By Carter B. Horsley
"Casablanca" is the
most quotable movie in history.
It also happens to have the
best performances in their careers by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid
Bergman, a fabulous group of supporting actors, a wonderful score,
and it is a romance with nobility.
In "Casablanca," Rick Blaine, who
is played by Humphrey Bogart, has savoir faire with sang
froid. He's got know-how and is fearless. He is the epitome
of jaded, cool, sophistication with his white dinner jackets and
his dry humor. He's done, and knows, it all. He's not perfect,
of course, for he is a bit off the celebrity track and in Casablanca,
the Moroccan city where refugees from Nazi-dominated Europe are
trying to get passage to Lisbon so they can fly to America and
start new lives. In Casablanca, he is, in fact, something of a
celebrity as the proprietor of Rick's Café Americain, a
popular nightclub and casino.
The movie starts rather slowly with a voice-over
and maps setting up Casablanca as the destination of refugees
from war-ravaged Eugope trying to get to Lisbon so they can fly
to America. Casablanca's bustling streets are full of refugees
As the movie begins, the police are rounding
up "all suspicious characters" because two German couriers
have been killed and important documents were stolen from them.
The time is December, 1941 and Casablanca is governed by the neutral
Major Heinrich Strasser of the German Gestapo
arrives by plane and is greeted by Capitaine Louis Renault, the
pro-Vichy police chief of Casablanca. Major Strasser is played
with great elegance by Conrad Veidt and Capitaine Renault is played
with delightful drollery by Claude Rains.
Capitaine Renault informs Major Strasser that
the murderer of the couriers will be arrested that night at Rick's
Café Americain. Major Strasser duly notes Renault's efficiency
but is also very concerned that Victor Lazlo, a Czechoslavak resistance
leader who has escaped three times from the Nazis and just arrived
in Casablanca not escape again and be permitted to leave the city.
Most of the movie's actions take place at Rick's
Americain. The movie quickly establishes Rick as the cynical but
worldly proprietor who barely tolerates his customers.
Guillermo Ugarte, played with swarmy unctiousness
by Peter Lorre, strikes up a conversation in the casino with Rick,
asking "Too bad, abou those two German couriers, wasn't it?"
"You despise me, don't you" he asks Rick, who replies
that "if I have you any thought, I probably would."
Ugarte maintains that Rick objects to his business of selling
black-market visas and maintains that he sells them for half the
price of Renault, the owner of the Blue Parrot, another nightclub.
"Is that so parasitic?" "I don't mind a parasite,"
Rick responds, "I object to a cut-rate one." "You
know Rick, I have many a friend in Casablanca, but somehow, just
because you despise me you are the only one I trust." Chain-smoking
Ugarte reveals he has two very valuable exit visas, probably the
documents stolen from the couriers and asks if Rick will hold
them for him. He tells Rick that perhaps he is more impressed
with him now. "Yes, I am a little more impressed with you,"
Rick replies, accepting the documents and hiding them the top
of the club's piano while the piano player, Sam, played by Dooley
Wilson, plays "Who's Got Trouble? Knock on Wood."
Ugarte goes away and Senor Ferrari, played
by Sydney Greenstreet, enters the club.
Greenstreet and Lorre had played with Bogart
the year before in "The Maltese Falcon." While their
roles are less demanding in "Casablanca," they remain
unforgettable. Greenstreet's imposing girth is matched by his
devilous glee at intrigue. He is imperious and supercilious. He
has marvelous magnitude, just as he did in "The Maltese Falcon."
Lorre, on the other hand, is less villainous than he was in "The
Maltese Falcon," but sensationally sneaky - he could probably
steal your shoes while you are walking.
Senor Ferrari confers with Rick. He wants to
buy his café. Rick declines. "What do you want for
Sam?" Ferrari asks blithely. "I don't buy or sell human
beings," Rick replies. "Too bad, that's Casablanca's
leading commodity. In refugees alone, we could make a fortune,
if your work withme through the black market," Ferrari says,
adding "Suppose we ask Sam." Sam, however, declines:
"I like it here fine."
