Man in the Middle
Rick Blaine is the owner of Rick's Café Americain, a popular drinking and gambling place in Casablanca. He has to deal with all types of people: the local authorities, German officers, people fleeing Europe waiting desperately in Casablanca to get out of the war zone. Despite his café being in the center of the action, Rick keeps to himself. He makes a point not to socialize with the customers, and seems to be a cynical, world-weary guy.
We wonder, what must have happened to him? He's an ex-pat American but he's pretty evasive about his past.
RENAULT: I've often speculated why you don't return to America. Did you abscond with the church funds? Did you run off with a Senator's wife? I like to think that you killed a man. It's the romantic in me.
RICK: It's a combination of all three.
RENAULT: And what in Heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?
RICK: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.
RENAULT: The waters? What waters? We're in the desert.
RICK: I was misinformed.
Even though he's in the middle of a highly charged political situation, he doesn't overtly take any political stands.
RENAULT: Rick, there are many exit visas sold in this cafe, but we know that you've never sold one. That is the reason we permit you to remain open.
RICK: I thought it was because I let you win at roulette.
We learn from Renault that there are some hints to his politics:
RENAULT: Because my dear Ricky, I suspect that under that cynical shell, you're at heart a sentimentalist...Oh, laugh if you will, but I happen to be familiar with your record. Let me point out just two items. In 1935, you ran guns to Ethiopia. In 1936, you fought in Spain on the Loyalists' side.
RICK: And got well paid for it on both occasions.
RENAULT: The winning side would have paid you much better.
History lesson: Running guns to Ethiopia in 1935 would have been illegal. The United States had a Neutrality Law that prohibited anyone from aiding a country involved in the European conflict, even if that country, like Ethiopia, was being invaded by Italian Fascists. Rick could have been arrested if he'd stayed in the U.S.
The Germans have a file on Rick and try to intimidate him by implying they've got his number, but he doesn't cop to anything:
RICK: 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.
[…]RICK: Excuse me, gentlemen. Your business is politics. Mine is running a saloon.
Regardless of his real political leanings (and who likes the Nazis?), surrounded by locals, French resistance types, Nazis, and French collaborators, his survival strategy is to stay neutral—or at least claim to be neutral. He's just in it for the dough.
We know different, though. His non-verbals show us his contempt of the Nazis. He rigs the roulette wheel so Annina's husband wins enough to buy exit visas, sparing Annina from having to sleep with Renault in exchange for them. He allows his orchestra to play "La Marseillaise" when the Germans start singing their song—a pretty bold move, in our book. But in Casablanca, he's just going along to get along.
P.S. All this neutrality leads us to believe that Rick is representative of America's initial neutrality in WWII...and the sense that sooner or later, he's gotta pick a side.
A Man's Man
Wait…isn't he a woman's man? "Man's man"—what does that even mean?
There are all sorts of heartthrobs, but Rick—as well as the man who portrayed him—definitely falls into the "man's man" category. Basically, he symbolizes everything that is typically and stereotypically 1940s male, and serves as a prime example of what many men (though certainly not all) aspire to be. For example, Orlando Bloom is a heartthrob in his own right, but you wouldn't necessarily call him a man's man. You couldn't really see Bogie putting on a long blond wig and tights and heading out to shoot down some Orcs.
Rick is a guy. He has a no-nonsense attitude, and says whatever's on his mind (unless, of course, it behooves him to keep it a secret). He can drink someone under the table if he needs to. He's a snappy dresser. He doesn't take anything lying down, and he won't stick his neck out for anyone but himself, or for the woman he loves.
In many ways, Rick is a relic. He'd probably be slack-jawed if someone were to tell him about present-day and explain to him what a "metrosexual" was. But back in the 40's and 50's, this was what the perfect man was supposed to be. Strong, smart, confident, and good with a snappy comeback. And with far too much hair gel.
Flying By the Seat of His Pants
YVONNE: Where were you last night?
RICK: That's so long ago, I don't remember.
YVONNE: Will I see you tonight?
RICK: I never make plans that far ahead.
