Dusty is an avid classic movie fan who wants to share movie stories and evoke conversation about them.
1 hr. 42 mins Drama, Romance, War 1942 8.5 stars
Director: Michael Curtiz
Cast: Humphrey Bogart - Rick Blaine
Ingrid Bergman - Ilsa Lund
Paul Henreid - Victor Laszlo
Claude Rains - Captain Louis Renault
Conrad Veidt - Major Heinrich Strasser
Sydney Greenstreet - Signor Ferrari
Peter Lorre - Ugarte
S. Z. Sakall - Carl
Madeleine LeBeau - Yvonne
Dooley Wilson - Sam
Marcel Dalio - Emil – Croupier at Rick’s
Joy Page - Annina Brandel
Leonid Kinskey - Sascha
Note: Spoiler alert. This review reveals the outcome of the movie
Ilsa and Rick Meet Again (along with Louis and Victor)
Synopsis (Part 1)
At the start we are given the context, culture and climate of the city of Casablanca, a coastal city in Morocco, in December 1941. The city belongs to the Vichy French government who was allied with the Nazis but independent of them. Casablanca was therefore a neutral city and a safe place for refugees. And there were numerous refugees there waiting to purchase exit visas so that they could take the daily plane to Lisbon (and thence to America). The exit visas were expensive and so people would often get stuck in Casablanca for a long time. If they could afford a visa and a flight to Lisbon they were completely free, because Portugal was completely neutral. The idea would then be to board a flight from Lisbon to New York.
In Casablanca there was a club, “Rick’s Café Americain” complete with a bar, casino and entertainment. It was run by an American expat named Rick Blaine (played by Humphrey Bogart). Though the club was well-to-do it had seedy secrets. Louis Renault (played by Claude Rains) was the prefect of police, the law, in town and he was one of the many shady characters who haunted the club.
At the start of the story Ugarte (played by Peter Lorre) came to the club bearing two “letters of transit” which he happened to come by shortly after the German couriers carrying them were found murdered. These letters were a free pass to anywhere and to anyone who had them in their possession – much better than an exit visa. They may be termed “get out of Casablanca free cards”. Ugarte gave them to Rick for safe keeping because he knew he was being hunted by the authorities. Rick hid the letters in the piano.
Coming into the club that night was a German official Major Strasser (played by Conrad Veidt) along with his entourage. In an effort to impress Major Strasser Captain Renault arranged to have Ugarte arrested at the club that night. And just on cue Ugarte was approached by law officers, but he shot at them and bolted out the door. Nevertheless he is captured.
Shortly thereafter two more prominent guests stroll into the club, Ilsa Lund and Victor Laszlo. Ilsa (played by Ingrid Bergman) caused quite a stir when she asked Sam, the piano player (played by Dooley Wilson) to play “As Time Goes By”. This song brought Rick directly out of his office in a mood to confront. He firmly reminded Sam that he had told him before never to play that song. In response Sam simply nodded over to Ilsa then left. Rick stared at Ilsa hardly believing what he saw. Just then Captain Renault showed up with Victor Laszlo (played by Paul Henreid). Rick sat at the table with them and reminisced with Ilsa about a past they shared back in Paris, congratulated Victor on the excellent work he had done in the course of the resistance and told him that all over the world he was legendary. But all too soon curfew time arrived and their conversation came to an end.
Later that night Rick was alone in his bar drinking in the dark and remembering. Sam came in to keep Rick company. Rick insisted that Sam play that song again, Rick and Ilsa’s song, “As Time Goes By”. We, the audience, see a flashback as Rick remembers those happier days. Rick met Ilsa in Paris and fell in love. In the establishments that Rick ran there was always his constant companion, and piano man, Sam. Rick had a past record that would not please the Nazis so as they advanced on Paris Rick, Ilsa and Sam all planned to leave on the last train out of the city. But alas, Ilsa stood Rick up. When Sam went to find her all he could find is a note from Ilsa stating that she would never see Rick again. Heartbroken, Rick gets on the train along with Sam and departs. Back in the present, now she has shown up again, this time in Casablanca and Rick is seeking solace in the bottle. He insisted to Sam that she would show up that night and she did, but by the time she arrived Rick had much too much to drink and he wouldn’t let her even explain what had happened. He was in no mood to listen. She stormed out of there angry.
