Wednesday April 2, 2008

Weygand or de Gaulle?

Over at Byzantium's Shores, blogger Jaquandor recently brought to my attention an apparently long-running controversy  about a line in Casablanca.  In the film, Ugarte (Peter Lorre) tells Rick (Humphrey Bogart) that he has letters of transit signed by General...somebody.  Opinions differ about which general it is that Lorre mentions.  Some hear de Gaulle, which would be a mistake on the part of the filmmakers, since Charles de Gaulle was the leader of the Free French forces, and his signature would be less than worthless in Vichy France.  Others hear Weygand, which makes more sense—Maxime Weygand was an official in the Vichy government and for a time was in charge of the North African colonies.

Here's the comment I left on Jaquandor's post:

If I close my eyes and listen to Lorre pronouncing the name, I'm pretty sure I hear Weygand (which is pronounced [vɛgɑ̃]) and not de Gaulle.  He definitely does not pronounce the final [l] that de Gaulle should have, but rather finishes with a nasalized vowel, as in Weygand.  On the other hand, if I watch his lips while I listen, I start to think he might be pronouncing a [d] at the beginning of the word.  But who are you going to believe—your own ears or your lying eyes?  (Tangent: The McGurk Effect)

I figured that you, my linguistically-savvy readership, could probably shed some light on the matter.  First, listen to this audio clip of the line in question.  If you like, you can also watch the whole scene—the name of the general is mentioned at about 1:54:

According to the Wikipedia article about Casablanca, the English subtitles on the DVD say "de Gaulle", but the French subtitles say "Weygand".  Since the subtitles were very likely created by having somebody sit down and transcribe the movie, I think we can surmise what happened.  An American who'd never heard of any French general besides de Gaulle and Napoleon listened to the scene, heard "General [foreign accent static]", and concluded he or she had heard de Gaulle.  When the French subtitler, who presumably knew more about Vichy France and also had a better ear for French phonology, listened to the scene, he or she heard Weygand, which is both more sensible historically and (IMHO) a better match for what Peter Lorre says.

Because of this, I'm especially curious to hear the opinions of any native French speakers (or at least, French speakers who are more fluent than I am) about the matter.  If the consensus is that Lorre really did say Weygand, we may even be able to improve Wikipedia a bit.  The aforementioned article about Casablanca currently states, "The audio clearly says 'de Gaulle'".  The discussion in the talk page is nearly unanimous on this point as well.  If Lorre actually said Weygand, somebody who can emit an aura of authority and has the stomach for such things ought to fix the Wikipedia article and then defend the edit.

What do you think?  More to the point, what do you hear?  And are there any volunteers?

[Now playing:  "A Forest" by Nouvelle Vague]

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
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It actually sounded like [de:gO~d] to my ears, which would be written something like "De Gand" in French. In other words, something like a hybrid between the two names.

Posted by: Pete Bleackley at Apr 2, 2008 3:03:57 AM

Why on earth would the people who made the movie have had him say "De Gaulle"? This isn't a historical movie where they didn't bother hiring competent researchers; it was made during the events described, and everyone, even Hollywood types, knew who was on which side. It's as if you made a movie now and had a character offer a pass signed by General Petraeus to an al-Qaeda commander. Doesn't make sense.

Posted by: language hat at Apr 2, 2008 6:38:19 AM

I clearly hear 'vay-GAHN' -- Weygand.

Posted by: Russell Borogove at Apr 2, 2008 10:34:14 AM

I hear Weygand as well. Maybe this is just wishful thinking, but watch how Lorre's bottom lip is tucked in as he's pronouncing the initial consonant -- looks like a v to me.

Posted by: RM at Apr 2, 2008 10:44:30 AM

There's no way that's "De Gaulle"; though it does sound like it, there's just no final consonant there, only a nasalized vowel. The confusion over the initial consonant...well, look, what you've got is Peter Lorre, who's an Austrio-Hungarian actor (from what is now Slovenia) playing a character in a French territory in Africa who is, what the heck is "Ugarte" supposed to be? Wikipedia tells me its a Basque word used as a surname in Spanish-speaking countries. And he's speaking English. With that much "foreign accent static", he might as well be saying "General Washington" and we'd never know the difference.

