Casablanca

Directed by Michael Curtiz with Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt, and Paul Henreid, black and white, 102 minutes, 1942

DVD cover

DVD cover

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 and pickpockets.

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 Unoccupied France.

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, matter-of-factly.

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 his "work."

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 into Paris."

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 over virtue."

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, of course."

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, conniver?

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 stereotype villain.

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.

This film is ranks 21st in Carter B. Horsley's Top 500 Sound Films and, seventh in the January 2, 2004 listing of the Top 250 movies at the Internet Movie Data Base, and second in the American Film Institute's Top 100 Films

Click here to order the two-disc, 2003 DVD of the movie from Amazon.com for $18.89, 30 percent off its list price

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