Happier Times Back in Paris
Happier Times Back in Paris (Part Deux)
Synopsis (Part 2)
The next day Victor and Isla met with Major Strasser in Captain Renault’s office where in response to Victor’s search for Ugarte he was informed that Ugarte was no longer living. He had apparently died in custody. Captain Renault slyly stated as he was working on the case paperwork that he hadn’t yet decided whether Ugarte had committed suicide or died trying to escape. Major Strasser coldly informed Victor that he would be unable to leave the city. As if to enforce this point Captain Renault added that he would not sign any exit visas for him.
Ilsa, still angry from the night before, ran into Rick in the bazar and she told him that Victor was her husband and was so even before she had met Rick in Paris and that when they did depart he would never see them again. In the meantime Victor tried to get a forged visa from Rick’s business rival Ferrari (played by Sydney Greenstreet). Ferrari said that it would be impossible for Victor to get any visa, but he felt certain that Rick had letters of transit in his possession.
In the next scene a woman named Annina Brandel (played by Joy Page) came to Rick for help. She had been propositioned by Captain Renault in exchange for a visa for her and her newlywed husband. She asked Rick if Renault would keep his word to which Rick answered, “He always has”. But in the request Annina mourned the prospect of being unfaithful and asked Rick if he had loved a woman would he forgive her such a thing. This question hit too close to home for him and he went into the casino room and coached her husband on where to place his bets on the roulette wheel. This guaranteed his winning enough to purchase the needed visas. Rick’s employees then congratulated him on having done a good thing.
Victor had a private meeting with Rick upstairs in Rick’s office. He offered to buy the letters of transit; Victor reminded Rick that Rick had run guns to Ethiopia and fought against the fascists in Spain to show that he was also sympathetic to the cause. But Rick refused to part with them at any price and when asked why he responded with “ask you wife”. Just at that moment the German officers in the club started singing a patriotic German anthem – Die Wacht am Rhine. Laszlo went downstairs and requested the house band to play the French national anthem – La Marseillaise. It was a battle of the anthems. The majority of the patrons were French and drowned out the Germans who eventually desisted. But as a result Major Strasser asked Captain Renault to close down the club.
Later that night Victor went to a meeting of the French resistance and Ilsa went to Rick’s apartment to plead for the letters of transit. She pleaded based upon her past love for him, but he turned her down. She then pulled a gun on him, but he called her bluff and challenged her to shoot him. She couldn’t but resorted to the love she still carried for him. She told him her whole story, how she had been informed that Victor had died and that this was when they had met in Paris. But then on the night they were to leave on the train she had learned that Victor was alive and needed her help.
While Ilsa was talking to Rick, Victor and Carl (played by S. Z. Sakall) enter into Rick’s café. They were on the run after the resistance meeting they were at had been raided by the Germans. There in the cafe Victor asked Rick to use the letters of transit to take Ilsa to safety. Captain Renault arrived and arrested Victor.
Rick approached Captain Renault, Louis, and announced that he would use the letters of transit for himself and for Ilsa. He told Louis that if he would set Victor free Rick could then create a scene where he would give Victor the letters of transit and then Captain Renault would show up and have the grounds to make an arrest of Victor trying to escape. This scenario would make for a greater feather in Louis’ cap in the eyes of the Germans. On the basis of this plan Louis called off his guards who had been watching Victor. Once Victor was free Rick double crossed Louis, pulled a gun on him demanded a ride to the airport. Louis then doubled crossed Rick, pretended to call the airport to arrange the flight, but instead called Major Strasser to alert him as to what was happening. It had been understood that Rick and Victor would leave on the plane, but as they awaited the departure of the plane Rick turned the tables on everyone. He had Louis sign the names of Victor and Ilsa on the letters as he in effect sacrificed himself and his romance for the greater good of the cause. He then convinced Ilsa that it had to be this way, that though they reaffirmed their love for each other, Victor needed Ilsa by his side for the furtherance of this work.
