Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
Casablanca (1942)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

As they chat, it is revealed that they are looking down the main runway of the Casablanca airport. The Lisbon-bound plane takes off over their heads. [Unrealistically, it couldn't be seen from the cafe - the airport is six miles away!] Renault asks Rick if he wishes to be on the plane on his way to America, speculating about why Rick hasn't returned there on Pan American Airways' airborne Boeing Clipper seaplane from Lisbon:

Renault: You would like to be on it?
Rick: Why? What's in Lisbon?
Renault: The Clipper to America.

As Ugarte did earlier, the French prefet pries, with jest and jocularity, by asking questions about Rick's mysterious and intriguing past. He speculates that Rick has been exiled because he is guilty of either a spiritual-religious robbery, adultery, or murder. But Rick again wryly dodges and evades his questions with understated wit, confirming that he transgressed in all three ways. He only admits to seeking refuge in Casablanca to find health - mostly through inward solitude, brooding and a quest to forget his melancholy past:

Renault: I've often speculated why you don't return to America. Did you abscond with the church funds? Did you run off with a Senator's wife? I like to think that you killed a man. It's the romantic in me.
Rick: It's a combination of all three.
Renault: And what in Heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?
Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.
Renault: The waters? What waters? We're in the desert.
Rick (laconically): I was misinformed.

Rick is summoned into the cafe by his croupier Emil (Marcel Dalio), who apologizes for losing 20,000 francs to one of the betting customers.

In the cafe, Renault warns Rick that there is soon going to be some excitement that evening - a murderer [Ugarte] is about to be seized and arrested at the gaming tables for the killing of the two German couriers. Knowing that Renault is referring to Ugarte, Rick vacillates for a moment about where his loyalties lie, as Renault reminds him: "If you are thinking of warning him, don't put yourself out. He cannot possibly escape." With a well-known line, Rick resolutely states his private withdrawal and isolationism from World War II intrigues (and his personal disengagement from each of the characters he has dealt with so far - the cafe's customers, the Deutschebank German, Ugarte, Ferrari, Yvonne, and Renault). After the delivery of Rick's line, Renault approves of his "wise foreign policy" to defensively keep to himself and to thwart any intrusions:

I stick my neck out for nobody.

In his upstairs apartment above the cafe, Rick is also told that Major Strasser of the Third Reich will be an "important guest" at the cafe during the time of the arrest, as Renault boasts competitively: "a little demonstration of the efficiency of my administration." Renault advises Rick to be careful and not be tempted to accept a "fortune" from someone rumored to have enough cash to purchase an exit visa:

Renault: Rick, there are many exit visas sold in this cafe, but we know that you've never sold one. That is the reason we permit you to remain open.
Rick: I thought it was because I let you win at roulette.
Renault: That is another reason. There is a man (who's) arrived in Casablanca on his way to America. He will offer a fortune to anyone who will furnish him with an exit visa.
Rick: (with a flat, disinterested tone) Yeah? What's his name?
Renault: Victor Laszlo.

A well-known Czechoslovakian Resistance leader and freedom fighter, Victor Laszlo, who escaped from a German concentration camp, will be arriving imminently. Renault is surprised that Rick's expression changes with the mention of Laszlo's name - Rick is "impressed" - knowing of his great reputation, his escape, and his flight from Nazis all over Europe: "He succeeded in impressing half the world." However, Renault has orders that he must fulfill - counter to Rick's admiration: "It's my duty to see that he doesn't impress the other half. Rick, Laszlo must never reach America. He stays in Casablanca." Rick speculates about the fate of Laszlo: "It'll be interesting to see how he manages.... - his escape."

Renault believes that for Laszlo, Casablanca "is the end of the chase." Rick proposes a 20,000 franc wager, betting whether Laszlo will succeed in getting out of Casablanca. Renault asks for a smaller bet of 10,000 francs [during the war, this amount was less than $1,000] on these grounds:

I'm only a poor corrupt official.

The bet is transformed - in Renault's favor, when he announces that Laszlo has a traveling companion - a mysterious "lady" - and taking her along will require two exit visas [It isn't revealed publicly until much later on in the film that Victor Laszlo and the lady are married]:

Renault: No matter how clever he is, he still needs an exit visa, or I should say, two.
Rick: Why two?
Renault: He is traveling with a lady.
Rick: He'll take one.
Renault: I think not. I have seen the lady and if he did not leave her in Marseilles or in Oran, he certainly won't leave her in Casablanca.
Rick: Well, maybe he's not quite as romantic as you are.

