Madeleine Lebeau, the last surviving member of the cast of Casablanca, has died at the age of 92. Lebeau played the part of Yvonne, introduced early in the film as a jilted French expat in love with Humphrey Bogart's Rick Blaine.
In a subsequent scene, she walks into Rick's Cafe Americain on the arm of a German soldier. But when an underground leader seeking to flee the clutches of Nazi Germany, Victor Lazlo, played by Paul Henreid, leads the cafe patrons in singing La Marseillaise, Yvonne chokes back tears and reclaims her patriotism.
As such, she foreshadows a similar transformation on the part of Bogart's Blaine. Near the film's end, Claude Rains' police prefect, Captain Louis Renault, remarks, "Rick, you've become a patriot." Says Rick: "It seemed like a good time."
Lebeau's performance was affecting and, according to this piece from deadline.com, the tears she shed during the La Marseillaise scene were genuine. Lebeau, who was Jewish, and her husband fled from France as Nazi Germany occupied and overran their homeland.
She wasn't the only member of the Casablanca cast to know first hand about the savagery and antisemitism of the Nazi regime. Most notable among them maybe, was Conrad Veidt, who played the villainous Major Heinrich Strasser.
Casablanca is one of my favorite movies ever. I rarely pass up the chance to see it when it airs on TCM. Part of it is that the performance of Bogart, my favorite screen actor of all, and his costar, Ingrid Bergman, are perfect. No matter how they felt about each other personally, they convey the deepest poignance as two people who love each other and can never be together. (Though they know that they "will always have Paris.")
But, beyond Bogart and Bergman, the entire film deserves the label classic. The script, the supporting cast, the direction, the music, and the plot all combine to produce a compelling story of people running from a cruel madness, coping often with a cynicism which they drop before the bold idealism of Victor Laszlo.
Lebeau was an old woman when she passed and the world of Casablanca seems as removed from today as the Dark Ages. And yet, the movie continues to stir and people resonate to the astounding performances of Lebeau and all who made this a film worth seeing again and again.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]
[Thanks to @The_News_Diva for putting me onto this story.]