Rick is accosted at the bar by a woman, Yvonne,
played by Madeleine LeBeau, who asks him where he was the night
before. "That's so long ago, I don't remember," Rick
responds. "Will I see you tonight?" she asks. "I
never make plans that far ahead," Rick says.
Clearly, Rick likes his privacy and can mince
words with the best.
Capitaine Renault asks him what brought him
to Casablanca. "My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters,"
Rick replies. "The waters? What waters? We're in the desert,"
the capitaine exclaims. "I was misinformed," Rick explains,
The capitaine tells Rick the murderer of the
two couriers will be arrested that night at the casino and warns
him not to interfere. "I stick my neck out for nobody,"
Rick assures him in best tough-guy fashion.
The capitaine tells Rick that while many exit
visits are sold at Café Americain he knows that Rick has
never sold them and that is why he is permitted to stay open.
Rick replies that he thought it was because he lets him win at
roulette. The capitaine tells Rick that Victor Lazlo, a famous
resistance leader from Czechoslovakia who has escaped three times
from the Nazis, will be arriving shortly but that he will not
be permitted to leave Casablanca. Rick suggests a 20,000-franc
bet on whether Lazlo will get out of Casablanca, but the capitaine
agrees only to a 10,000-franc bet, stating that he is "only
a poor corrupt official." The capitaine also tells Rick that
Lazlo is travelling with a very beautiful woman and tells Rick
that he suspects that "under that cynical shell" Rick
is a sentimentalist as he is familiar with Rick's having supplied
guns to Ethiopia when that country was invaded by Italy in 1935
and with his fighting the Loyalist government the next year in
the Spanish Civil War.
Ugarte is then arrested at the casino but pulls
a gun and tries to escape, pleading with Rick to hide him. Rick
says, one more time, "I stick my neck out for nobody."
After Ugarte is taken away, the capitaine introduces
Rick to Major Strasser, who asks him what is his nationality.
"I'm a drunkard," Rick replies and soon excuses himself
to his business of "running a saloon."
Lazlo enters the café accompanied by
Ilsa and Capitaine Renault welcomes them, remarking to her that
"I was informed you were the most beatiful woman ever to
visit Casablanca - that was a gross understatement."
Major Strasser comes to their table, but Lazlo
refuses to stand to greet him and Major Strasser orders him to
appear for questions the next morning at the police chief's office.
Ilsa asks Sam, the pianist, played by Dooley
Wilson, to play "some of the old songs" as she recognizes
him from Paris. Sam tells her to leave Rick alone: "You're
bad luck to him." She insists that he play "As Time
Goes By," a song composed by Herman Hupfeld for a 1931 revue
called "Everybody's Welcome." "Play it once, Sam,
for old time's sake," she says, "Play it, Sam."
On hearing Sam sing the song, Rick rushes,
tell him "I thought I told you never to play" the song,
but is shocked to see Ilsa, just as the capitaine and Lazlo return
to the table from the bar. Lazlo compliments Rick for his "very
interesting café," but Rick congratulates him for
Ilsa asks Rick when they last met and he replies,
"La Belle Aurore," and she says "How nice. You
remembered. But, of course, that was the day the Germans marched
After Lazlo and Ilsa leave and the café
closes, Rick drinks at the bar and tells Sam he knows that she
will come back. "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in
all the world, she walks into mine," Rick bemoans and tells
Sam to play what he wants to hear - "you played it for her,
you can play it for me."
The movie then flashes back to Paris where
Rick tells her romantically, "Here's look at you, kid."
At a nightclub, Rick tells her "why I'm so lucky, why I should
find you waiting for me to come along." "Why there is
no other man in my life," she asks, adding "That's easy.