Rick wonders why Renault suspects him of assisting in the Czechoslovakian's escape. The crafty Renault confronts Rick [who he calls Ricky throughout the film] about his checkered past and his idealistic inclinations toward championing lost causes. Renault's points make Rick visibly uneasy and uncomfortable - he unconvincingly admits that his motives are only monetary:

Renault: Because my dear Ricky, I suspect that under that cynical shell, you're at heart a sentimentalist...Oh, laugh if you will, but I happen to be familiar with your record. Let me point out just two items. In 1935, you ran guns to Ethiopia. In 1936, you fought in Spain on the Loyalists' side.
Rick: And got well paid for it on both occasions.
Renault: The winning side would have paid you much better.
Rick: Maybe.

[An opportunist from America, Rick arranged and then supplied guns to the Ethiopians after their country was invaded by Italy in 1935, thereby breaking President Roosevelt's 1935 Neutrality Law. Afterwards, not wishing to return to the US for possible prosecution, he 'fought' for the Loyalist government in the Spanish Civil War in 1936 against Franco, when the Germans and Italians supported the Franco-led Nationalist rebels. After the conflict was over in 1938, Rick chose to go to Paris instead of returning to America.]

Renault has a questionable yet pragmatic political alliance with the "influential" Gestapo:

I don't interfere with them and they don't interfere with me. In Casablanca, I'm master of my fate. I am Captain...

Major Strasser's arrival interrupts their conversation - downstairs, Carl tells Renault that he has already offered the Gestapo official one of the best tables - one close to the ladies: "I have already given him the best - knowing he is German and would take it anyway." Renault introduces the Nazi Major to the pleasures found at Rick's Cafe - French wine and a tin of Russian caviar.

In the cafe's gambling room, Ugarte - the man thought to have murdered the couriers, is detained at the roulette table by French gendarmes. Rick stands by stonily and ignores Ugarte's squirming, desperate pleas after he fires his gun four times at the police officers and flees to Rick for protection, squealing: "But Rick, hide me, do something, you must help me, Rick!" When Ugarte is dragged away, Rick repeats his non-committal, cold, tough-guy stance to an offended customer:

I stick my neck out for nobody.

The successful display of the French's swift detainment of the criminal pleases Renault immensely.

When the disturbance dies down, Rick is introduced by Renault (with his typical sarcasm) to Major Strasser and stern-faced Herr Heinze of the Third Reich: "We are honored tonight, Rick. Major Strasser is one of the reasons the Third Reich enjoys the reputation it has today." Strasser probes into Rick's background and his allegiances, believing that Rick's neutrality is a cover for his anti-Nazi activities. Strasser informally interrogates him about his opinion of the German military machine's potential, but Rick maintains his neutral stance:

Strasser: What is your nationality?
Rick (evasively): I'm a drunkard. (Laughter.)
Renault: And that makes Rick a citizen of the world.
Rick: I was born in New York City if that'll help you any.
Strasser: I understand that you came here from Paris at the time of the occupation.
Rick: Well, there seems to be no secret about that.
Strasser: Are you one of those people who cannot imagine the Germans in their beloved Paris?
Rick: Not particularly my beloved Paris.
Heinze: Can you imagine us in London?
Rick: When you get there, ask me.
Renault: Diplomatist.
Strasser: Well, how about New York?
Rick: Well, there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn't advise you to try to invade.
Strasser: Uh, huh. Who do you think will win the war?
Rick: I haven't the slightest idea.
Renault: Rick is completely neutral about everything. And that takes in the field of women, too.
Strasser: You are not always so carefully neutral? We have a complete dossier on you.

Strasser summarizes the contents of Rick's Gestapo file - his reasons for being a permanently-exiled expatriate are not explained:

Richard Blaine, American, age 37, cannot return to his country - the reason is a little vague.

The dossier has made Strasser and the Gestapo knowledgeable about what Rick did in Paris and why he left. Strasser pleasantly reassures Rick that the Germans will not broadcast the news of his estranged background. Looking over Strasser's dossier on him, Rick is not disconcerted and asks impertinently: "Are my eyes really brown?" Strasser repeats that his main goal in Casablanca is to find any resistance followers who could be of help to "enemies of the Reich" - including escaped Underground leaders such as Victor Laszlo. During the informal questioning by the Major, Rick expresses no interest in personally aiding refugees - particularly Victor Laszlo:

Rick: My interest in whether Victor Laszlo stays or goes is purely a sporting one.
Strasser: In this case, you have no sympathy for the fox, huh?
Rick: Not particularly. I understand the point of view of the hound, too.

Strasser describes how Laszlo became an enemy of the Reich by defiant Resistance activities in Paris and because of three clever escapes. On the other hand, Rick assures Strasser of his strict and absolute political neutrality regarding the war. He excuses himself to leave the table to take care of business as a saloonkeeper:

Strasser: Victor Laszlo published the foulest lies in the Prague newspapers until the very day we marched in, and even after that, he continued to print scandal sheets in a cellar.
Renault: Of course, one must admit he has great courage.
Strasser: I admit he's very clever. Three times he slipped through our fingers. In Paris, he continued his activities. We intend not to let it happen again.
Rick: Excuse me, gentlemen. Your business is politics. Mine is running a saloon.