Victor and Ilsa boarded the plane, but as it was taxiing towards take off Major Strasser arrived and telephoned the control tower to attempt to stop the take off. Rick shot him dead so as not to hinder the departure of the plane. Louis, impressed by Rick’s sacrifice decided to also join in the fight and they went off in friendship
Crowd Singing "La Marseillaise"
Analysis - The Music, The Key Scene
What exactly makes Casablanca a favorite of movie goers, film critics and professors of film? Why is Casablanca the most screened movie in history - bar none?
Not everyone has seen it, but nearly everyone has heard of it. It’s a straight story and an allegory. It’s passionate and dispassionate. It’s a story of redemption, of sacrifice, of betrayal and restoration, of plot twists with no mystery, of war and propaganda, of patriotism in the midst of subjugation, of good and evil.
This story tells us that there are the brave and there are those who sit on the sidelines; it tells us that sitting on the sidelines is untenable; it tells us to strive for things hoped for and finally it tells us that there are things in this world greater than ourselves. It tells all this in a way that touches our hearts.
Where to begin? Though not a musical, there are many songs in the score which direct the emotions of the cast and audience alike. Here are a few examples. Early in the movie Sam plays an upbeat song, “Knock on Wood”, and the patrons participate. The background mood of the patrons is one of quiet desperation. They are for the most part desperate refuges yearning to move on to a better place – ultimately America. This scene, this song is the only instance when the whole night club is happy. Knocking on wood is an appeal for luck and this crowd is waiting for their luck to turn. They’re waiting for their ‘ship to come in’ and in this instance that ship is an airplane and their luck is the exit visa.
Another song in the movie is the moving song, “As Time Goes By”. This is a song which Rick had forbidden Sam to play. For Rick and Ilsa it is ‘their song’. It brings tears to Ilsa’s eyes and it kicks Rick’s ‘insides out’ as he describes his feelings at one point. Some 80 years later it is still a very recognizable love song in our culture evoking strong heartfelt emotions. Such is the reach of its evocative power. Why, the opening line to the song introduces nostalgia, “You must remember this”. For Rick and Ilsa the past harbored painful memories, mysteries and unfinished business.
My third and final music example is the showdown between the Nazis singing, “Die Wacht am Rhine” (The watch on the Rhine) and the displaced patrons in the club singing, “La Marseillaise”, which is the French national anthem. The scene is extremely emotionally charged not just because the anthems themselves are stirring, but because of the passionate eruption of patriotism on display to behold and to feel. The audience not only sees and hears the scene; it feels the scene. There is a unique reason for this effect and that is because the scene is not ‘acted’ by the cast at this point; it is experienced by them. All the cast members seated at the tables in the night club were themselves refugees in real life. Each had fled their own countries to escape the Nazi onslaught. It is said that it is the task of an actor to ‘feel the part’. It was no task for them! They were living the part!
The Key Scene:
This anthem duel is also the key scene of the movie. The clientele are largely taciturn as they spend their evening frittering their time at Rick’s, but when the Germans begin to sing the crowd grows despondent; this is the song of their oppressors. Amidst this despondence one man comes to the rescue – Victor. He asks the house band to play “La Marseillaise” and the whole club erupts in a patriotic fervor that had been lying latent within the depths of their souls. And from this moment onward the movie turns in a definite direction.
