Focus on a Scene of Mercy
Unrated. Running time: 142 min.
Our content advisories (1-10): Violence 0; Language 0; Sex/Nudity 1.
Our star rating (1-5): 5
O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek;
you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear
to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed,
so that those from earth may strike terror no more
Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord,
and will be repaid in full.
Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart are the ultimate star-crossed lovers destined to suffer for their love as they sacrifice their own happiness for a higher cause. Michael Curtiz’s romantic WW 2 era movie, set in the city for which it is named, is more than just the story of two lovers and the noble impulse that keeps them from fulfilling their passion to be together. Only after watching the film several times did I begin to see beyond the main story a delightful subplot of grace, designed, of course, by the skillful scriptwriters to make us see Rick Blaine’s real nature hiding beneath his thin veneer of cynicism.
Rick Blaine owns Rick’s Cafe, the one nightclub in Casablanca where Nazi and Frenchman, crook and saint, exiles and Vichy French mingle together for at least a night in which the war is laid aside. Rick has several staff members devoted to him–Sam the black musician, Carl, his portly maitre d’, and Sascha, his Russian bar tender–but no intimates. Rick maintains a savoir, cynical air that masks a deep hurt inside of himself. He maintains a friendly but cautious relationship with Captain Renault, the police officer who represents the Vichy government in the city, and also has dealings with the wily black market dealer Signor Ferrari.
The Nazi Gestapo agent Major Strasser has just come to the city, and he also frequents the Cafe with his fellow officers. Also newly arrived is resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid)–indeed it is to arrange for his capture that the Major has come to Casablanca. When Laszlo enters the Cafe Rick is stunned to see the beautiful Ilsa Lund with him. He and she had been lovers in Paris and then, with the threat of the Nazi invasion, had become separated. Thinking that she had been unfaithful to him by failing to keep their appointment to meet at the train station, Rick had erected a shell around his heart, becoming the cynical man of the world shunning any involvement in politics. Later he will learn that she had fallen in love with him during the time when she thought her husband had been killed by the Nazis. Then, just before they were to meet at the train station and leave Paris, she had discovered that Victor was alive. Believing that her husband needed her more than Rick did, she had elected to stay with him.
Rick has come into possession of sets of exit papers, and it is for these that Ilsa pleads. Rick coldly turns her down. However, we see he is not so hard-hearted when an under-age young woman enters his nightclub bent on a desperate mission. Amidst the buzz of the Cafe young Annina Brandel talks with Capt. Renault, who points to the table at which Rick is seated alone drinking. She walks over and enquires if she can speak with him. Rick asks her how she got in, she obviously being underage. To her reply that she came with Capt. Renault, he says that he should have known and invites her to sit down. She asks what kind of a man is Capt. Renault. “Is he trustworthy?”
Annina tells Rick her story of how she and her husband, who is at the roulette table, had left Bulgaria where conditions are so terrible that they have fled, hoping to go to America. But travel expenses were so much greater than expected, so they are out of money, despite her husband’s attempts to win at the gambling tables. However, she says, Capt. Renault has offered to help them obtain the expensive exit papers. Rick asks, “Does he know that (you’re broke), and he’s still willing?” She says yes, and then restates her question,”Will he keep his word?”
Rick answers that the Captain always has. And then, in a guarded way Annina reveals how she will pay the captain for the papers, when she asks, ” Monsieur, you are a man. If someone loved you very much so that your happiness was the only thing she wanted in the world and she did a bad thing to make certain of it, could you forgive her?” We can read on his face that Rick is thinking of himself and Ilsa as he replies that no one ever loved him that much. As she continues pouring her heart out, Rick brusquely advises her to go back to Bulgaria. She answers that going to America means too much to them. Seeming to brush her aside, he says that everyone in Casablanca has problems, that hers may work out.
He goes over to look at the guest list and then sees Ilsa and her husband Laszlo enter. Seating them at a table, he asks Sam to play “As Time Goes By.” Entering the gaming room, Rick passes the roulette table where Emil the croupier is about to start a new game. The intense looking young man seated at the table is obviously the young woman’s husband. This is confirmed when Annina comes up and watches while Rick leans toward the man, who has just declined Emil’s invitation to play. Rick asks, “Have you played 22 tonight?” He repeats the number, and the young man places his chips on 22. Emil has caught on to Rick’s intention, and spins the wheel.
The winning number is 22. Several facial close-ups are inter-cut: the anxious young woman, now smiling; Rick’s maitre d’ Carl, looking very pleased; and Capt. Renault, surprised. Rick suggests that he leave his chips there. Another spin of the wheel, and he wins again. Telling him to cash them in and not come back, Rick leaves, stopping by the attendant to ask how things are going. “A couple thousand less than I thought there would be.” Rick smiles knowingly, and turns to leave.
Annina runs up to thank him with a hug and a kiss, but he removes her arms and says that her husband is “just a lucky guy.” Her smile shows that she knows better. Carl wants to reward Rick by getting him a cup of coffee, but Rick declines. On their way out, the young couple talks with Capt. Renault and arrange to meet him the next day for the exit papers. A good loser, the captain says that he is happy for both of them. “Very strange that you won,” he observes, but then adds as he looks in Rick’s direction, “Well, maybe not so strange.”
Carl apparently is telling the Russian bartender what their boss has done for the couple, because the latter goes up to Rick, kissing him on the cheek as he says, “Boss, you have done a beautiful thing.” The last thing that the unsentimental Rick wants is this, so he dismisses him with, “Go away, you crazy Russian.” Carl is at the bar with Rick and gives him a knowing smile, but, when Rick looks sternly at him, he too turns away. Captain Renault comes up and declares, “As I suspected, you are a rank sentimentalist.”
We have all known people who seem to be outwardly hard or cynical but who inwardly are warm and caring. Rick Blaine certainly is one of these, reminding us again not to judge people too quickly by their appearance. Although it is doubtful if he ever read Psalm 10, his act of kindness to Annina, certainly one of “the meek” so dear to God’s heart, is just what the psalmist would approve. And so the captain is right, Rick is “a rank sentimentalist.”