Rick prefers to wait for World War II to end, although he deceives himself - he still conceals (like the hidden exit visas) some anti-Fascist bitterness behind his cafe entrepreneurship. Renault shows his friendly affection for Rick, assuring the Major: "You have nothing to worry about Rick."

Just then, the pursued, lean French-Resistance leader, Czechoslovakian Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), and his beautiful "companion," the radiant but furtive Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), enter Rick's cafe and gambling house. She is wearing an elegant, pure and noble, well-tailored white dress [as she does in almost every scene] and he is in an off-white suit. After announcing authoritatively: "I reserved a table. Victor Laszlo," the couple are led to a seat at their reserved table - their white outfits contrast sharply to the dark-black uniform of the headwaiter. Sam and Ilsa appear to recognize each other - with trepidation - as she passes by, keeping in step with Laszlo. [He begins playing Love For Sale on the piano. Is she already suspicious that Rick and Sam have both ventured into N. Africa together after she passed under the lit sign of the cafe that identified Rick as the owner?] When seated, Laszlo mentions in a hushed voice that he is looking for Ugarte. Ilsa is visibly nervous, and her first words convey fear of both her past and their present danger: "I feel somehow we shouldn't stay here." The Resistance leader remains courteous, but the seasoned Resistance leader bears a small two-inch scar over his right eye, the result of his recent escape and flight across Europe.

A Norwegian Underground ally and contact named Berger (John Qualen) identifies himself to Laszlo with his ring bearing the Cross of Lorraine. The shadow of Capitaine Renault's head appears on the wall behind Ilsa, and she cuts short Laszlo's illicit conversation: "Victor!" He quickly diverts their conversation when Renault approaches and welcomes the "distinguished...visitor" to Casablanca - and then flatters the gracious Ilsa:

Renault: I was informed you were the most beautiful woman ever to visit Casablanca. That was a gross understatement.
Ilsa: You're very kind.

Renault orders champagne and caviar: "A bottle of your best champagne and put it on my bill." Laszlo objects, but Renault explains: "It's a little game we play. They put it on the bill. I tear up the bill. It is very convenient."

Ilsa asks Renault about the piano player's background ("the boy who is playing the piano"). She learns that Sam came from Paris with Rick, the owner of the cafe - and she is also informed that Renault has repressed homosexual feelings for Rick himself:

Renault: He came from Paris, with Rick.
Ilsa: Rick? Who's he? [She doesn't recognize Rick's name - in the past, she knew 'Rick' as 'Richard.']
Renault: Mademoiselle, you are in Rick's and Rick is, uh...
Ilsa: Is what?
Renault: Well, Mademoiselle, he's the kind of man that - (he points to his own chest), well, if I were a woman, and I were not around, I should be in love with Rick. But what a fool I am talking to a beautiful woman about another man. (She reacts with a pleasing smile toward Laszlo.)

When Major Strasser approaches, Laszlo refuses to stand and let Strasser sit at his table - an act of defiance that could cost him his freedom:

Laszlo: I'm sure you'll excuse me if I'm not gracious. But you see Major Strasser, I'm a Czechoslovakian.
Strasser: You were a Czechoslovakian. Now you are a subject of the German Reich.
Laszlo (rising confrontationally): I've never accepted that privilege and I'm now on French soil.

After exchanging a few bitter, offensive and hostile words to each other, Strasser demands a discussion of "the matters arising from your presence on French soil," and orders Laszlo to be questioned at the Prefet's office the next morning at ten - "with Mademoiselle." Victor is worried: "This time, they really mean to stop me." Likewise, Ilsa is dreadfully fearful of their precarious situation: "Victor, I'm afraid for you." At the bar while drinking champagne cocktails, Laszlo is dismayed when told by Berger that the source of their exit visas, Ugarte, has already been taken into police custody, after his arrest for murder earlier that evening in the cafe. Berger invites Laszlo to the next evening's Underground resistance meeting.

While Laszlo is gone, Ilsa summons Sam, an old acquaintance from "a long time" before. He wheels over his piano next to her table - as he warily remembers how long it has been: "I never expected to see you again...A lot of water under the bridge." In her beautiful Scandinavian accent, she innocently entices him to play "some of the old songs." Ilsa asks about Rick while Sam nervously plays Avalon - a song that isn't one of the old ones she wants to hear. Loyal and dedicated to Rick, the piano player knows that she can bring hurt and heartache again - he politely admonishes her to leave Rick alone ("You're bad luck to him"). Sam tries to divert and evade all references to Rick, but she sees through his lies and persists in consciously summoning Rick back into her life [later on, Ilsa contradicts herself, telling Rick - "I wouldn't have come if I'd known that you were here"):

Ilsa: Where is Rick?
Sam: I don't know. I ain't seen him all night.
Ilsa: When will he be back?
Sam: Not tonight no more. He ain't comin'...He went home.
Ilsa: Does he always leave so early?
Sam: Oh, he never..., well, he's got a girl up at the Blue Parrot. He goes up there all the time.
Ilsa: (She turns away and reaches for her champagne glass.) You used to be a much better liar, Sam.
Sam: Leave him alone, Miss Ilsa. You're bad luck to him.

In one of the film's classic scenes, the radiant-faced, enraptured, sensual Mademoiselle persuades him to play a favorite old love song - As Time Goes By. [The song, composed by Herman Hupfeld, not Steiner, was written for a 1931 Broadway revue titled Everybody's Welcome]:

Ilsa: Play it once, Sam, for old times' sake.
Sam: I don't know what you mean, Miss Ilsa.
Ilsa: (whispered) Play it, Sam. Play 'As Time Goes By.'
Sam: Why, I can't remember it, Miss Ilsa. I'm a little rusty on it.
Ilsa: I'll hum it for you. (Ilsa hums two bars. Sam starts to play - without singing the lyrics. She presses him to sing.) Sing it, Sam.

After remaining deferential, Sam is finally disarmed by her alluring charm and gives into her persistent requests. He sings the chorus, as the breath-taking Ilsa listens - and remembers a past love affair - with tears welling up in her eyes:

You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss
A sigh is just a sigh
The fundamental things apply
As Time Goes By.
And when two lovers woo
They still say, 'I love you'
On that you can rely
No matter what the future brings
As Time Goes By.

As Sam plays and sings, Ilsa is transformed by the passion of the moment. The song unlocks a nostalgic flood of joyful memories of the longings she had for a past love - she is perhaps fearful of her own reactions and of seeing Rick again. A petulant-looking, disturbed Rick hears Sam playing and singing the forbidden song and angrily strides over to the piano to chastise him for playing a tune that recalls Paris:

Sam, I thought I told you never to play...

And then the music pauses - and Rick is startled and dumbfounded by the sight of Ilsa - they exchange a long, shocked look, the first time they have seen each other after many years. Sam quickly stacks his piano bench on top of the piano and wheels it away.

Shortly after, they are interrupted by the presence of Capt. Renault and Laszlo coming from the bar. Rick suppresses his feelings in his formal introduction to the "Mademoiselle," treating her like a stranger. Ilsa interrupts Renault's formal courtesies and personally introduces "Mr. Laszlo" to Rick. To Renault's surprise, Rick joins them for a drink, departing from his normal solitary style: "Well, a precedent is being broken." Although taken aback by Ilsa's appearance, Rick generously compliments Laszlo on his freedom-fighting efforts - he is notably impressed by the Czech's exceptional accomplishments:

Laszlo: This is a very interesting cafe. I congratulate you.
Rick: And I congratulate you.
Laszlo: What for?
Rick: Your work.
Laszlo: Thank you. I try.
Rick: We all try. You succeed.

Watchful and curious, Renault probes into Rick's and Ilsa's past awareness of each other - during their last meeting:

Renault: I can't get over you two. She was asking about you earlier, Rick, in a way that made me extremely jealous.
Ilsa: (to Rick) I wasn't sure you were the same. Let's see, the last time we met was -
Rick (finishing her sentence) La Belle Aurore.
Ilsa: How nice. You remembered. But of course, that was the day the Germans marched into Paris.

In alternating close-ups of their faces, Rick (staring intently at her) and Ilsa (sporting an irrepressible smile) discuss the last time they saw each other during the final days of unconquered Paris, at La Belle Aurore, another bistro. [She was Rick's ex-lover from an affair in Paris just before the Germans occupied the city.] He recollects back - with faint anguish:

Rick: Not an easy day to forget.
Ilsa: No.
Rick: I remember every detail. The Germans wore grey. You wore blue.
Ilsa: Yes. I put that dress away. When the Germans march out, I'll wear it again.
Renault: Ricky, you're becoming quite human. I suppose we have to thank you for that, Mademoiselle.

Because it is late and there is a curfew, Victor and Ilsa must leave. When Rick takes the check, Renault exclaims again: "Another precedent gone. This has been a very interesting evening." As they walk away from the cafe towards a cab, Victor asks her what she knows about Rick:

Victor: A very puzzling fellow, this Rick. What sort is he?
Ilsa: (non-chalantly, while looking straight ahead) Oh, I really can't say, though I saw him quite often in Paris.

She passes through a shadow as she tells this half-truth. They meet up with Renault, who reminds them of their appointment with him the next day in the Prefet's office. As they step into their cab, a close-up shows Renault's sinister face, illuminated as he smokes a cigarette. His ambiguous reaction to their arrival and presence in Casablanca is underlined by shadows and light.

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