Casablanca: The theme of Loyalty as seen through Yvonne (Madeleine Lebeau)

Madeline Lebeau: 1923-2016
Madeline Lebeau: 1923-2016

The recent passing of Madeleine Lebeau marked the last of the surviving credited cast members from Casablanca. In her small role as Yvonne, she delivered one of the most emotional and lasting lines in the ‘battle of the anthems’ scene, with her tearful “Vive la France!”

LOYALTY
The theme of loyalty is ever present throughout Casablanca, which has been called “World War Two in a bar.” Some are steadfast, like Sam is to Rick, while others shift with the wind, treading the line between loyalty and betrayal. Rick Blaine, who is symbolically the personification of America and her position during the early stages of WWII, tries to remain neutral.

Yvonne-Rick-Casablanca-first
©Warner Bros.

We first meet Yvonne in the bar where she confronts Rick:

Yvonne: Where were you last night?
Rick: That’s so long ago, I don’t remember.
Yvonne: Will I see you tonight?
Rick: I never make plans that far ahead.

In this brief exchange, we learn that Rick is living moment-to-moment, and relatively cold, at least on the outside, which is part of his defense mechanism (note the body language). She is trying to be loyal to him; he is loyal to no one.


Yvonne German Casablanca
©Warner Bros.

The next night, Yvonne shows up at Rick’s with a German soldier, ostensibly to make Rick jealous by pretending to betray him. Sasha, the bartender, only has eyes for Yvonne.


Germans-piano-Casablanca
©Warner Bros.

Later, the Germans gather around Sam’s piano to sing “Watch on the Rhine” which infuriates Rick and causes Victor Laszlo, the leader of the Free French movement, to take action.


Renault-song-Casablanca
©Warner Bros.

Renault, who admits to placing his loyalty with the prevailing wind, keeps an eye on both sides:


Laszlo-playit-Casablanca
©Warner Bros.

Laszlo commands the band to play the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise”: His loyalty is with his country.


Band Leader-Casablanca
©Warner Bros.

The band leader is loyal only to Rick, and looks for his signal.


Rick-nods-Casablanca
©Warner Bros.

Rick nods in approval and the bands starts to play the counterpoint. He is loyal to the underdog, which in this case is the Resistance.


Germans-singing2-Casablanca
©Warner Bros.

Major Strasser and the other Germans double their efforts to sing louder.


Laszlo-refrain-Casablanca
©Warner Bros.

Laszlo rallies back and gains the upper hand. He loyalty is with freedom over tyranny.


Ilsa-Victor-Casablanca
©Warner Bros.

Ilsa remains glued to Laszlo. There is no questioning her loyalty at this moment.


Yvonne-vivelafrance-Casablanca
©Warner Bros.

Finally, it becomes clear the Yvonne is loyal to neither Rick nor the German as she exclaims, “Vive la France!” at the end of the song.

Thank you, Madeleine Lebeau, for playing such a wonderful Yvonne in this memorable scene.

Madeleine Lebeau


[YouTube video of this scene (external link, not posted by this website)]

 

commentary: Chris Sheridan