Posted by: Lance at Apr 2, 2008 4:30:18 PM

I hear Weygand as well. And it doesn't look much like a /d/. Rather, it looks like a /v/ combined with fairly extreme lip-spreading for the vowel, which strikes me as unusual for English but maybe less so for French.

Posted by: Emily at Apr 2, 2008 9:53:50 PM

Definitely Weygand. That is, [ve'gœ̃]. Considering Weygand's role as Delegate-General to the North African colonies and de Gaulle's position, there should be no doubt.

Posted by: bulbul at Apr 3, 2008 8:39:52 AM

Haven't read the Wiki article, but I'm somewhat surprised there isn't an original script extant somewhere.

Posted by: Rob at Apr 3, 2008 3:47:03 PM

I'm afraid it's all a tempest in a teacup - I've seen it many, many times, a number with native French and German speakers, and all but one say it's De Gaulle. Notice Lorre's lip movements, which don't correspond with Weygand - but regardless, the script copies I've seen all say De Gaulle. You could look it up, there's a number of them online. The film was rife with factual errors - "Ah, that's the new German 77." sez Rick in Paris. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? Wrong war - this was a Great War artillery piece. It's not easy hearing glaring errors in a favorite film, but remember, Hollywood ain't the real thing, and they don't always care about facts - stick to the familiar, the audience prolly wouldn't know the difference, is my guess.

Posted by: Vanwall at Apr 6, 2008 10:06:00 PM

Vanwall, some replies to the points you raise:

  • Lorre's lip movements have been mentioned, and they seem to correspond to Weygand. Unfortunately, they also correspond roughly to de Gaulle, though the lack of lip rounding on the second vowel is suspicious (it should be [o]).
  • I poked around a bit for the script online, and one that I found contains the following caveat:

    When production began the script was only half completed, near the end of production the script was literally being written the night before, and in the final days of filming, the dialogue for some scenes was written while shooting was actually in progress and then rushed to the set. Dialogue for the final seconds of the film was even added well after production had been completed.

    It is therefore accurate to say that no complete production script for Casablanca exists. The script that follows is therefore a synthesis of extant versions of the shooting script, the continuity script, and a close analysis of the finished film.

    Note the section I've put in boldface. It suggests that at least part of the script was generated the way I suspect the subtitles were: by listening and transcribing. A script produced like that is no more reliable than the DVD subtitles, unless it can be shown to be the script that was actually used on the day. If you know of a more authentic script, I'd like to take a look at it.

Also, I'd be interested to read what your French friends have to say about the matter, if they're online.

(BTW, I have to say I'm a little put off by the way you present your arguments. "[M]any, many times, a number with native French and German speakers", "script copies...all say De Gaulle", "[n]otice Lorre's lip movements", "[y]ou could look it up" -- these are all rather vague, anecdotal, and hand-wavy. Honestly, how many of your French friends have you actually discussed that particular line with? And in how many different scripts have you examined the line? Don't twist my arm; convince me.)

Posted by: The Tensor at Apr 7, 2008 2:12:27 PM

M. Tensor -

My mother-in-law and father-in-law are French, and my step-mother is German, and I have watched "Casablanca" with all of them at various times over the years, and in fact, the French family made specific comments regarding the strange reference to De Gaulle, altho my wife believes it could possibly be Weygand. I also specifically asked my step-mother if she heard Lorre say De Gaulle, (I'd wondered about this point for years) and she said yes, and remarked he has a peculiar accent as well, altho I'm not sure she meant for this film only. None of these folks are on-line, sorry, even tho the in-laws were both early programmers. (They are glad to be away from machines as much as possible in retirement in Brittany.) In addition, as a mil-hist buff since I was a kid, this line has mystified me since then, as it isn't logical, but Lorre said De Gaulle all the same, AFAIC.

