Continuing December's look at scenes from Casablanca, particularly those where players speculate on the character and motivations of saloon owner Richard Blaine, and right to his face...
Everybody De-constructs Rick, Part 3: The Nazis
The Story: Everybody's got an opinion. For being one of the most mysterious people in Casablanca, Richard Blaine sure has a lot of people surrounding him who think they know all about him, and don't mind telling him that. No wonder he's developed that cynical aloof shell. A shell that he seldom sticks his neck out from, as he is so fond of saying. He's already had to endure listening to Renault talk about him like he knows his secret, now he's got the Nazis Renault is trying to impress with him doing the exact same thing. Must get to sound like a broken record after awhile.*
Rick is very patient with the Nazis--he plays them carefully, the arrogant Krauts. He charms them with witty responses, but occasionally the innocent eyes turn baleful and the lilt goes out of his voice. In his over-confidence, Major Strasser dismisses those moments.
Then there's Louis over there, smiling like the cat that ate the canary, singing Rick's virtues...or lack of them. Of course, Rick and Louis have made a bet whether the men sitting with him at the table will be able to capture the Czech freedom-fighter Victor Laszlo.
But in that betting game, there is a wild card, and she's on the arm of Victor Laszlo as he enters the Café in the very next scene, in the very next shot, and her presence could swing the denouement of the bet in either direction.
Place your bets.
The Set-Up: Richard Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) has just seen the fellow who's entrusted valuable letters of transit arrested by the local authorities for murder. Not only that Chief Inspector Renault (Claude Rains) seems to want to spear-head a trap for Nazi fighter Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) in Rick's saloon. And now, he's invited his new best pals, the Nazis, led by Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt**) over for a drink to impress them. To Rick, it's all brown-shirt-nosing, but Louis is handy to have in your corner in order to keep your business' doors open. So....
Renault: Rick? Rick, this is Major Heinrich Strasser of the Third Reich.
Strasser: How do you do, Mr. Rick?
Rick: How do you do?
Renault: You already know Herr Heinz of the Third Reich?
Strasser: Please join us, Mr. Rick.
Renault: We are very honored tonight, Rick. Major Strasser is one reason the Third Reich enjoys the reputation it has.
Strasser: You repeat "Third Reich" as though you expected there to be others.
Renault: Personally, Major, I will take what comes.
Strasser: Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?
Strasser: Unofficially, of course.
Rick: Make it official, if you like.
Strasser: What is your nationality?
Rick: I'm a drunkard.
(They all laugh)
Renault: And that makes Rick a citizen of the world.
Rick: I was born in New York City, if that'll help you any.
Strasser: I understand you came here from Paris at the time of the occupation.
Rick: There seems to be no secret about that.
Strasser: Are you one of those people who can't imagine Germans in your beloved Paris?
Rick: It's not particularly my beloved Paris...
Heinz: Can you imagine us in London?
Rick: When you get there, ask me.
Renault: Oh. Diplomatist!
Strasser: What about New York?
Rick: Well, there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn't advise you to try to invade.
Strasser: Who do you think will win the war?
Rick: I haven't the slightest idea.
Renault: Rick is completely neutral about everything...
Renault: ...and that takes in the field of women, too.
Strasser: You were not always so carefully neutral. We have a complete dossier on you. "Richard Blaine, American. Age: 37. Cannot return to his country." The reason is a little vague.
Strasser: We also know what you did in Paris, Mr. Blaine, and also why you left Paris. Don't worry, we aren't going to broadcast it.
Rick: Are my eyes really brown?
Strasser: You will forgive my curiosity, Mr. Blaine. The point is...
Strasser: ...an enemy of the Reich has come to Casablanca and we are checking up on anybody who can be of any help to us.
Rick: Well, my interest in whether Victor Laszlo stays or goes is purely a sporting one.
Strasser: In this case, you have no sympathy for the fox, huh?
Rick: Not particularly. I understand the point of view of the hound, too.
Strasser: Victor Laszlo published the foulest lies in the Prague newspaper until the very day we marched in. And even after that, he continued to print scandal sheets from a cellar.
Renault: Of course, one must admit he has great courage.
Strasser: I admit he's very clever. Three times he's slipped through our fingers. In Paris, he continued his activities. We intend to not let it happen again.
Rick: Well, excuse me, gentlemen. Your business is politics. Mine's running a saloon.
Strasser: Good evening, Mr. Blaine.
Renault: You see, Major, you have nothing to worry about Rick.
Words by Murray Burnett, Joan Alison, Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch and Casey Robinson.
Pictures by Arthur Edeson and Michael Curtiz.
Casablanca is available on DVD from Warner Home Video.
Next week: The fox
* I realize that may be a cliché past it's expiration date. A "record" (re'-ckerd) was the precursor of the CD (compact disc), was made of a petroleum-based vinyl, stamped into a flat disc. The sound was lathed into the vinyl, and a needle scratched those wave-etchings and converted it into sound (Some aficionados claim that this scratching produced a better sound than digital one to one conversion, but I digress). Imperfections in the vinyl would produce "pops" in the sound, and a scratch or break in the record, would cause the needle to jump the groove of the rotating record, and repeat the same 1.5 second section over and over and over and over and over...until someone removed the needle from the playing surface. Francis Ford Coppola and Walter Murch used this to great effect in "The Godfather" when Michael Corleone visits his father in the hospital only to find that the guards hired to protect him have left, and in a hurry, as he finds an abandoned Christmas party in the lounge and a record-player that keeps repeating one word: "To-niiight-To-niiight-To-niiight-To-niiight"
** Veidt was already a part of film history before he came to "Casablanca:" he starred as the somnambulist, Cesare in Wiene's "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," and also "The Man Who Laughs." He died six months after "Casablanca" was released.