One Liner Review:
(1942, Directed by Michael Curtiz, Written by Julius J. Epstein)
Casablanca is the rare movie that combines history, drama, crime, and romance and does all of it without falling into a formulaic routine. Any other movie would be struggling so hard just to juggle all of these different plot strands and keep all the balls in the air, that it would have gladly let itself fall back into something familiar. Casablanca refuses to let its characters off that easily. There is a love triangle here to be certain, and where most movies would have had one of the two men who pines for the same woman turn out to be less than honorable, Casablanca intentionally avoids going down that common road. Instead, it leads us to a moral high ground, both for the character, and also for the movie, choosing the smarter path, even if it isn’t the usual feel good ending that we are so accustomed to seeing from Hollywood.
Casablanca is known to be one of the greatest movies of all time, filled with iconic characters and lines. It’s an absolute classic, a movie that holds a place in cinematic history and changed not only what we thought about movies, but also what we thought of the usual movie star. Humphrey Bogart’s character, Rick, is an anti-hero if ever there was one. This guy runs an illegal gambling club, has been kicked out of his own country for unspecified reasons, and lives his life by the credo, “I stick my neck out for nobody.” He is hardly your usual cinematic hero.
Yet Bogart embodies this character so perfectly, and with such a deep and dark performance, that we don’t have any problems with Rick’s actions, even when he willingly lets a friend get captured by the police, refusing to help this man out. We can tell that Rick has been hurt and that whatever it is that he’s been through has made him the way he is today. He’s a guy who is in control of everything (or so it seems), filled with humor, and yet never cracks a smile. To do so would be to expose a vulnerable side of himself, and clearly this man did that once before and got burned for it. He has since learned his lesson.
The movie is about a place in Africa where people come to get exit visas that will allow them to leave and go to the United States. Only these exit visas are not so easy to attain, and so many people who come to Casablanca seeking them, end up getting stuck there. The setting and location of where this movie takes place, start the movie off before we even begin learning about the story.
At the start of the movie, before we ever meet Rick, we learn that the location of the film will be as relevant and influential to the story as anything else that takes place before us. The movie opens with a spinning globe and then the traveling over a map, and both of these images are accompanied by voice-over narration explaining the time (World War II) and the situation where people come to Casablanca, in Morocco, seeking exit visas. They are trying to get out of Europe and find refuge in America as German forces are sweeping in, more and more each day.
The movie is about how World War II has impacted other countries of the world, and is causing this sort of mass hysteria, not just throughout Europe, but really all over the world. Morocco, the city where the movie takes place in its entirely, is not even in Europe at all, but in Africa. And the German forces find their way here to become the antagonists of the picture. With all of this history used as the setting right there on the screen, what’s especially interesting and important to keep in mind is that the movie was made in 1942, while the war was still going on. It was made at a time before anyone really knew how World War II was going to end. The war began in 1939 and didn’t end until 1946. Keeping in mind that at the time of the movie, the outcome of the war was yet undecided, it is interesting to see how clearly the Nazis are depicted as the bad guys and the French resistance as the good guys.
Immediately following the globe and the map situation, which gives us background knowledge before throwing us into the plot, we arrive in Casablanca to hear a police radio transmission that talks of an unknown suspect murdering two German couriers. The men were carrying letters of transit. These are like exit visas, only much stronger, to the point where they have been signed by a general and cannot be rescinded or even questioned. Hearing the news of the German courier deaths leads us straight into a montage. We see soldiers in the streets checking people’s papers, a man running away from another group of soldiers, and then the soldiers pulling their weapons out and gunning down the man who is running from them. Then we come to Rick’s cafe.
The place is called Rick’s Café American, and the film was adapted from an unpublished play that was titled, “Everybody Comes To Rick’s.” That title is taken from a direct quote in the movie, between two major characters, Louis Renault and Major Strasser. Once we enter the club, we are put right in the middle of multiple conversations, given a taste of each one, and then whisked off promptly, before we can really know or care about who the characters involved were. Each conversation seems to be about acquiring transit papers and doing so illegally. There is a lot of whispering and looking over ones shoulder, and we really get the feeling that this is a seedy, shady, place full of underground characters trying to rip off the helpless refugees. We even get to witness a man get pick pocketed right in front of our eyes, by another man who tells him to be mindful of the “Vultures. Vultures everywhere.” He, of course, is just as bad as any of the others.