They say nonverbal cues are a high percentage of communication. With that in mind watch the faces which the camera focuses upon. Yvonne has already been mentioned; the look of patriotic fervor is unmistakable. Ilsa, who is concerned for Victor’s safety at first glance shows that concern, but part way through the song her face shows powerful admiration. It’s communicating to us ‘this is why I married this man’. Victor shows great strength of character by restoring the lifeless crowd. He did so with great bravery.
It is Rick’s permissive nod towards the house band that shows that he is starting to take a side and that his stance of neutrality is therefore wavering.
The two anthems actually mix very well and the transition from the one to the other is very smooth. There is perhaps an unintended hidden meaning in juxtaposing these two anthems. In English the German anthem is called “The Watch on the Rhine” and a repeated phrase is “The fatherland must be peaceful”. The original title of “La Marseillaise” is “War Song for the Army of the Rhine”. The implication is a more aggressive one for the French and a more defensive one for the Germans.
In a way this foretells the direction which this story will begin to take.
Victor Conducts the Band in "La Marseillaise"
Rick (played by Humphrey Bogart): The lead role in this movie is that of Rick Blaine. He exemplifies the two conflicts of the movie, the political and the interpersonal. In his earlier life he was a freedom fighter and judging from the flashback scenes he was free spirited. After the romantic fling with Ilsa came to a sudden and unexplained end he became jaded towards women, really any sort of friendship – though there is Sam, but that relationship is an employee type, note how Sam always calls him ‘boss’. Rick became politically neutral. He became wholly self-centered. When he meets Victor Laszlo (played by Paul Henreid) he shows admiration for Victor’s efforts. When Louis sees Rick’s admiration for both Victor’s cause and for Ilsa he remarks that Rick is “becoming human”. This is in contrast to Rick’s earlier statement towards Ugarte, “I stick my neck out for no man”.
When Annina approaches Rick to talk about Louis’ trustworthiness she pleads with him for advice on life. What if a woman were to love him so much that she would compromise herself for him, would he understand? To watch Rick’s face when she asks this it seems evident that she’s striking a deep nerve in him. Immediately he fixes it so that her husband wins at the roulette table and she doesn’t need to compromise herself to get the money to buy exit visas. Here we see Rick’s iciness thawing more.
When Rick gives his approving nod to the house band to play “La Marseillaise” he steps out of his neutrality and onto the side of the freedom fighters – and it costs him his club’s right to remain open.
In his battle against human relationships he confronts Ilsa’s presence and eventually hears the whole back story. He accepts her reasons and he accepts her love. His humanity is re-awakened, but his romantic interests are in conflict with his re-awakened political interests. He sacrifices that romance for the greater good of the political stakes and the words of Victor, “Welcome back to the fight. This time I know our side will win” indicates that he is again fully engaged in what’s going on. Louis echoes this when he says “You’ve become a patriot”. As he then walks off with Louis Rick says, “I think this will be the start of a beautiful friendship” and with that we see that his interpersonal conflict has also resolved.
Ilsa (played by Ingrid Bergman):
The leading lady, Ilsa, is a character of mystery in this movie because she was in a secret marriage to a man she thought was dead at the time she dated Rick. The Nazis and the war caused the need for the secrecy and the misinformation about Victor’s demise. Ilsa had a terrible choice to make in Paris when she learned that Victor was still alive. She made the right choice then, difficult as it was. Later, in Casablanca she was again presented with the same difficult choice. This time Rick made that right choice again, and again it was difficult. How difficult? Well, in her confusing emotions she pulled a gun on him, a man she loved. She asked Rick to do the thinking for them both.
She loved both Victor and Rick in different ways. When she told her story of a young girl falling in love with a hero she told of her own biography regarding Victor.
