The portrayals of authority and government in the films North by Northwest and Casablanca are presented in both similar and contrasting ways technically and through narrative. Various camera angles, mise-en-scene, and editing provide the basis of technical aspects that help develop each story with the authority overtones of the plots. The theme of government is apparent in the narrative form of both films. Within each film, there are times when the government’s role is both vital and unimportant to the plot. There is, however, always a sense of government being close-by, waiting for its moment to enter into the story. By government entering and leaving both stories at certain times, the important moments that result in the films must be analyzed together. Evaluating those moments in each film, with respect to comparing and contrasting their content to the other film in a moment-by-moment process, is the most logical format to follow in the remainder of this document.
In Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Nothwest, there is a case of mistaken identity dealing with Cary Grant’s character, Roger Thornhill. Thornhill is incorrectly thought to be a government secret agent, known as George Kaplan, on the trail of a spy by the name of Phillip Vandamm (James Mason). The audience never finds out anything about the government insinuations of the plot until 40 minutes into the film. This could be a deliberate delay by Hitchcock in order to keep the audience wondering and questioning what exactly is happening in the story. One of Hitchcock’s passions was to keep his audience in suspense throughout his film.
For an audience of modern times, government has been portrayed in various medias as secret, deceitful and to certain extremes, dangerous. The characteristics pointed out above help the film attain its suspenseful label. North by Northwest specifically deals with the mysterious American government and its cover-ups. Hitchcock chose to expose the government as American instead of leaving the audience to label the government for themselves. The audience may notice that while the primary government is touted American, Hitchcock never reveals Phillip Vandamm’s nationality. Remember that the film was debuted in 1959 as the United States was involved in the Vietnam War. The United States had many enemies including Russia, China and every other communist country in the world. Leaving Vandamm unlabeled to any certain country was logical as it was not hard for the audience to choose their own enemy.
Hitchcock exposed American government and left the other government to be decided by the viewer, while Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca dealt with two specific foreign nations.
Curtiz lets the audience know who exactly is involved in the story behind Casablanca. The primary countries associated with the film were France and Germany. The plot is set around the beginning of World War II and the fleeing of refugees to the United States through gaining exit visas from Casablanca. The government implications that Hitchcock delays in his film are immediately exposed from the beginning of Casablanca. The feeling of escaping authority is captured from the beginning of the film when the audience is introduced to the city of Casablanca by seeing the authorities rounding up suspects that may have possibly murdered German couriers carrying visas.
Through examples such as the one just discussed, Casablanca and North by Northwest share the escape characteristic from both government officers as well as criminals out to gain something for themselves. In fact, the whole storyline of Casablanca relies on the concept of escaping. What differs is when the director chooses to clue the audience in on how government will play out in the rest of the story. Hitchcock holds off on letting the audience know about government while Curtiz presents the idea from the very onset of the film.
The films are enriched by implicating the government into the story. In fact, neither story couldd probably have been told without some use of government involvement. The interesting thing to look at is how two different directors can choose to portray something such as authority of government and still get their message across in one way or another. Comparing Hitchcock and Curtiz, there could be an argument that Hitchcock was more successful in using government in his film as his film is remembered more for it than Casablanca. Curtiz and Casablanca are remembered more for their romantic portion of the story. Someone analyzing the films, however, can clearly see that both Casablanca and North by Northwest are, to a degree, statements about the political actions of their time.