There was. And he's dead." She urges him to leave Paris because
of his past activities and he says they should leave together
on the train to Marseilles and she agrees. At the train station,
however, Sam gives Rick a note from her that says she cannot go
with him or ever see him again, adding he must not ask why: "Just
believe I love you."
The flashback ends as Rick crumbles and discards
the note. Back in the café in Casablanca, Ilsa appears
and tells him she would not have come to Casablanca if she had
known he would be there. He asks her who she left him at the train
station in Paris for: "Was it Lazlo or were there others
in between?" In tears, Ilsa leaves.
At the meeting the next morning with Major
Strasser Lazlo is told that by Major Strasser that if he reveals
the names of his fellow resistance leaders in Europe he will get
a visa to leave.
"If I didn't give them to you in a concentration
camp, where you had more persuasive methods at your disposal,
I certainly won't give them to you now," Lazlo declares defiantly.
In the next scene, Rick goes to the Blue Parrot
and meets with its proprietor, Senor Ferrari, who expresses regret
about Ugarte's capture, and death. "You're a fat hypocrite.
You don't feel any sorrier for Ugarte than I do," Rick tells
him. Ferrari agrees but maintains he is upset because "no
one knows where those letters of transit are." "Practically
no one," Rick replies and leaves as Lazlo is on his way in.
Rick then runs into Ilsa outside in the market place and apologizes
for his drunken state the previous night.
Last night, I saw what happened to you,"
Ilsa says. "The Rick I knew in Paris I could tell him, he'd
understand. But the one who looked at me with such hatred - I'll
be leaving Casablanca soon and we'll never see each other again."
Rick asks her to return to his café and visit him in his
apartment there. "No, Rick. No, you see, Victor Lazlo's my
husband and was, even when I knew you in Paris," she tells
him as she walks away from a stunned Rick.
Lazlo asks Ferrari for help getting visas,
but Ferrari says it would not be worth his while, although it
might be possible to get one for Ilsa. Lazlo and Ilsa indicate
no interest in that but as they leave Ferrari tells them that
Ugarte might have left the stolen letters of transit with Rick.
At Rick's café, he is approached by
a woman who asks his advice about Capitaine Renault. She and her
husband have no money, she says, but Capitaine Renault has offered
to help by implying that if she had sex with him he would arrange
the visas. ""If someone loved you very much, so that
your happiness was the only thing that she wanted in the world,
but she did a bad thing to make certain of it, could you forgive
her?" she asks. "Nobody ever loved me that much,"
Rick comments. He suggests that she and her husband go back to
Bulgaria, but later he sees the husband at the roulette table
and asks him "Have you tried 22 tonight?" a clue to
the croupier to fix it so that that number comes up, enabling
the husband to get enough money to buy visas. Rick tells him "Cash
itin, and don't come back."
Lazlo tries to buy Ugarte's documents from
Rick, but Rick states that he's not interested in politics - "The
problems of the world are not in my department. I'm a saloon keeper."
Lazlo asks why Ricky won't sell the documents and Rick tells him
to "ask your wife."
At this moment, Major Strasser and a group
of German soldiers start singing in the café Die Wacht
am Rhein ("The Watch on the Rhine"). Lazlo comes
out of Rick's office and rushes to the band and orders it to play
La Marseillaise, the French national anthem. The two anthems
are song simultaneously as in a duel. Major Strasser is not amused
and orders Capitaine Renault to close the café. Rick asks
the Capitaine "on what grounds?" "I'm shocked,
shocked to find that gambling is going on here," the Capitaine
declares just as a croupier brings him his "winnings,"
which he pockets.
Later that night, Ilsa to Rick's apartment.
"Your unexpected visit isn't connected by any chance with
the letters of transit. It seems as long as I have those letters,
I'll never be lonely," Rick says "You can ask any price
you want, but you must give me those letters," Ilsa says.