I've lost count of the times I've watched it myself, and as a film junkie, Peter Lorre is a particular favorite of mine, so I've become used to his often curious line delivery, which has a bit of signature grimace to it, regardless of what emotion is being expressed, and which can be confusing if viewed only occasionally due to his accent - "Casablanca" is no different in this regard. He has peculiarly expressive facial movements, however, and his lip movements for pronouncing 'v' for Weygand and 'd' for De Gaulle are quite different, altho, to be honest I can't site a particular on-line vid to sample from, only my many viewings of his films - I firmly see and hear De Gaulle, and not Weygand. I cannot see how anyone familiar with even
a fair amount of his films could do otherwise.

As for anecdotal, ALL of these interpretations are essentially anecdotal, as they rely on what your mind thinks he's saying - I believe those particular French translators may have been psychologically incapable of hearing De Gaulle - those crazy Americans, they can't get get any history correct, so it's up to us more knowing French to correct their error by our superior translation! Besides, they would've caught merry hell about so obvious an error in French history - and as the dialog is added post-production in European films, I bet the power of suggestion is easier over there, anyway - lip movements are often slightly out of sync.

As for the scripts, I don't see the statement referenced for the one as a definitive against, but rather as a confirmation for its accuracy thru many sources - there are a number of accents, faked and real, in the film which could lead to confusion, so a close analysis is more likely for those other occasions, I believe. Some years ago when this topic came up on one of the online film boards, I'm sorry I don't remember which one, someone posted links to three or four different sites that had transcriptions, and they all said De Gaulle. I don't see most of these anymore, so I plead lost in the evidence room, still to resurface, I'm sorry to say. If this is hand wavy still, I can wave harder, but that's about it. I suppose it will be a point of argument forever, but I'll stick with my "interpretation".

Posted by: Vanwall at Apr 7, 2008 7:29:32 PM

I get /ve.gã/ when I watch and listen closely.

Is it possible that some (anglo) subtitlers were thrown off by a position assimilation from the rather-strongly-alveolar /l/ terminating "general"?

as a related question: is the actor a true Francophone, or an American putting it on? (no wait, it's Peter Lorre; he's Austro-Hungarian.) Perhaps that messes with Vanwall's in-laws' and step-mother's judgments.

If I remember tonight, I'll ask my own French sources...

Posted by: Trochee at Apr 10, 2008 4:53:28 PM

Vanwall, thanks for your more detailed comments. The reason I wish your French-speaking relatives were online is I'd like to ask them the following: I understand that they hear de Gaulle where some other people hear Weygand; do they think that Weygand is an impossible interpretation of the line Lorre speaks? Or do they just think it sounds more like de Gaulle than Weygand?

By the way, in a fit of industry I went to the university library and found Best Film Plays of 1943-1944, edited by John Gassner and Dudley Nichols, published by Crown in 1945. It contains a script of Casablanca. Ugarte's line about the letters of transit reads:

...Do you know what these are? Something that not even you have ever seen--(Lowering his voice) Letters of Transit signed by Marshal Weygand. They cannot be rescinded or questioned. (p. 640)

Lest you think that the case is closed, though, I should point out the following disclaimer at the end of the introduction for the volume (boldface mine):

NOTE: The texts used in this book are the final shooting scripts. Necessarily, however, in the nature of film making many changes and deletions occur in the shooting and film editing. Whenever a brief sequence occurs which did not appear in the released film, it has been enclosed in heavy brackets. When it seemed absolutely necessary, shooting scripts were collated with dialogue and continuity transcripts of the film.

It's just possible, then, that the version of Ugarte's line in the book is simply one more person's interpretation of what they heard. However, I think this is extremely unlikely--there are several differences between the spoken line and the printed one that a transcriber would certainly not have introduced, so at least that part of the book's Casablanca script appears to have preceded the film.

I'm not sure this issue can be finally settled without digging up Peter Lorre and asking him what he intended to say, but unless somebody can come up with a more primary source, it appears that he was supposed to say Weygand and not de Gaulle.