We continue moving through the crowd and start hearing about this Rick. He’s a guy who everybody wants to have a drink with. And we keep hearing that Rick doesn’t drink with his guests. Not only are we learning that people talk about him, but we are also learning that he’s a guy with a very strict set of rules. When one wealthy fellow thinks that Rick will be impressed with this man’s social status, claiming he is the manager of the second largest bank, one of Rick’s employees replies, “he won’t be impressed by that, the manager of the first largest bank just became our pastry chef.”
After we have heard enough about this man, Rick, and the setup is over, we are finally ready to meet him. The movie handles this very strategically by having a check put down in front of an unknown figure and then watching as the hand of the figure picks up a pen and signs, “OK, Rick,” on it. Now we know whose hand it belongs to. The camera pulls back to reveal Bogart as Rick, sitting there completely casual and calm.
The chief of police, Captain Louis Renault, (Claude Rains), approaches Rick and you can tell that these guys have had some dealings with each other. They have an understanding, not so much as friends, but as guys who put up with the other one and even find the other one humorous, because doing so is beneficial to both of them. Renault might be the authority figure, and Rick might be running an illegal operation, but neither one of them has any problem with the way the other one runs his show. These guys are both the boss or leader of their crew, and despite Rick’s doing something that flies in the face of the law, they get along just fine. That is really the first sign that this movie will be different than others we’ve seen come before it. Usually, the man in charge of the illegal operation is at odds with the cop who longs to take him down. Here, these guys both have their attention in other places, and get along with mindless banter as if they were actually friends.
Renault tells Rick that a big arrest is going to be made tonight, at Rick’s club. Apparently the man who murdered those German couriers will be there, tonight, trying to sell the transit papers off. Renault even tells Rick that there will be a special guest in the crowd to oversee that everything goes smoothly with the arrest. That guest will be the German Gestapo chief, Major Heinrich Strasser. At first, it might seem strange that Renault is telling Rick all this instead of asking him for permission. But then with the mention of the authority figure who will be there to oversee it, everything makes sense. Renault might bend over backwards for and make moral sacrifices to his own character in order to please Rick (turning his back on the gambling), but when someone even higher up than Rick is involved, Renault needs to do what is best for himself and his career.
Rick inquires a little more and the two men now go into a private room. The camera slides between the walls to get in there, after them. It prefers to do a tracking shot this way, as opposed to just cutting and then coming back when the characters are already in the next room. The strategy helps keep the momentum of the scene alive, and we watch as Rick shuts the door to the room and everything suddenly becomes quiet. It is here that Renault tells Rick about the Czech resistance leader, Victor Laszlo, who will also be there tonight. In fact, the two situations are connected because Laszlo plans to purchase the transit papers from the man who murdered the German couriers.
Just like the conversations that led up to us meeting Rick for the very first time, we are getting a lot of setup here, and it all goes a long way. We learn that Laszlo was in a German concentration camp and escaped. Since then, he has become a symbol of the resistance and the Nazis would like nothing more than to catch him and send him back to their camps.
It’s not very far into the movie, but already we have established some major points. First off, there is the situation with the letters of transit, two murdered Germans, and the fact that the killer will be arrested there tonight. Secondly, there is the story of Victor Laszlo, the resistance leader who the Germans are after, and how he will also be showing up tonight. Most movies don’t tell us ahead of time what will be coming. They try to keep us surprised. Casablanca knows that it has so many other surprises waiting to be sprung upon us, that even if it does give us a little preview of what is to come, our attention will be all the more focused because of our anticipation.
The arrest of the murderer becomes the first big event of the movie. The man who killed the German couriers is Ugarte (Peter Lorre), and he speaks to Rick as if he has known him for some time now. Ugarte is the kind of guy who takes advantage of refuges finding themselves in desperate situations by overcharging them for exit visas. He is one of the many corrupt businessmen in Casablanca, and he has connections for getting these papers that most men only wish they had. Other than Ugarte, the only one we learn of who has this same level of access to the visas, is Renault. When Rick learns that Ugarte is the one who murdered the Germans, he tells him, “I guess you’re right, Ugarte. I am a little more impressed with you.” He might not like the way this man does business, but he certainly never suspects him to be a murderer.