"I went through all that with your husband. It's no deal,"
Rick replies, adding that "I'm not fighting for anything
anymore except myself. I'm the only cause I'm interested in."
Despite her entreaties, Rick refuses to part with the documents
and Ilsa pulls out a gun. "Go ahead and shoot. You'll be
doing me a favor," Rick exclaims.
Ilsa lowers the gun and says, "Richard,
I tried to stay away. I thought I would never see you again, that
you were out of my life....The day you left Paris, if you knew
what I went through, if you knew how much I loved you, how much
I still love you." She explains that Lazlo had wanted to
keep their marriage a secret and that the day she was supposed
to meet Rick at the train station she had learned that he was
still alive but sick. She asks Rick to help Lazlo get out of Casablanca
and states that she will "never have the strength" to
leave him - Rick - again. "You'll have to think for both
of us," she tells Rick, who responds and says he will, "here's
looking at you, kid."
There is noise downstairs in the café
and Rick discovers that Lazlo had been wounded in a police raid
on a resistance meeting that he had attended. Rick instructs an
employee to take Ilsa to her hotel while he talks to Lazlo. "Each
of us has a destiny, for good or for evil," Lazlo says, adding
that "I wonder if you know that you are trying to escape
from yourself, and that you'll never suceeed." Lazlo says
they are both in love with Ilsa and that he wants her to be safe
and he asks Rick "to take her away from Casablanca."
"You love her that much?" Rick asks. "Apparently
you think of me only as a leader of a cause. Well, I am also a
human being. Yes, I love her that much," Lazlo says.
The police enter the café and arrest
Lazlo. The next morning, Rick visits Capitaine Renault to try
to obtain Lazlo's release and reveals that he has the letters
and transit and intends to take Ilsa with him to Lisbon. Rick
wants Renault to let Lazlo out of jail shortly before the plane
for Lisbon departs so that he could be arrested at the café
in possession of the letters of transit. Renault agrees to cooperate
because it would impress Major Strasser and also let him win the
wager with Rick. Renault tells Rick that "you're the only
one in Casablanca with even less scruples than I." Rick then
goes to the Blue Parrot to sell his café to Ferrari and
provides that Sam will get 25 percent of the profits.
Lazlo and Ilsa show up at Rick's café
and she tells Rick that Lazlo thinks she is leaving with him and
asks "have'nt you told him?" Rick says no, but assures
her he has arranged everything and that they will tell him at
the airport. Lazlo thanks Rick and offers to pay for the letters
of transit, but Rick says, "Keep it, you'll need it America."
When Lazlo gets the letters, he is arrested
by Capitaine Renault and Ilsa moves to his side. Lazlo is surprised
and Capitaine Renault says that "Love, it seems, has triumphed
Rick, however, pulls a gun and orders Capitaine
Renault to call the airport: "Remember, this gun is pointed
right at your heart." "That is my least vulnerable spot,"
Capitaine Renault says. While Rick thinks he is dialing the airport,
Capitaine Renault has actually called Major Strasser.
At the airport, Rick tells an officer to put
Lazlo's luggage on the plane and orders Capitaine Renault to fill
in the names of Mr. and Mrs. Victor Lazlo on the letters of transit.
Ilsa is surprised and protests to Rick, who tells her that "Inside
of us, we both know you belong with Victor. You're part of his
work, the thing that keeps him going....If that plane leaves the
ground and you're not with him, you'll regret it....Maybe not
today, and maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your
life....We'll always have Paris....I've got a job to do too. Where
I'm going, you can't follow....Ilsa, I'm no good at being noble,
but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little
people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday
you'll understand that....Now, now, here's looking at you, kid."