Posted by: The Tensor at Apr 14, 2008 12:20:49 AM

I have seen that book quoted before but had never seen it myself, and mention has been made of the fact that Weygand was in the original script, but not in the other scripts I've seen; I've also heard references that day-to-day tweaking was done on the spot on the set, and this what I had understood to be the case with this line - I do have to say that before the WWW, in the creaky old written and spoken days when I watched much of the films I can claim as in my canon, and specifically "Casablanca" with my in-laws, that this was just as much a point of contention then as now, and it hasn't gotten any better as far as clarification. I was at a minor retrospective in the early 1980's in Los Angeles, and it was pointed out then that most Americans, the target audience, had no idea who Weygand was at the time the film was made or even released, but De Gaulle was quite well-known by then, and the decision was made to have Ugarte's line changed to De Gaulle. A minor discussion ensued, but the great majority of people there sided with the De gaulle interpretation. I feel it's a bit of a stretch to get Weygand out of Lorre's mouth in this case - regardless of what the written scripts said, my German step-mother also heard De Gaulle, but remember, my wife, who is French, says it could be Weygand, but only after I suggested it as a possibility. As I mentioned earlier, factual representations of the war going on at that time were changed to fit the film in a number of places in the script - the German 77s that were supposed to be 88s has been seen as a request from the DOD to suppress the fact that they knew about them at all, or at least keep the general public out of the loop, altho even that is disputed. I won't go into rants about Nazi uniform gaffes from the military history loonies. I'm of the belief the power of suggestion has more to do with Ugarte's utterance than even the written word, so I say tomato, you say Weygand, I guess it'll never be definitive.

Posted by: Vanwall at Apr 14, 2008 10:08:16 AM

I have seen Casablanca many times, and listened to that clip, fully expecting to hear, "de Gaulle." Imgagine my surprise when I very clearly heard, "Weygand." I now think it is almost certainly Weygand.

Posted by: Paul at Apr 15, 2008 8:21:48 PM

I don't know if it will help but, i am French and he says Weygand...

Posted by: Lionel at Apr 16, 2008 3:04:25 PM

Same as Paul and Lionel, I was expecting a hybrid, but clearly heard Weygand.

Posted by: Myrtille at Apr 18, 2008 7:56:22 AM

To my ears, the ogg and youtube excerpts definitely begin with /v/ not /d/ end with a nasal vowel. That's after several listens to each. I would not trust the evidence of someone who was watching the film in realtime without the ability to loop and replay the precise segment.

Posted by: mollymooly at Apr 19, 2008 12:03:37 PM

I'm enjoying the commentary above and everybody's various assessments of what was said in the film. It definitely piqued my curiosity! It's Weygand. How do I know? I looked it up in a script that I happened to recall when reading everybody's comments. I haven't looked at in decades. (The script even survived Katrina!). However, I surely don't want to put a damper on all the wonderful speculation by readers. If somebody is really interested in the facts though, there's an answer, from what I found. Patty

Posted by: patty at Jul 2, 2008 3:32:39 AM

I'm enjoying the commentary above and everybody's various assessments of what was said in the film. It definitely piqued my curiosity! It's Weygand. How do I know? I looked it up in a script that I happened to recall when reading everybody's comments. I haven't looked at in decades. (The script even survived Katrina!). However, I surely don't want to put a damper on all the wonderful speculation by readers. If somebody is really interested in the facts though, there's an answer, from what I found. Patty

Posted by: patty at Jul 2, 2008 3:32:58 AM

I'm Dutch and I clearly heard "general Weygand," rather than "de Gaull"e. I think the French pronunciation of w, which native English speakers generally can't discern from the v, in combination with the French-style merging between several words in a sentence, is what puts people off here. I can imagine that one might think something like "deygand" is being said.

I should add that I wasn't able to watch the scene, but there is something you should note that you might not be aware of. The w-sound isn't created by putting the lips in some kind of circle, like in English, but by keeping the mouth in the same way as when one creates the d-sound. The only difference (on the outside) is that the lower lip is shortly pressed against the upper teeth to create the w. If I could watch the clip I might be able to discern this, but it probably wouldn't make a difference.

Posted by: Frans at Oct 30, 2008 2:32:13 PM

P.S. This is of course very similar to how one produces the v in both French and English, but whereas the v is produced somewhere around the inside the mouth part of the lip, the w is more around the outside part of the lip.

Posted by: Frans at Oct 30, 2008 2:36:31 PM