Thunderbird, Casablanca and 75 Years Gone

By Michael H. Moffett, Associate Professor and Continental Grain Professor in Finance at Thunderbird

I love old movies. Not sure why, maybe a misspent youth, maybe a desire for what I perceived as simpler times gone by, whatever. But one movie has always represented Thunderbird over all others in my mind: Casablanca. 75 years ago this month, November 1942, the Allies invaded French North Africa –  Operation Torch – taking control of Casablanca; and a few weeks later, the movie Casablanca was released. A few months before that, the construction of Thunderbird Field 1 had been completed.

Courtesy of Wikimedia

I have for many years waged a small quiet campaign of my own: to make Casablanca the official Thunderbird movie. This is not to disrespect the actual movie filmed on our campus that same year (The Thunder Birds) but it certainly does not carry the weight and impact of the Bogart classic. After all, what other movie portrays the plight of the Thunderbird more accurately?

Consider their plight. Refugees from many nations collect at an isolated little community in the desert. Socially confined to such a remote island – or oasis depending on word choice – they wait, and wait, and wait. They study, plot, connive, and plan for their future. Competing interests and forces prey upon the refugees, from German officials to the Vichy French to local entrepreneurs. For social release they congregate at the same watering hole every evening. That watering hole, Rick’s Café Americain in the movie, the Pub in our La La Land in Glendale, becomes the focal point for strategic planning, and a meeting place for the varied clientele of the desert outpost. Meanwhile, the authorities regularly round up ‘the usual suspects.’

Escape, the letter of transit, the Hitchockian MacGuffin – the device driving the actions of all characters and plot – is what all Thunderbird students are ultimately in search of. In the movie it is the flight to Lisbon. At Thunderbird it is a diploma – and a job. And while Elsa (Ingrid Bergman) boards that flight for the new world, Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Louie (Claude Rains), stay behind to carry on the cause. Although I and my faculty colleagues unfortunately bear no likenesses to Humphrey or Claude, we do share one lasting bond, as noted by Louie in the closing scene: it is indeed ‘… the beginning of a beautiful friendship.’

Guest Writer

Guest Writer

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