Study Guide

Casablanca Setting

Setting

Casablanca

If we were trying to get from Paris to New York, all it would take would be about six hours, a passport, four granola bars and $500 or so for plane fare from CDG to JFK.

In 1941, things were different. Refugees looking to flee war-torn Europe had to take the long way—a pretty circuitous route through the unoccupied part of France to Algeria, Morocco, then Lisbon, where they could hope to catch a flight to America (Portugal was a neutral country). As a main way station, Casablanca was a small coastal city crowded with panicked refugees trying to get to Lisbon, and unscrupulous criminals and corrupt officials willing to accept sexual favors and loads of cash for the treasured exit visas.

It's like Mos Eisley with less Sand People.

People of all nationalities show up in the city: Czechs, Hungarians, Italians, Bulgarians, French, you name it. There's only one American in the film, and his name is Rick. And everybody comes to Rick's.

Rick's

Conceived originally as a stage play, it makes sense that practically the entire movie takes place in one location.

Everybody Comes to Rick's. That was the title of the unproduced play that inspired the classic. And it's true in more than one sense.

First, it points to how popular Rick's place is. That joint is always jumpin'. If you're part of the "in" crowd, you're probably going to be spending your evenings—if not your days, too—at Rick's.

But another reason everybody comes to Rick's is that it's a center of illegal activity for buying and selling transit papers. Desperate refugees and criminal types congregate there along with the locals trying to get a piece of the action. Nazis, police, gamblers, secret couriers—they're all there.

Because so much time is spent at Rick's, the place almost becomes a character in its own right, and an important one at that. It belongs to the man who represents, for most of the film, cautious non-involvement, and that quality is reflected in the club. It's a place of sanctuary for those seeking refuge from the harsh forces that are invading from Germany. A place where you can have a drink, hear Sam play, and forget what's going on in the world. Or at least it's supposed to be. Once gunshots are fired and opposing sides start singing their national anthem version of a vehemently articulated rap battle, one starts feeling a little less safe.

At that point, as with Rick, the place begins to cave. The shutting down of the club coincides almost exactly with the breaking down of Rick's emotional defenses. The only major difference is that Rick didn't wear a sign around his neck indicating that he's been closed by order of the police. That would have been a little weird.

The Blue Parrot/The Black Market

Although technically two different locations, we're going to combine them here. Come on, there's a reason for it—don't be such a stickler.

The Blue Parrot, the closest thing Rick has to any competition, is owned by Signor Ferrari, the Don Corleone of Casablanca, according to him. He also apparently runs (officially or otherwise) the black market just outside the establishment, where all sorts of shady deals are always going down. It makes sense this guy is involved with shady business, as he casts quite a formidable shadow.

It's here where Victor and Ilsa plead with Ferrari for two exit visas, and where they're denied. It's also where Rick signs the papers agreeing to sell his club. Sad stuff happens here. This is where people go as a last resort.

Hey, that sounded pretty good. Maybe Ferrari should write that on a poster and stick it in the front window.

The Airport

Just when you were 90% of the way through the movie and thought that no other location in Casablanca could possibly be as indelible as Rick's, our heroes show up at the airport. Now, whenever anyone thinks of the movie, it's this scene more than any other that pops into their head. Unless they just happen to be really big Blue Parrot fans.

There are a few reasons for it. First, it's the closing image, and therefore the last thing to leave an imprint on our brains. Second, it's where the climax occurs, and we're clearly going to be more likely to remember the spot that Rick said goodbye to Ilsa for the last time than wherever it was that Sacha the bartender fixed Yvonne a drink. Third, this scene is home to four or five of the most famous movie lines in Hollywood history. So yeah…everything conspires to make this the scene we remember. The fog on the airfield with small plane in the background makes for killer dramatic effect.

There have been plenty of films with airport scenes in the years since (Love Actually, The Graduate, Rain Man, etc.), but none has even come close to touching Casablanca in terms of importance, vividness of recollection or pure spectacle of emotion. The fog, the waiting plane to freedom, the shooting of the evil Major Strasser, Ilsa's longing looks, Rick's moral awakening, Louis' political about-face: all indelible images. Everything in the film has been moving towards this scene.