In their first conversation of the movie, Ugarte tries to get some information out of Rick and is shut down immediately. He compliments Rick on how well he runs the place as if he’s been doing it his whole life, and Rick snaps at him, “who says I haven’t?” Rick is keeping his past a secret here, and if anyone wants to challenge him on that, then he’s ready to stand up to them. Ugarte knows that Rick wasn’t always here, in Casablanca, but he has no idea where Rick was or what he did before that, and Rick isn’t about to let him know. Rick has a secret about who he was in a past life, and it’s not just a secret from Ugarte, but also from us. The more we don’t know, the more we wonder, and the more interested and curious we get.
When soldiers and police show up to arrest Ugarte, he runs away, slamming a door behind him. When the police open the door, Ugarte fires on them. He then runs to Rick seeking help. He wants Rick to hide him, only Rick refuses. He tells Ugarte that there is no chance for him to escape, and the police take Ugarte away. Right before leaving, however, Ugarte slips the letters of transit to Rick and Rick hides them inside his piano.
The police arrest Ugarte instead of shooting him on the spot. That might be a little hard to believe considering that he was just firing on the police, but there are reasons for it. The first is that we have already seen a man get shot over transit papers at the start of the film, not too long ago. The second reason is that by having him get taken away it is enabling us to hear more about what happened to him while he was in police custody, later on. In a conversation that comes much later in the movie and is meant to be taken as a threat to Victor Laszlo, Renault tells Laszlo that Ugarte died in police custody. The scary part comes when Renault tells Laszlo that he is still deciding whether to write it up as a suicide or as killed while trying to escape. In other words, the police killed Ugarte because they wanted to kill him, and probably tortured him a little too, and now have the ability to write it up in whatever way they want.
Back at the club, long before we even meet Laszlo, Rick now sits down with Strasser, the head German inspector. Strasser tells him more about Laszlo and what the Germans think about the man’s escape. This is all setting up Laszlo even more. By Strasser telling Rick all this, it is really telling us, the audience. We are getting to know the character of Laszlo through conversations about him, before we even get to meet him for ourselves. It is the same technique that the movie used on Rick, letting us hear about him before we actually met him. The goal is to make us curious and interested. The strategy accomplishes both.
Before we even meet Laszlo at all, we have become familiar with the nigh club, met the local police inspector who turns his back, met the owner of the night club, met the German Officer who has been sent here to catch his prey, and even seen a murderer get captured and taken away. All of this comes in the first act and ends with the culminating talks about Laszlo. We are now ready to meet the man who we have heard so much about. Act 1 is over and Act 2 is about to begin.
Laszlo enters Rick’s café with a woman on his arm. This woman is Ilsa, (Ingrid Bergman), and the two of them sit down at a table together. Renault joins them and Ilsa asks about the piano man, Sam, claiming that she has seen him before. This is a clue that Ilsa and might have a connection, and therefore, Ilsa and Rick. Especially when Renault tells Ilsa that Sam came from Paris with Rick.
Laszlo goes over to meet someone at the bar, and the two of them discuss what happened to Ugarte earlier in the evening. Laszlo was apparently supposed to meet Ugarte there, and to get the letters of transit from him. Only Ugarte got arrested, and now nobody knows where those letters are. Nobody, except for Rick.
Ilsa, meanwhile, waits until a performer finishes singing a song and then asks the waiter to send the piano man over. Ilsa has strategically sat down at a table next to the piano, and when Sam comes over to the piano man, Isla tries to get him to play a song. Sam is hardly a major character in the movie, yet he’s the guy that has been by Rick’s side longer than anybody else. He has not had a very important role so far, yet he did have one moment where he showed great loyalty to Rick. This happened in a scene where Sam was courted by the owner of the Blue Parrot, a competing night club. The owner wanted Sam to come over to his club and work there instead of at Rick’s. This owner even offered to pay Sam more money, but Sam’s response was that he didn’t have enough time to spend the money he was making now. The thing that was so great about that moment was that it was Rick asking Sam the questions, right in front of the Blue Parrot owner, knowing full well what Sam’s responses would be. Rick’s confidence in his piano man and longtime friend really showed how well he knew and trusted this guy. It also showed us that perhaps these two had a lot of history together.
We learn more about that now, with Ilsa in the building, approaching Sam, and asking him to play the familiar song, “As Time Goes By.” It takes a lot to get Sam to play it for her. At first, he tells her that he doesn’t remember it. That’s when she starts singing the melody for him. So Sam begins to play the song, and gets pretty far into it before Rick shows up to shut him down. Rick angrily snaps at Sam, saying, “I thought I told you never to play that-“ and then he sees Ilsa. The woman who he thought he would never see again. The woman who this song reminds him of. What a moment. Sam quickly packs up his things and runs off, leaving the two of them alone.
Renault walks through the crowd with Laszlo by his side and the two of them find Ilsa sitting at the table with Rick standing over her. The two of them haven’t exchanged a single word to each other when Renault begins speaking, introducing Laszlo to Rick, the man he has been asking about. Laszlo asks Rick to sit down with them for a drink and Rick aggress. Renault is in shock. This is breaking one of Rick’s rules.
Once the four of them are sitting down at the table together, Rick and Ilsa start talking. Ilsa asks about when the last time she saw Rick was and he tells her that he remembers every detail. It was the day the Germans marched into Paris. Laszlo says nothing during this conversation and just sits there listening. One has to wonder why he asked to meet Rick if his plan was then to just sit there and say nothing. The answer is most likely that he is caught off guard by hearing that Ilsa and Rick know each other and now chooses to just let them talk and take in as much as he can from their conversation.
It isn’t long before Laszlo tells Ilsa that it’s late and asks for the check. He has no reason to stay around here, since the man he came to meet, Ugarte, is long gone. When the check arrives, Rick reaches for it and tells them the drinks are on him. Renault announces that this is another precedent being set as Rick continues to break his rules. Clearly something pretty big is happening here for this man who has such strict rules about the way he lives his life to suddenly be breaking them, one after another.
Victor and Ilsa leave and we watch the evening turn into nightfall outside the café. The sign that says Rick’s gets turned off and we move inside to see the place completely dark and empty. Rick sits beside the bar drinking. Sam comes over and tries to pull him away, but Rick only has one thing on his mind. He wants to hear Sam play, “As Time Goes By.” Sam again resists playing it, just like he did with Ilsa, but Rick demands angrily, “You played it for her, now play it for me.” He feels betrayed that Sam would play this song for Ilsa, knowing what a wound it would open for him. The song brings back memories and now that this door has been reopened, Rick wants to hear it again. “If she can take it, so can I,” Rick shouts.
Sam plays the song, only this time doesn’t sing along to it. That makes it easier for the music to flow into the background as we move to a flashback scene. We are suddenly in Paris with Ilsa and Rick together. Rick looks different here. He is all smiles and laughs. We watch a montage of the two of them doing all sorts of romantic things, from taking a boat ride to sitting on a couch drinking glasses of wine. Rick asks her about her past and Ilsa replies, “We said no questions.”
Most movies have characters with a back story, but Casablanca takes it to a whole other level. The flashback is a back story about the relationship that Rick and Ilsa once had, but even this has a back story to it. Ilsa’s past goes back to her being married before meeting Rick and thinking that her husband was dead when she met him. And Rick has apparently participated in many international conflicts, always fighting on the side of the underdog. He ran guns to Ethiopia and fought on the loyalists side in Spain. These events are mentioned multiple times in the movie by people who are trying to point out that Rick does have an interest in the affairs of the world and in justice getting done, even if it is taking the side of the underdog.
The flashback continues to show Sam playing the piano for Rick and Ilsa with the two of them leaning over it, joking around with each other. And then we see the Germans march in. There’s a shot of a sign that says Paris with an arrow pointing the way, which is a little silly, but is meant to explain a lot in one quick flash. Rick gets train tickets for him and Ilsa to leave Paris together. Only she never shows up at the train station. Sam arrives and hands Rick a letter that he says just arrived at their place a little while ago. Rick opens the letter with the rain pouring down on him, and we read it over his shoulder as the rain makes the ink start to run. The letter says that Ilsa will not be meeting Rick here and leaving Paris with him. Rick gets on the train and it takes off, leaving both Paris and the memory of his time with Ilsa, behind.
We return to the café as Sam finishes playing the song and then gets up and leaves. It is still the middle of the night, with nobody else there but Rick, sitting alone in the dark. That’s when Ilsa walks in. She sits down next to Rick and he lets her have it, angry about everything that happened and not ready to listen to her stories. She tries to tell him about how all her life she heard of this man, and then finally met him, and Rick is so blinded by his drunkenness and anger that he’s not even sure he knows which man she is talking about. He asks her if it was Laszlo or somebody else and if there were others in between. Ilsa gets up, insulted by all of this, and storms out. Left alone once more, Rick’s head falls into his hands, buried on the surface of the piano, and the scene fades out.
We fade back in for what is the next morning now, and it is the start of the third act. Laszlo and Ilsa show up at the police station to sit down with both Renault and Strasser. It’s a meeting between enemies with Strasser threatening Laszlo and Laszlo telling the German that he wouldn’t dare interfere with him while they are in neutral territory. Strasser knows the Laszlo plans to leave Casablanca as quickly as possible, and he offers to help Laszlo get the exit visas he needs in exchange for Laszlo giving up the names of the resistance leaders in other countries of Europe. Laszlo, of course, refuses, claiming he never gave them up when he was in a concentration camp, so why would he give them up now.
There’s an interesting moment that happens at the end of the scene. Laszlo and Ilsa have just walked out and one of Renault’s men comes up to him and says there is an exit visas situation that he needs to attend to. Renault never asks about the person who is having the problem. He just says, “send her in.” This quick line is meant to tell us that Renault has a routine with his men, where any attractive woman who comes seeking an exit visa should be sent directly to him. He is quite the womanizer and not above using his position of power to get women to sleep with him.
All of this comes up again in just a few scenes, with a woman from Bulgaria getting caught in between Renault and Rick. But before that happens, Laszlo and Ilsa go to see the owner of the Blue Parrot and learn that Rick might have the letters of transit that Ugarte was carrying. The owner offers to help get Ilsa out of Casablanca, but says he cannot help Laszlo. The Germans are watching the airports for him too tightly. But Ilsa will not leave without her husband and even cites experiences from the past when she was sick and her husband needed to be somewhere, but refused to leave her side.
Now we return to Rick’s for a midday scene involving this woman from Bulgaria. She approaches Rick and asks for his help. She wants to know about Renault, and whether or not he is a man who will keep his word. Rick asks a little more, and she tells him that Renault has promised to help her and her husband get out of Casablanca. The young couple has been married for only eight weeks, and the woman’s original inquisition about Renault becomes a conversation about morals and forgiveness.
She asks Rick if somebody had done something terrible, but did it for the person she loved, could the guy forgive her for doing it? There are two things going on here, with this question. First, this woman is letting both us and Rick know that she is considering sleeping with Renault in order to get his help with the exit visas. Secondly, she is asking about a situation that mirrors Rick’s with Ilsa and Laszlo. Ilsa refuses to tell Laszlo the truth about Rick, and she also never told Rick about Laszlo. And later on in the movie, she will try to sleep with Rick in order to get his help with the exit visas. She will even offer to stay with him in Casablanca and be with him from then on, if he just helps Laszlo get out.
For the time being, it is the woman from Bulgaria who has the immediate situation, and Rick goes over to the roulette table in the back room where this woman’s husband is trying his luck. Rick tells the man to bet his chips on a certain number and the dealer hears him. The ball lands on that exact number. Rick tells the man to leave his chips there and the ball lands on this very same number again. Clearly Rick has the game rigged so that if he wants the ball to land on that number, he can make it happen. My guess is that there are magnets involved which the dealer turns on when he hears Rick say the words.
The scene serves as a sort of intermission to the movie. It’s the first scene in the film that is not really about Rick, Ilsa, or Laszlo. It’s as if this woman from Bulgaria exists only to help Rick realize something about his own situation. But the scene also does something for us, in the audience. It tells us that Rick really is a good guy. We might have had our doubts by the way he is holding onto the letters of transit so tightly and refusing to help Ilsa and Laszlo out of jealousy, but this scene with the woman from Bulgaria reminds us that Rick really isn’t such a bad guy.
The intermission Bulgarian woman scene ends act 3 and comes right before the start of act 4. Act three was about Laszlo confronting Strasser and then finding out that Rick has the papers. At the start of the fourth act, Laszlo goes to see Rick in his private office upstairs and asks about the papers. Rick doesn’t deny that he has them, but he refuses to give them over for any price. When asked why, Rick tells Laszlo to ask his wife. It’s a very immature move, and that’s another reason why we needed that Bulgarian woman scene right before, to help remind us that Rick is a good guy.
Laszlo hears German music coming from downstairs and leaves Rick’s office. He walks down to see a group of Germans sitting at a table, singing a patriotic song from their homeland at the top of their lungs. Laszlo goes right over to the band and asks them to play La Marseillaise, the national anthem of France. The head band member looks over to Rick who nods approval, and that gets the band playing. This is the second instance in only a few minutes where Rick shows that he is in total control of everything that goes on in his place and can make big things happen. First was with him helping the young couple win big at the roulette table. And now with his approval, the band belts out the song and many people in the crowd stand up and sing so loud that it silences the German song.
This action angers the Germans and they decide to order Renault to close down Rick’s café. When Renault asks about grounds for closing it down, Strasser tells him to find some. There is the classic moment where Rick asks Renault what the reason is for this, and Renault says that he is shocked to find that gambling is going on here. Just at that moment an employee of the café comes over and gives Renault his winnings from the table. The timing of this moment is priceless. Especially with Renault saying thank you to the man who gives over the winnings, instead of trying to hide it. It’s Renault’s way of saying that he knows how ridiculous this all is, but he doesn’t really have a choice.
Things have clearly changed for Rick at this point. Even earlier on, when his place was ransacked by Renault’s men who were ordered by the Germans to go through the place searching for the transit papers, Rick was in total control. He knew they were coming in, and even left the café on purpose to give these men the opportunity to go through the place before he came back. But now, his café has been closed down and it was by someone who Rick trusted. Renault.
Rick now realizes that things will not be going back to normal so easily. Laszlo goes off to an underground meeting, and when we come back to Rick’s, the place is all boarded up with a sign over the entrance that says it is closed by order of the police. When we move inside, we see Ilsa and Rick talking upstairs in his private office.
She wants those transit papers and is willing to do anything to get them. At first, that means offering herself to Rick. He rejects the offer. That’s when Ilsa pulls a gun on him. Rick tells her to go ahead and shoot him and tells her that she’ll be doing him a favor. He even walks closer to her saying that he’ll make it easier for her. Instead of shooting, she turns around sobbing.
Rick walks up behind Ilsa, ready to console her and she turns around and hugs him. It’s the first physical contact between them since the movie began, other than the flashback to Paris. She looks up at him with tears in her eyes and kisses him. Then she tells him that she never stopped loving him and that seeing him again in Casablanca made her realize this.
It’s hard to believe that her mind changed that quickly, or that she isn’t still after the transit papers, but she makes it clear to him that she wants those papers for Laszlo and not for her. She plans to stay in Casablanca with Rick, since she is still in love with him, but wants him to send Laszlo off to the states in order to help the cause. Rick agrees, and just then Laszlo and one of Rick’s employees enter the café, having just narrowly escaped the police.
Apparently the police broke up the underground rebellion meeting and Laszlo and this employee ducked out just in the nick of time. I like the way the movie never shows us the meeting, but only the before and after of it all. We certainly hear a lot about it, but to see what actually went on there would be pretty pointless, and this movie is smart enough not to waste our time.
Laszlo enters and Rick tells his employee to take Ilsa home. That’s when he and Laszlo get to have a conversation where they are finally honest with each other. Laszlo calls Rick out, saying that he knows that they are both in love with the same woman. He tells Rick that he doesn’t care about what went on when he was in a concentration camp, and doesn’t blame his wife for doing what she did. He recognizes that Rick and Ilsa both still have feelings for each other, and he asks Rick one favor. To take Ilsa out of Casablanca himself. He wants Rick to use the transit papers to take Ilsa away.
