You are looking at (above) what the French culture minister has proclaimed forever the face of French resistance against the World War II German occupation of France. Do you recognize it and her?
Among the dozens of motion picture refugees who fled from the Nazis and found a home in Hollywood, she was the actress who made the largest impression by doing so little. It wasn’t that I was cut out, it was because they kept changing the script, and each time they changed it, I had less of a part, she complained about her mesmerizing classic film moment.
Our subject — Madeleine Lebeau, who died on May 1 in Spain at age 92 — played Humphrey Bogart’s spurned girlfriend in 1942’s Casablanca. You know, the floozy who so passionately joins in the singing of La Marseillaise as an emotional counterpunch to the smug German officers gathered in Rick’s Cafe Americain.
It’s a great Hollywood moment, and one The New York Times summarizes nicely in its Lebeau obit.
In one of the film’s pivotal scenes, Nazi officers in the cafe begin singing the patriotic song ‘Watch On The Rhine,’ where upon the Czech resistance leader (Paul Henreid) orders the house band to strike up the French national anthem.
One by one, the bar’s patrons rise and join in, drowning out the Germans. As the song nears its stirring finale, the camera closes in on (Lebeau), her face lit with patriotic fervor, tears streaming from her eyes as she sings.
At the song’s conclusion, the camera swings toward her again as she shouts a defiant ‘Vive la France! Vive la democratie.’
That was it, the entire scene. Anyone who has seen Casablanca is not likely to forget it.
Lebeau was born in a suburb of Paris in 1923. After a desultory career in European features, she departed for Hollywood in 1939.
At the time she was married to French actor Marcel Dalio, who famously played the croupier at Rick’s — you know, the one who hands local police Lt. Louis Renault (Claude Rains) his winnings simultaneously with the official’s proclamation that he was “shocked, shocked” to discover gambling going on at the Cafe.
Lebeau was just 19 when she was cast for her Casablanca appearance. Little did she realize she would achieve cinematic immortality with just this one scene. Adieu, Madeleine.
Answer to yesterday’s question about Clark Gable and friends: Our Double Dating quartet photographed out on the town included Gable on the right, actor Gilbert Roland and then wife, actress Constance Bennett, on the left. The older-looking woman next to Gable was actually his wife (No. 2 of 5 Gable spouses), Maria Franklin Langham. (More on Gable’s marriages in coming blogs.)