and Sam are stuck in Casablanca at the start of the film and when it ends they’re still there.

There’s a line in the movie, Bogart’s character says, “It’s December 1941 in Casablanca. What time is it in New York?…I bet they’re asleep in New York. I bet they’re asleep all over America.” Watching today, that line might not sound particularly important, but to audiences at its premier in November of 1942 it was meant as a retroactive warning; If it’s very early in December of 1941 no one in the movie knows that the Japanese are about to attack Pearl Harbor. As much as Casablanca is a romance, it’s also a propaganda piece: the movie wasn’t about moving the characters forward, its about moving the audience, a rallying call to put others first, enlist in the military, go to Europe and defeat the Nazis.

Both Casablanca and The Simpsons have moral lessons to teach. Casablanca dealt with one big message particular to one moment in history, but The Simpsons had 10 years to delve into the emotional nooks of its characters. Because of that freedom, even though the cast has remained static, they also became more three-dimensional, real. Which helped forge a bond that kept viewers coming back week after week, to be entertained by little morality plays that they could also learn from.

This entry was posted in Classic, Film, Movies, recasting, The Simpsons and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to It’s December 1941 in Casablanca. What time is it in Springfield?

  1. Pingback: Reading Digest: Over the Gorge Edition | Dead Homer Society

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