Just then Renault walks in and arrests Laszlo. He has no real grounds, but the way things work in Casablanca, he doesn’t really need any. If we remember the conversation about Ugarte earlier, and how Renault was deciding what to make up about how Ugarte died, we realize that the truth around here is whatever the police want it to be. But Rick goes to see Renault the next morning anyway, with a plan in mind for how to get everyone out of this mess.
That next morning at the police station, Rick tells Renault that they both know there is no real charge against Laszlo. Renault might be able to trump something up, but it won’t be something big and it probably won’t stick. But Rick can give him something that he can definitely use to put Laszlo away. Rick has the transit papers and everyone knows it, including Renault. Rick tells Renault that he plans to use these papers on him and Ilsa, taking Ilsa away to America. He tells Renault that he has no plans to help Laszlo and that Laszlo is the last person Rick would ever want to see again after running off with the man’s wife.
Rick tells Renault that he has a plan that will make it so that they both can get what they want. They both want Victor Laszlo locked up. Rick wants this so that Laszlo won’t get in the way of his relationship with Ilsa, and Renault wants this so that he can get a promotion through the German ranks. The plan is that Rick will invite Laszlo to his café to get the papers. Renault will be hiding there, and as soon as Laszlo is holding the papers in his hand, Renault will arrest him. He will claim that Laszlo is the one who killed the German couriers and the possession of the transit papers is the proof. Rick leaves Renault after making this plan, and we begin the fifth and final act.
The fourth act was all about Rick learning to accept the situation between Laszlo and Ilsa. We might not know what he has in mind yet, for his real plan, but he is certainly up to something. It’s that fourth act that makes him completely change his mind. First it’s the conversation with Ilsa and then after that the one with Laszlo. Rick has met with each of these characters before, only in those first meetings, he looked at them through the lens of an angry, jealous, and bitter man.
The main purpose of the fourth act is to show the reasons for Rick’s change. Right before the act begins, we get the situation with the woman from Bulgaria, which certainly opens Rick up to the fact that there are people out there who need to get out of Casablanca a lot more than he does. It also makes him realize that when he has the chance to help someone out, he shouldn’t pass on that opportunity, even if it somehow benefits him to do so.
When Ilsa comes to Rick to ask for the letters of transit, she tells Rick the whole story about Laszlo, once and for all. She tells him about how she was married to him before ever meeting Rick and how Laszlo got taken away to a concentration camp. She explains that she had heard he was killed, and that she didn’t get word that her husband was still alive until that last day, when she was supposed to meet Rick at the train station. The message was that Laszlo was sick and hiding out in a railroad car, and she knew that she needed to be there for her husband.
Between hearing the truth in all of it’s detail, and then seeing Ilsa crumble from the way she is so torn between the two men, Rick realizes that he can play the cold, heartless man of power role no more. He tells Ilsa that he will send Laszlo off with the papers and then when he speaks with Laszlo, he tells him that he will take Ilsa away from Casablanca, himself. Rick is telling both of them different stories, but he is also telling both of them exactly what they want to hear. The truth is, what he really has in mind is neither one of these options.
The final act begins with Rick going to see the owner of the Blue Parrot and selling off his café. Considering the way the movie ends, with Rick staying in Casablanca, one has to wonder about this action. Why is he selling off his place? Maybe he hasn’t figured out yet exactly what he’s going to do and still plans to leave with Ilsa, just like he told Laszlo. But more likely the reason is because he no longer wants to run the place, ripping off helpless refugees the same way Ugarte did.
After selling his café, Rick returns their once more to put into place the plan he has setup with Renault. Laszlo and Ilsa enter, just as scheduled, and Rick hands Laszlo the papers. That’s when Renault steps out with a gun and tells Laszlo that he’s under arrest. This time there are real grounds, since he is being caught with the transit papers in his hand. Only when Renault turns around, he gets a pretty big surprise himself.
Rick is standing there, holding a gun at him. Rick plans to help Laszlo get out of Casablanca and is willing to hold a gun on Renault in order to do it. Renault can’t believe what he is seeing, but Rick assures him that he doesn’t want to shoot him, but will do so if given no other choice. Rick makes Renault call up the airport to insure that a plane will be ready for Laszlo to leave. He has Renault give Laszlo clearance. Only Renault doesn’t really call the airport. He calls up Strasser instead.
The final scene of the movie takes place at the airport. It’s a lengthy climax, first with Rick revealing that his real plan is to have Ilsa and Laszlo leave Casablanca together. He is sacrificing his relationship with Ilsa for the greater cause. Rick knows that Laszlo is needed in order for the French to win the war, and he knows that Ilsa is the driving force that inspires her husband to continue on. Ilsa, however, doesn’t agree. She really wants to stay with Rick and has a problem with accepting his proposal.
In what is the most famous scene of the movie, Rick tells Ilsa that if she stays with him she will end up regretting it for the rest of her life. He tells her that the problems between the three of them don’t amount to anything compared to what’s going on with the rest of the world. Rick gives her his famous line, “here’s looking at you, kid,” once more and then sends her one her way. Laszlo comes by to thank Rick for his help and to welcome him back to the fight. He tells Rick, “This time, I’m sure our side will win.”
Ilsa and Laszlo walk away from Rick and Renault and they board the plane. Just then Strasser drives up and jumps out of his car. He wants to know the meaning of that phone call that Renault made to him, and Renault tells him that Laszlo and Ilsa are on the plane. Strasser picks up a phone to try and stop it and Rick pulls a gun on him. He orders Strasser to put down the phone, but Strasser has no plans of doing so. Instead, he tries to pull a gun out on Rick, and that’s when Rick shoots him.
The plane takes off and a bunch of Renault’s men drive up wanting to know what happened. They see Strasser’s body lying on the ground and want an explanation. This is Renault’s chance to turn Rick in. Only he doesn’t. He, too, has despised the Germans and in particular, Strasser. He was forced to kiss up to them and to do things for them that he wouldn’t normally do, (such as close down Rick’s café), and he resented the Germans for making him act this way. When his men ask him who killed Strasser, Renault tells them he can’t be sure and that they should “round up the usual suspects.” After he does this, Renault pours a glass of water and then looks at the label. He then instantly drops both the glass and the bottle into a nearby trash can. The bottle was of Vichy water. The Vichy government is the French government that cooperated with the Germans. The Germans set this government up to help them rule over occupied France. By getting rid of the glass and bottle, Renault is saying that he is done with the Germans and with kissing up to them. He has chosen a side at last and that side is of French freedom from Germany.
Renault and Rick now walk away from the camera, strolling out into the fog. They talk about the ten thousand dollars that Renault owes Rick from a bet they made at the start of the film. Rick talks of how he will be going away, taking a trip, and will use that money to finance it. Renault has another idea. He mentions using the money to finance something that they will be running together. It seems that the two of these guys will be going into business together in the future. Rick ends the movie by telling Renault, “Louis, I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship.” What he really means is a partnership, and I like the way the movie gives us a sense of what the future might be like for them both.
Casablanca is a solid five act movie with an intermission scene in the middle that might not have much to do with the primary story of the film (it is not about Laszlo or Ilsa, and barely about Rick), but is certainly used to mirror what is happening in that main storyline. The first half of the movie is about understanding who Rick is and how he became that way. It not only catches us up on tons of back story but also does a nice job of setting up the current situation where a local celebrity comes to Casablanca and stirs up a whole ton of trouble. The problems that are caused by Laszlo’s arrival are not only with the Germans, but also with Rick.
There are really two stories going on here at the same time. The story of Rick and Ilsa and their relationship together, both past and present, and then the story of Laszlo and what his escape from Casablanca will mean to the cause. Laszlo represents freedom. Rick has the choice to keep him in Casablanca, jus the same way the Nazis want to do, or to help the man escape. He casts his own interests aside in order to make the choice that he feels is right. This movie is filled with fascinating twists and revelations and has a story that really keeps you wondering which way the characters are going to turn. It isn’t just Rick, whose actions are unpredictable, but also Ilsa’s. By the end, we get a final decision that is completely the opposite of how most romantic films end. It’s the reason, more than any other, why this movie is so great. Rick makes the decision that nobody else would and it fits in just perfectly with everything else that has happened in this movie.