A modest film shot almost entirely on the back lot, Casablanca was a surprise hit that transformed Humphrey Bogart from a character actor typecast as a gangster or hard-boiled detective into a romantic lead. Bogart's Rick made a journey from self-centered isolationism to more idealistic involvement in the great issues of the day in a manner that mirrored the transformation of the American public.
Everybody Comes to Rick's
Released in 1942 and set in the Moroccan city of the title, Casablanca focuses on Rick's Cafe Americain and its owner Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart). Rick's is a nightclub and casino frequented by wartime Europeans in a colony of Vichy (Nazi-occupied) France. Those coming through Casablanca are, for the most part, trying to get out of Europe.
Rick lives by the motto, "I stick my neck out for nobody." He has a policy of strict neutrality. But events are about to conspire to destroy that neutrality.
First a weaselly little friend Ugarte (Peter Lorre) leaves some papers with Rick for safe-keeping. The papers are letters of transit, worth much more than their weight in gold. The documents will allow anyone to travel out of Casablanca without question. Ugarte is arrested and winds up dead, leaving in Rick's possession papers that many would kill for.
And Then She Walks in
Shattering Rick's splendid isolationism, the elegant Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) walks into Rick's one evening. Ilsa is Rick's lost love. Flashbacks show us their idyllic romance in Paris, ending with the German occupation. Ilsa and Rick had made plans to leave together, but Ilsa leaves him in the lurch, sending instead a letter saying she could not go with him.
And now here she is with another man. Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid) is a freedom fighter famous throughout Europe.
Victor and Ilsa want those letters of transit, to get safely out of Europe to continue Victor's important work. The Nazis would dearly love to be able to arrest Victor and 'disappear' him into a concentration camp. And Rick is in the middle of it.
Rick could be forgiven for not wanting to give up papers worth a fortune to help the woman who dumped him and the man she dumped him for. But the problem is, he still loves her.
And she still loves him. Ilsa, it turns out, is no heartless floozie. Victor is her husband. When she met Rick in Paris, she had believed Victor to be dead. She learned otherwise right before she was to leave Paris with Rick. Ilsa loves Rick, but it's Victor who needs her.
This conflict of love versus duty plays out amid the dangerous intrigue of wartime Casablanca.
Casablanca is full of dialog that have become universally known catch-phrases. "We'll always have Paris", "Here's looking at you, kid", and Renault's claim to be "shocked, shocked" to learn about gambling at Rick's, are all expressions most Americans can identify. The most famous quote, though, is one that never actually appears. Though both Rick and Ilsa at different times ask Sam the piano player (Dooley Wilson) to play the song "As Time Goes By," no one actually says, "Play it again, Sam."
Credits and Awards
- Casablanca was directed by Michael Curtiz and scripted by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch, based on the play "Everybody Comes To Rick's," by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison.
- Casablanca won three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.