Rick tells Lazlo that Ilsa had visited him
the previous night and begged for the letters of transit and he
let her pretend she was in love with him. Lazlo tells Rick, "Welcome
back to the fight." Ilsa and Lazlo get on the plane and Capitaine
Renault tells Rick that "this isn't going to be very pleasant
for either of us, especially for you. I'll have to arrest you,
Major Strasser arrives but Rick tells him he
was willing to shoot Capitaine Renault and he is willing to shoot
him. Major Strasser pulls out a gun and shoots at Rick, but Rick
shoots back and kills him. Police rush to the scene and Capitaine
Renault tells that "Major Strasser has been shot. Round up
the usual suspects."
"Well, Rick," he continues, "you're
not only a sentimentalist, but you've become a patriot."
"Maybe, but it seemed like a good time
to start," Rick replies.
"I think perhaps you're right," says
Capitaine Renault, who then suggests that he could be induced
to get Rick to join the Free French at Brazzaville. Rick agrees
he "could use a trip," but tells Capitaine Renault that
"you still owe me 10,000 francs." Capitaine Renault
replies that the 10,000 francs "should pay our expenses."
"Louis, I think this is the beginning
of a beautiful friendship," Rick muses.
The film's morality is in doubt until the very
end of the movie. Is Rick a self-centered, cold-hearted man indifferent
to the war and selfish enough to take away another man's wife?
Is Ilsa virtuous? Is Capitaine Renault a duplicitous, double-dealing,
Ingrid Bergman reportedly did not know how
the movie was going to end during most of the filming.
The melodrama could easily have been slight
and sophomoric were it not for the very fine acting and the marvelously
witty script, which was written by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G.
Epstein and Howard Koch. They adapted it from a play, entitled
"Everybody Comes to Rick's," that had been written by
Murray Burnett and Joan Alison.
Bogart, Greenstreet and Lorre had appeared
the year before in "The Maltese Falcon," which had been
the directorial debut of John Huston. Bogart's role in that movie
was also a hard-nosed, "tough guy," but his romantic
interest, Mary Astor, was not very lovable, especially in comparison
with the luminous Bergman. Greenstreet and Lorre are wonderful
in "Casablanca," but were actually more memorable in
"The Maltese Falcon." "Casablanca," however,
benefitted greatly by the brilliant performance by Claude Rains
as Capitaine Renault, and the quite capable performances of Paul
Henreid as Lazlo and Conrad Veidt as Major Strasser. "The
Maltese Falcon" was essently "down and dirty,"
whereas "Casablanca" exudes elegance. Rains is deliciously
sly and mirthfully lustful. His repartee with Rick is fabulous.
Reportedly, the last scene where Rick talks of "the beginning
of a beautiful friendship," was added after the movie had
supposedly been finished. As a figure of corrupt authority, Rains
is evil, but one of the strengths of the film is that the "bad
guys" are pretty interesting and pretty sophisticated and
pretty elegant. Conrad Veidt does not personify evil, but arrogance.
He certainly is not a "good" Nazi, but he is not the
Henreid is almost too noble a figure, but not
a cariacture. He is serious and dedicated, albeit perhaps too
mild-mannered but, again, he runs against type and that is part
of the charm and intrigue of the movie.
"The Maltese Falcon" was a complex
detective thriller. "Casablanca," on the other hand,
is a romantic melodrama with nobler ambitions because it was set
in World War II. In his
review of the movie, Roger Ebert wrote that "It is about
a man and a woman who are in love, and who sacrifice love for
a higher purpose." "What is intriguing is that none
of the major characters is bad. Some are cynical, some lie, some
kill, but all are redeemed," he added.
Ingrid Bergman is fabulously radiant in this
film, which is probably her most alluring. Ann Sheridan had been
considered for the role and Ronald Reagan and George Raft reportedly
had been considered for the role of Rick. The Bergman/Bogart magic
works magnificently. While the film breaks no conventions, it
is almost perfect and when it opened Casablanca was fortuitously
in the front page news about World War II.
"Casablanca" won Academy Awards for
best picture, best director, and best screenplay, and is one of
the most popular movies in film history.