Plot: Rick (Humphrey Bogart) owns a popular nightclub in Casablanca, in the early days of WWII. France is under the control of the Vichy government, which has close ties to the Nazis, but Casablanca still has an uneasy independence. As a result, people come from all over to try to get exit visas to countries that are still free, and corruption and chaos are pervasive. As the movie opens, the police shoot a man who does not have the proper papers, and refugees negotiate with smugglers for passage to Lisbon, from which one can get to America.
Captain Renault (Claude Rains) of the local police arrives at Rick’s with Major Strasser, a Nazi. Strasser is searching for the person who killed two German couriers. Whoever killed them took their papers, including two “letters of transit,” which enable the bearer to leave the country without question. Ugarte (Peter Lorre) has the letters and gives them to Rick to hide for him. He is then captured by the police. Rick makes no effort to protect him, saying, “I stick my neck out for nobody.” Strasser is also looking for an escaped Czech named Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). Laszlo arrives at Rick’s with Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), planning to meet Ugarte.
Rick and Ilsa knew each other before, in Paris. They had planned to leave together, before the city fell to the Germans, but at the last minute, Ilse did not come, and sent a note saying that she could never see Rick again. He is angry and bitter, and still so deeply hurt that he drinks heavily. When she returns to talk to him, he is drunk and lashes out at her, and she leaves.
The next night, they speak again, and she tells him that she is married to Laszlo, and thought he had been killed when she met Rick. She found he was still alive the day they were supposed to leave Paris. She loved him then, and still loves him. Rick and Renault plan to trap Laszlo by giving him the letters of transit. Then Renault will arrest Laszlo, and Rick and Ilsa will leave together. But at the airport, Rick tells Laszlo that he must go and Ilsa must go with him. In one of the movies’ most famous moments, he tells her that “We’ll always have Paris.” Rick and Renault leave together to join the fight against the Nazis.
Discussion: This is probably the most famous Hollywood movie of all time, certainly the most quoted, and the most frequently cited as the all- time favorite, particularly by men. It is fascinating to read the story of how the film was made. The definitive rebuttal to notions of the “auteur” (one author) in film, this movie was put together in pieces by many different sources, with script pages completed just moments before the cameras rolled. The performances by Bogart and Bergman are so subtle and complex because the actors themselves had no idea how it was going to end.
Rick tries to appear cool and amoral. When Renault says he knows Rick ran guns to Ethiopia and fought for the Loyalists in Spain, Rick replies that he was well paid. But Renault gently reminds him that the other side would have paid him better. In reality Rick is deeply moral. He will not take any action to protect Ugarte, who does not deserve it, but when a young bride is about to sleep with Renault to get exit visas, he arranges for her husband to “win” at roulette so they can buy them instead. Rick is very loyal to Sam, the piano player. And when he is able to put Ilsa’s actions into a moral context, he forgives her completely and is once again able to “have Paris,” to draw on the love they had for one another and the happiness they shared in order to give up all he has to get back into the fight.
Kids may need some of the political and historical context explained to them, especially the meaning of the shot at the end, of the Vichy water in the garbage.
Questions for Kids:
· Some of the best-remembered lines of this movie indicate the casual corruption of Casablanca. What does it mean to say “We haven’t quite decided if he committed suicide or died trying to escape” or “I’m shocked to find gambling going on in Casablanca” or “Round up the usual suspects”?
· What does Rick mean when he says “We’ll always have Paris” and that they didn’t have it until Ilsa came to Casablanca?
· How does knowing that she really loved him change the way he looks at the world?
· Was Ilsa right to stay with Laszlo in Paris? Was she right to leave with him to go to Lisbon? Why?
· What do you think Rick and Renault will do next?
Connections: This movie won Oscars for Best Picture, Director, and Writer. Almost every frame of this movie is an icon, and it has been endlessly copied and parodied. The Woody Allen movie “Play It Again, Sam” (rated PG, but not for kids as the entire plot is about seduction) is an affectionate tribute to “Casablanca” and other Bogart movies.