Louis (played by Claude Rains):
He starts out much like Rick, inwardly he is neutral, politically, but outwardly he sides with Vichy – it’s expedient, they pay him. But he does specify, “I blow with the wind and the prevailing wind happens to be from Vichy.” This is his statement of political alignment and self-preservation. He is neutral in that he doesn’t care which side is prevailing. Towards the end of the movie he takes a stand for freedom, by not arresting Rick and while holding a bottle of Vichy Water he throws it in the trash as he’s complimenting Rick on becoming a patriot. When Rick says, “it’s a good time to start”, Louis says, “I think perhaps you’re right.” As Louis and Rick walk down the tarmac Rick says, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”. Louis determines to join Rick on the run and draw up letters of transit to take them both to Brazzaville – which by the way is located far to the south in French Congo – and actually was not in control of the Vichy government.
Victor (played by Paul Henreid):
He embodies the spirit of the international resistance movement. It is no coincidence that his conducting of “La Marseillaise” invigorated the crowd and eventually brought Rick and, later, Louis back into the fight. For both it awakened them from the political doldrums they had fallen into and taught them that neutrality was an untenable position.
The Tears are Real
Madeleine LeBeau and Marcel Dalio (who play Yvonne and Emil – the croupier):
Madeleine and Marcel were married in real life and because Marcel was Jewish they had to flee in advance of the invading Germans. The couple went through Lisbon, just like in the movie and obtained visas for a Chile. Their ship stopped in Mexico where it was discovered that their visas were forgeries and they were stranded there. They were able to get Canadian visas and eventually able to enter the US. Being as they were actors they went to Hollywood and were cast in this movie. Back home in France Marcel’s photo was on posters all across the nation with the caption, “Typical Jew”. His entire family died in concentration camps. So when you see that Yvonne is singing “La Marseillaise” with tears streaming down her cheeks it’s Madeleine LeBeau’s real life emotions showing.
Conrad Veidt (who plays Major Strasser):
He was also a refugee, a German refugee. His wife was Jewish and they needed to leave Germany too. He used his acting skills to portray evil Nazi officials. He emigrated first to Britain, then to the US. He was virulently anti-Nazi and even donated a large amount of his earning from acting to the British war effort. As stated in his biography on Wikipedia, “Veidt noted that it was an ironical twist of [fate] that he was praised ‘for portraying the kind of character who had forced him to leave his homeland.’”
The Departure Scene
You will notice in this movie the tricky use of lighting. Subtly, but noticeably the camera will illuminate the faces of the subject at each moment. This most notably occurs on close-up shots of Ingrid Bergman. The camera angles and lighting give clear show to the tears in her eyes in many shots; this effect is of course intentional.
Notice the search light passing back and forth; it gives the sense that someone is being watched. Rick is aware of this and he waits till the spotlight passes him by to stash the letters of transit in Sam’s piano.
"Here's Lookin' at You Kid"
Casablanca is known for its many classic lines.
1. Perhaps the most famous of these is “Play it again, Sam”. This is however a great misquote because the word, “again” is never uttered when that line is spoken (by Ilsa to Sam).
2. “Here’s lookin’ at you kid” is spoken by Rick to Ilsa four times in the movie, most notably in the final scene.
3. “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world she walks into mine”. This was spoken by Rick when drinking alone in the dark after the club was closed for the night as was the next line:
4. “I bet their asleep in New York; I bet their asleep all over America”. This is the great propaganda line. The movie was partly written to wake the US up to involvement in World War II. At this time US entry into the war was inevitable and eminent. The attack on Pearl Harbor occurred at the time this move was being shot.
And to round out the list here are a few, just a few from the final scene.
5. “If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not in it you’ll regret it. Maybe not today; maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”
6. “We’ll always have Paris”
7. “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”.
8. “Round up the usual suspects”.
"The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship"
The "Play it again, Sam" scene. (note there's no "again" in the lines)
Key Scene: The Battle of the Anthems
Victor and Rick Discuss Love and Cause, Victor Arrested - Destiny has Taken a Hand
Departure Scene - "We'll Always Have Paris" and "Here's Looking at You Kid"
Final Scene - The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on July 20, 2021: