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

Later at Rick's Cafe that evening, most of the characters already introduced in the film arrive. Renault apologizes to Rick for the destructive havoc the Vichy policy created in the search of the cafe: "I told Strasser that he wouldn't find the letters here. But I told my men to be especially destructive. You know how that impresses Germans?" In their exchange, Renault boldly asks whether Rick has the letters:

Renault: Rick, have you got those letters of transit?
Rick: Louis, are you pro-Vichy or Free French?

As they talk, Rick's ex-girlfriend Yvonne walks into the cafe on the arm of a uniformed German officer, her new gentleman friend. The swing band is playing You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby. Rick and Renault both notice her arrival - as the couple walks past their table, she turns and glares at Rick:

Rick: So Yvonne's gone over to the enemy.
Renault: Who knows? In her own way, she may constitute an entire second front.

Yvonne's boyfriend orders a French 75 drink at the bar, a drink named after a 75 mm French cannon weapon. Rick decisively breaks up a fight "disturbance" that erupts between the German officer and a uniformed Frenchman at the bar: " my place, you either lay off politics or get out."

Seated shortly after with Strasser, Renault reveals his adaptable political leanings:

Strasser: I'm not entirely sure which side you're on.
Renault: I have no conviction, if that's what you mean. I blow with the wind, and the prevailing wind happens to be from Vichy.
Strasser: And if it should change?
Renault: Well, surely the Reich doesn't permit that possibility.
Strasser: You are concerned about more than Casablanca. We know that every French province in Africa is honey-combed with traitors waiting for their chance, waiting, perhaps, for a leader.
Renault: A leader - like Laszlo?
Strasser: Umm, mmm.

Each of the characters in the film have their own complex story to tell - beyond the story of Rick and Ilsa. A youthful ("under-age") and innocent, newly-married Bulgarian woman, Annina Brandel (Joy Page), a refugee desperate for exit visas to America for her husband Jan Viereck (Helmut Dantine) and herself [seen in the passing shot of the plane's arrival earlier in the film, in the outer offices of Renault's police station, and at Ferrari's place], pleads with Rick for guidance while he drinks. Her first concern is whether Renault can be trusted:

Annina: What kind of a man is Captain Renault?
Rick: Oh, he's just like any other man, only more so.
Annina: No, I mean - is he trustworthy? Is his word...?

Rick senses that Renault set her up to ask him the loaded question. She tells him that Jan is at the roulette table, where he has been unsuccessfully trying to raise the money for their exit visas. Because they have no money, Renault will give them exit visas without the usual financial bribe if she has sex with him. With the purest of intentions, she would sacrifice herself to save her husband. She makes a heartfelt plea for advice and for tacit approval to sin and be forgiven:

Annina: We come from Bulgaria. Oh, things are very bad there, Monsieur. The devil [dictatorial Tsar Boris III] has the people by the throat. So, Jan and I we - we do not want our children to grow up in such a country.
Rick: (He rubs the center of his forehead with two fingers.) So you decided to go to America.
Annina: Yes. But we have not much money and...traveling is so expensive and difficult. It was much more than we thought to get here. And then Captain Renault sees us, and he is so kind. He wants to help us.
Rick: Yes, I'll bet.
Annina: He tells me you can give us an exit visa, but, but we have no money.
Rick: Does he know that?
Annina: Oh yes.
Rick: And he's still willing to give you a visa?
Annina: Yes, monsieur.
Rick: And you want to know...
Annina: Will he keep his word?
Rick: He always has.
Annina: Oh! (relieved) Monsieur. You are a man. 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?
Rick: Nobody ever loved me that much.
Annina: And he never knew. And the girl kept this bad thing locked in her heart. That would be all right, wouldn't it?
Rick: You want my advice.
Annina: Oh yes, please.
Rick: Go back to Bulgaria.
Annina: Oh, but if you knew what it means to us to leave Europe, to get to America. Oh, but if Jan should find out. He is such a boy. In many ways, I am so much older than he is.
Rick: Yes, well, everybody in Casablanca has problems. Yours may work out.

Ilsa and Victor arrive at Rick's cafe on their second night in Casablanca - Ilsa wears a dark, paisley-patterned dress. Rick greets them courteously and observes that Sam's playing must bring memories of Paris in "happier days" to Ilsa. She confirms that it does, and requests a table close to Sam's piano: "Could we have a table close to him?" Laszlo adds: "And as far away from Major Strasser as possible." Rick takes care of seating arrangements even though "the geography may be a little difficult to arrange." He asks that Sam play Ilsa's "favorite tune" - As Time Goes By.

Taking pity on Annina's plight and to save the young girl from the predatory Renault, Rick saunters into the gambling room. At the roulette table, Rick advises Jan to bet on a particular number to win: "Have you tried 22 tonight?" He fixes the wheel with his croupier Emil (Marcel Dalio) (obviously something Rick has done before). In a suspenseful scene, in a series of reaction shots - from Rick and Jan to Annina to the croupier to Renault - the number comes up twice, keeping Annina's honor intact from Renault. Carl (and later Sascha) both admire what Rick has done to help preserve the young girl's innocence. Rick tells Jan to cash in his "couple of thousand," enough for what Renault charges for an exit visa: "Cash it in, and don't come back." With overwhelming gratitude, Annina affectionately hugs Rick in public, and his stiff embarrassment shows. The young couple present their needed funds to a chagrined Renault, who quickly makes the connection to Rick - suspiciously labeling him "a rank sentimentalist." The powerful Renault's potential seduction of another refugee has been cheated and thwarted by Rick's charm:

Renault: Why do you interfere with my little romances?
Rick: Put it down as a gesture to love.
Renault: I'll forgive you this time but I'll be in tomorrow night with a breathtaking blonde. And it'll make me very happy if she loses.

[Rick's discussion with Annina and the outcome of the couple's dilemma foreshadows his own decisions at the end of the film regarding Ilsa - he will enter into politics ('stick his neck out') without admitting that he has - and only allow "a gesture to love" to reveal his deep-seated human decency.]

Laszlo is worried about his prospects for escape, and confidentially talks to Rick in his cafe office, offering him a fortune in francs (200,000) for the exit visas. Rick is also unmoved and disinterested by Laszlo's plea to continue his crusading work - he claims that his a-political stance and his soured opinion, support and dedication to the Cause forbids him from yielding up the exit visas:

Laszlo: You must know it's very important I get out of Casablanca. It's my privilege to be one of the leaders of a great movement. Do you know what I've been doing? Do you know what it means to the work - to the lives of thousands and thousands of people that I be free to reach America and continue my work.
Rick: I'm not interested in politics. The problems of the world are not in my department. I'm a saloon keeper.
Laszlo: My friends in the Underground tell me that you've got quite a record. You ran guns to Ethiopia. You fought against the Fascists in Spain.
Rick: What of it?
Laszlo: Isn't it strange that you always happen to be fighting on the side of the underdog?
Rick: Yes, I found that a very expensive hobby too, but then I never was much of a businessman.
Laszlo: Are you enough of a businessman to appreciate an offer of a hundred thousand francs?
Rick: I appreciate it, but I don't accept it.
Laszlo: I'll raise it to two hundred thousand.
Rick: My friend, you could make it a million francs or three. My answer would still be the same.
Laszlo: There must be some reason why you won't let me have them [the exit visas].
Rick: There is! I suggest that you ask your wife.
Laszlo: I beg your pardon.
Rick: I said, 'Ask your wife.'
Laszlo: My wife?

At that moment, downstairs in the cafe, they hear male voices. With Major Strasser, German soldiers have taken over Sam's piano and are singing a German Nazi song Die Wacht am Rhein ("The Watch on the Rhine"):

Lieb Faterland, magst ruhig sein [Dear land of ours, no fear be thine]
Lieb Faterland, magst ruhig sein [Dear land of ours, no fear be thine]
Test steht und treu die Wacht, Die Wacht am Rhein [The watch stands true, the watch on the Rhine]

Rick and Laszlo emerge from the office, looking down at the patrons with dead-pan, detestable expressions. Laszlo passes by a table (where Ilsa sits) and strides over to the orchestra. He defies the Germans by ordering the band to play the French anthem La Marseillaise. Responding to a nod of approval from Rick, the uncertain conductor leads them in playing a rousing, triumphant rendition of the French national anthem, presented below:

Allons enfants de la Patrie, Le jour de gloire est arrivé
Contre nous de la tyrannie, L'étendard sanglant est levé
L'étendard sanglant est levé, Entendez-vous dans nos campagnes
Mugir ces féroces soldats? Ils viennent jusques dans vos bras.
Egorger vos fils, vos compagnes.

Refrain (Chorus)
Aux armes citoyens
Formez vos bataillons
Marchons, marchons
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons

In a memorable, melodramatic duel of anthems sung in opposition, the Germans are drowned out by the Free French audience as the accelerated rhythmic editing increases the scene's intensity as it builds toward its climax. Everyone at the cafe pours their hearts into the singing of the song, except for two individuals - Rick and Ilsa. In two closeups, she gazes at Victor in a state of awe, fear and prideful admiration, forgetting to sing. Yvonne, who has been sitting at the bar with her German officer, shouts: "Vive la France!" at its stirring conclusion amidst wild applause.

With the inspiration of Laszlo's bold, patriotic, revolutionary act and Rick's consenting order, Major Strasser is thoroughly embarrassed and considers both a dangerous threat. Outraged, he promptly instructs Renault to punish the cafe's patrons and close down Rick's place before storming out, on the convenient grounds that people are having "much too good a time." Rick protests to French gendarmes, but to no effect. Reluctantly, Renault closes the saloon, hypocritically blaming it on illegal gambling:

Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.
Croupier: Your winnings, sir.
Renault: Oh. Thank you very much. Everybody out at once.

Renault is handed his gambling winnings by the croupier as he finishes his pronouncements.

Confronting Ilsa without Laszlo at her side, Major Strasser (with a lascivious and sinister look) intimidates Ilsa and threatens her with Laszlo's death unless the resistance leader returns to occupied France "under safe conduct" from himself. Bravely and steadfastly, she questions the validity or safety of his guarantee. As he parts, the stern Major offers two alternatives for Victor Laszlo - explained bluntly: (1) placement in a "concentration camp" by French authorities, or (2) death.

My dear Mademoiselle, perhaps you have already observed that in Casablanca, human life is cheap. Good night, Mademoiselle.

Back in their hotel room, Laszlo boldly prepares to "carry on" and leave for an Underground resistance meeting: "It isn't often a man has a chance to display heroics before his wife." His behavior indicates that he has deduced that Ilsa's and Rick's past relationship in Paris affects Rick's decision to give them the visas. Ilsa learns that an intransigent Rick cannot be convinced to sell the exit visas with sentiment or money:

Ilsa: Did he give any reason?
Victor: He suggested I ask you.
Ilsa: Ask me?
Victor: Yes. He said, 'Ask your wife.' I don't know why he said that.

After she evades giving an answer to the question, he empathizes with Ilsa and asks her about her time in Paris with Rick when he was detained in a concentration camp:

Victor: Were you lonely in Paris?
Ilsa: Yes, Victor, I was.
Victor: I know how it is to be lonely. Is there anything you wish to tell me?
Ilsa: No, Victor, there isn't.
Victor: I love you very much, my dear.
Ilsa: Yes, yes I know.

Then with sparkling glimmers of tears in her eyes, Ilsa decides to take matters into her own hands and go see Rick to obtain the letters: "Victor, whatever I do, will you believe that I..." [Her words to him paraphrase the final statement made to Rick in the rain-soaked letter: "Just believe that I love you."] Her sentence is interrupted - Laszlo expresses his faith in her: "You don't even have to say it. I'll believe." As he departs for the meeting, he gives her a pair of passion-less kisses on her right cheek.

Later that evening, Ilsa appears and waits - her second late-night appearance - in the shadows of Rick's dark, upstairs apartment. When he enters, he turns on the light, revealing her figure in the room [she has gone "up a flight" and "come around" just as he predicted to her outside the Blue Parrot]. He tells her not to affectionately call him "Richard" again as in their Paris days. He is suspicious that she is interested only in the letters of transit he has hidden when she appeals to him to remember the Cause of freedom and put aside his jealousy:

Rick: 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.
Ilsa: You can ask any price you want, but you must give me those letters.
Rick: I went all through that with your husband. It's no deal.
Ilsa: I know how you feel about me, but I'm asking you to put your feelings aside for something more important.
Rick: Do I have to hear again what a great man your husband is? What an important Cause he's fighting for?
Ilsa: It was your cause too. In your own way, you were fighting for the same thing.

She begs him for the visas he possesses for "any price" [would she offer the 'price' that Annina was willing to give Renault?] - documents that would enable them to fly to neutral Lisbon and then on to America. Rick steadfastly refuses to help, denying that he ever aspired to the same Causes that "Victor Laszlo," the political institution and symbol, champions. She accuses him of being a self-pitying coward:

Rick: I'm not fighting for anything anymore except myself. I'm the only Cause I'm interested in.
Ilsa: (after a significant pause) Richard. Richard, we loved each other once. If those days meant anything at all to you...
Rick: I wouldn't bring up Paris if I were you. It's poor salesmanship.
Ilsa: Please, please listen to me. If you knew what really happened. If you only knew the truth.
Rick: I wouldn't believe you no matter what you told me. You'd say anything now to get what you want.
Ilsa (scornfully): You want to feel sorry for yourself, don't you? With so much at stake, all you can think of is your own feeling. One woman has hurt you and you take your revenge on the rest of the world. You're a, you're a coward and a weakling. (She breaks down sobbing.) No. Oh Richard, I'm sorry. I'm sorry, but, but you, you are our last hope. If you don't help us, Victor Laszlo will die in Casablanca.
Rick (stonily): What of it? I'm gonna die in Casablanca. It's a good spot for it. (He turns away to light a cigarette.)

When reasoning fails, she also turns away. When he turns back, she is tremblingly threatening him with a gun, desperate for him to give up the letters. Rick, not caring if he lives or dies without her love, suicidally steps toward her and calls her bluff:

Ilsa: All right, I tried to reason with you. I tried everything. Now I want those letters. Get them for me.
Rick: I don't have to. I got 'em right here.
Ilsa: Put them on the table.
Rick: No.
Ilsa: For the last time, put them on the table.
Rick: If Laszlo and the Cause mean so much to you, you won't stop at anything. All right, I'll make it easier for you. Go ahead and shoot. You'll be doing me a favor.

When Rick is willing to give up his life, she realizes how much he was hurt by her abandonment. Ilsa's emotions crumble and she cannot shoot. She wavers and then drops the threatening pretense - and the gun:

Richard, I tried to stay away. I thought I would never see you again, that you were out of my life.

She turns away toward the window with tears in her eyes, and then falls into his arms. He has triggered a rekindling of their old affection and she succumbs to his powerful, admirable love. She admits that she was committed to him in Paris, and that she suffered immense pain when she had to leave him and separate. Deluded about her love for the responsible and respectable Laszlo, she suddenly realizes how much she has always loved Rick and still loves him - ending her tender words with a passionate, authentic kiss:

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.

After some time passes [audiences are left to presume what happens between them on this fateful night - was there further physical intimacy?], Ilsa tells him the unrevealed truth of what really happened in Paris and explains the reason she apparently betrayed Rick:

  • Laszlo was her husband and she was in fact married even when she knew Rick in Paris.
  • Her husband went to Prague and was arrested. After months of waiting for word of him, she was informed that he had been shot in a concentration camp escape attempt.
  • Then she met Rick in Paris and fell in love: "I was lonely. I had nothing, not even hope. Then I met you."
  • Her marriage with Laszlo had been kept a secret: "Victor wanted it that way. Not even our closest friends knew about our marriage. That was his way of protecting me. I knew so much about his work. And if the Gestapo found out I was his wife, it would be dangerous for me and for those working with us."
  • And then she learned Laszlo was alive the day of their scheduled departure from Paris. With Victor being hidden in a freightcar on the outskirts of Paris, he was so ill that Ilsa had to cancel her plans to leave Paris with Rick to help her husband regain his health: "He was sick. He needed me."
  • Ilsa knew that she couldn't tell Rick why she remained: "I knew you wouldn't have left Paris and the Gestapo would have caught you."
  • She also had to remain true to her marriage vows and choose her husband over her lover.

After Rick has heard Ilsa's explanation, he still wonders about the present. Lacking the strength to ever leave Rick again, Ilsa completely submits her will to Rick and promises she will go anywhere and do anything for him. She will arrange for Victor's safe passage - Rick can help get him out of Casablanca with a letter of transit. Caring for Victor's safety and his Cause, Ilsa asks if Rick will still help Victor:

Rick: But it's still a story without an ending. What about now?
Ilsa: Now? I don't know. I know that I'll never have the strength to leave you again.
Rick: And Laszlo?
Ilsa: Oh, you'll help him now, Richard, won't you? You'll see that he gets out? Then he'll have his work, all that he's been living for.
Rick: All except one. He won't have you.

Ilsa hides her face in Rick's shoulder, concealing her inner shame at her passionate feelings for him. Although Ilsa knows that she is doing wrong and that her decision violates all her high ideals, honor, and vows of marriage, she can't help herself. Confused but passionately in love with Rick, she re-pledges her love and consents to living there in Casablanca with Rick. She asks that Rick help her be strong in regards to Victor and think for both of them. She capitulates to Rick - willing to sacrifice herself to him in a loving, but adulterous/common-law relationship:

Ilsa: I can't fight it anymore. I ran away from you once. I can't do it again. Oh, I don't know what's right any longer. You have to think for both of us. For all of us.
Rick: All right, I will. Here's looking at you, kid.
Ilsa: I wish I didn't love you so much.

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