|My wife and I first saw this at a little re-run "arts" theater in Mesilla, New Mexico, shortly after we were married. We rented it several times since and then bought it. I found the script in a used book store and bought that. Now, I am working on a collection of coins, banknotes, and stamps from the timeframe of the movie. ("A franc for your thoughts," Ilsa says.) Eventually, I will place a judged exhibit about Casablanca at a convention of the American Numismatic Association.|
When the viewer meets Richard Blaine, he is playing chess by himself. He is an intelligent, thinking man -- and a loner.
Louis Renault claims that Rick is a sentimentalist, pointing out that Rick ran guns to the Spanish Loyalists and to the Ethiopians. "I was paid well both times," Rick insists. Renault counters, "The winning side would have paid you more." Rick demurs. "I'm a poor businessman." In that, we see that Richard Blaine is a practical man whose actions are guided by principles. He also has a bitter sense of humor.
The "Marseilles" scene says even more. Victor Laszlo orders the band to play La Marseilles. The band leader, however, looks to Rick. (As Sasha says in a previous scene, "Yvonne, I love you, but Monsieur Rick, he pays me.") Rick nods. They play. It is Rick's Cafe Americaine that the police bust up the next day. Rick takes responsibility for his actions and he literally pays the price for Laszlo's defiance. It is easy to see Laszlo as the brave idealist. Having watched the movie several times over many years, I see Laszlo as an irresponsible idealist, a Kantian up on the shoals of a Hegelian world. Consider this contrast. When the bar is closed, Rick keeps everyone on full salary. It comes out of his pocket, of course. On the other hand, Laszlo is so devoted to The Cause that he abandons his wife -- who comes from a sheltered home and is barely an adult -- in a foreign country.
Rick's values come from within. When Signor Ugarti is arrested, Rick defines himself for us by saying, "I don't stick my neck out for anybody." Of course, he does just that for Ilsa and Victor. When Signor Ferrari wants to buy Rick's club, Ferrari makes an offer for Sam, the piano player. "I don't buy or sell human beings," Rick says, almost spitting the words out. Yet, the entire story hinges on the letters of transit that let some people escape while others are stockaded in Casablanca, which is exactly the buying and selling of human beings, albeit once removed. (Rick also buys the freedom of the Bulgarian girl and her husband.) In this, Rick is forced into an untenable situation and he maintains his Self by adhering to basic principles. The bumps in the road might change your course, but you do have a course. For Rick, that course is complicated by many forks.
Ilsa walks back into his life. (Of all the gin joints in the world...) He has to protect her. He is also committed to the destruction of the Nazis. Therefore, he has to help Laszlo. He feels a sense of responsibility for his employees. As the viewer, I have to wonder how life will be for them after Ferrari owns the club. Even so, howevermuch Rick might "care" for them, they are responsible for themselves. That is the only way I see to resolve that conflict, so I project it on Rick.
Obviously, the movie transmits and reflects a lot for me.
(One aside: The Germans were singing the old imperial national anthem, "Die Wacht am Rhein."
Another aside: La Marseilles is literally a bloody song. In the book, the stage directions say that Yvonne -- the floozy who has been sleeping with the enemy -- is looking in the direction of Major Strassser and company when she sings the lyrics about their blood fertilizing our fields. )