Part of the reason we are so irresistibly drawn to Rick is his spontaneity. In real life, it might be a better policy to think through our actions, and to balance the risks against the rewards, but it's impossible not to admire someone who trusts their gut to inform all of their major decisions.
To be fair, Rick has a good head on his shoulders, too. He's not just some meathead who thinks with his fists. But he lives for the moment. If there's an edge he thinks he can exploit, he'll exploit it. If he's moved to help out some unfortunate soul, even if it's going to cost him moolah (like in the case of Jan and Annina), he'll do it without stopping to consider the consequences. He even goes from having the opportunity for a life of relative safety with his one true love to sending her packing and getting himself in heaps of hot water instead—all because he has an unexpected change of heart.
These are the types of characters we root for in movies. Mainly because most of us aren't that way. But we wish that we could be. Throw all caution to the wind, do what feels right, tell that jerk in our social studies class what we really think of him, etc. Rick is the courageously free spirit inside all of us, fighting to get out.
So go ahead. Let your inner Rick out. But if you get in trouble because of it, we never had this conversation.
King of the One-Liners
Henny Youngman. Rodney Dangerfield. Steven Wright.
Really? They're pretty famous. All right, so you might have to look them up.
In short, they are (or were) all brilliant comedians who specialized in the art of the one-liner. A quick, witty rejoinder that often leaves egg all over the other guy's face. And yet Rick Blaine, club owner, shunned lover, self-professed alcoholic—how does he fit in with those guys? We can't really see an average, working stiff like him asking an audience to, "Take my bartender…please!"
But try counting up all of Rick's zingers throughout the movie and you'll quickly run out of fingers. To Ilsa:
RICK: I remember every detail. The Germans wore gray, you wore blue.
UGARTE: You despise me, don't you?
RICK: If I gave you any thought I probably would.
When Ugarte justifies his business getting refugees a good price on their exit visas, Rick responds:
RICK: I don't mind a parasite. I object to a cut-rate one.
When he taunts Renault about his sexual exploits, he says:
RICK: When it comes to women, you're a true democrat.
He's clearly not intimidated by Nazis:
MAJOR STRASSER: What is your nationality?
RICK: I'm a drunkard.
Rick slings these beauts from the beginning to the end of the movie, and at a rapid-fire pace. Obviously, it would be tough for anyone to be quite this quick-witted in real life, but Rick has the benefit of a talented team of screenwriters, working tirelessly around the clock to make sure he's the smoothest of the smooth.
Will the Real Rick Blaine Please Stand Up?
In the final analysis, our smooth-talking, cool-headed Rick turns out to be a hero. At first, he plans with Renault's help to have Laszlo framed so he and Ilsa can use the visas and fly off to live happily ever after. But when he sees the look on Ilsa's beautiful face when her husband's arrested, something shifts. He can't go through with it. He pulls a gun on a very startled Renault and forces him to load Laszlo's luggage onto the waiting plane.
Rick gives up the love of his life for the greater good, and arranges for Ilsa to leave Casablanca with her husband to go and fight the good fight. He recognizes that Laszlo is the true hero; his work's too important to sacrifice. He goes on to save Ilsa's relationship with Laszlo by telling him that Ilsa only wanted to get the exit visas for Laszlo:
RICK: She did her best to convince me that she was in love with me but that was over long ago. For your sake she pretended it wasn't and I let her pretend.
Rick explains to Ilsa that it's her love that keeps Victor going, that she has to leave with him. In one of the most famous scenes in the history of movies…Wait, we already said that about another scene; that goes to show you what a classic Casablanca is. Anyway, Rick sets aside his own struggles and tells Ilsa:
RICK: Ilsa, I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that.
Having done the right thing, he then does another—he shoots Major Strasser, who has rushed to the airport to try to intercept Laszlo's plane. He probably figures there's not much left to lose at this point. He and Louis Renault dramatically walk off in the distance towards an uncertain future.
There's gotta be some fan fiction somewhere about how Rick strips off his tux and runs off to fight the Nazis. If it's out there, Shmoop will not rest until we find it.