There are a lot of specific things about “Casablanca” that is worth spending time on. So many perfect ingredients made the film the motion picture classic that it is today. When speaking of the film to those who haven’t seen it I always start by talking about the characters. Few movies can boast of a richer and more entertaining cast of characters. “Casablanca” has given us truly memorable people who brim with personality and life. In light of that, consider this a new viewers guide to this brilliant assortment of characters that help make “Casablanca” so superb.
Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart)
When talking about the characters of “Casablanca” you obviously must start with Rick Blaine. Rick has settled in Casablanca where he runs a fiery club called Rick’s Café Américain. Rick is a seemingly cold and distant proprietor who only looks out for himself. He is an American expatriate who we learn is no longer allowed back in the United States. He has a sketchy past and some of his current club dealings are a bit shady. But we get glimpses that he isn’t the self-centered and uncaring soul he pretends to be. Rick is the centerpiece of the film and it is his relationships with every other character that shapes and forms the entire story.
Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman)
Ilsa was a beautiful Norwegian who managed to completely change Rick’s life not once, but twice. We first meet her when she arrives at Rick’s Café Américain with her husband Victor Lazlo. Her meeting with Rick lets us know that there is more history between the two than we may think. Ilsa had a difficult and challenging life especially after the onset of World War II. She lived for a while thinking her husband had been killed in a concentration camp. Her life was complicated even more when she first met Rick and fell in love only to find later that her husband was still alive. It’s that history that makes her second meeting with Rick a bit contentious.
Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid)
Victor Lazlo is a well know anti-Nazi underground hero. His reputation grew after he escaped from a concentration camp and later eluded the grasp of Hitler’s Third Reich. But this Czech Resistance leader enters “neutral” Casablanca as a fugitive along with his wife Ilsa. With the Nazi’s breathing down his neck, Lazlo arranges a meeting in Casablanca where he hopes to acquire exit visas for he and his wife. Lazlo is a bold and courageous man who will sacrifice all to stop the ruthless Nazi aggression. He’s also a man who loves Ilsa deeply which adds an interesting flavor to their visit to Rick’s place.
Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains)
He’s perhaps the most complex character in the entire film. Captain Renault is the head of the Vichy controlled police in Casablanca. He is unashamedly corrupt and never pretends to be otherwise. Whether he is accepting gambling bribes from Rick or signing exit visas for favors from the prettiest of applicants, Renault rarely shows any sign of a conscience. But he is also in a tight spot. Lazlo’s arrival in Casablanca also brings a stronger Nazi presence and Renault’s hint of control hinges on the Nazis allowing it. Considering his lack of scruples, the question is how far will he go to protect his control and his own hide.
Major Heinrich Strasser (Conrad Veidt)
Leading the search for Victor Lazlo is Major Strasser. The arrogant and overconfident Third Reich leader is determined to make sure Lazlo doesn’t leave Casablanca. Renault may appear to be the man in charge, but on numerous occasions Strasser proves that it is he and the Nazi regime that pulls the strings. Strasser is deceptive in that he always maintains a coolness about him. But simply listening to his words lets us know that he believes in Nazi supremacy and he will make sure it ultimately comes to pass.
Signor Ugarte (Peter Lorre)
Ugarte is a small-time crook who has recently “acquired” letters of transit. How did he get them? He killed two German couriers. The Nazi’s are hot on his trail so he comes to Rick’s place in hopes of stashing them. Ugarte’s reputation precedes him and even Rick keeps his distance. But Ugarte soon realizes he is in way over his head and Rick may not be the best person to look to for help.
Sam (Dooley Wilson)
Rick’s place wouldn’t be the same without piano player Sam. Rick’s relationship with Sam is more than professional. In fact it could be said that Sam in Rick’s one true friend and Sam clearly knows Rick better than anyone else on earth. Sam was in Paris when Rick and Ilsa first met. He knows the scars Rick has as a result of it and he knows the trouble that could come from her return. Sam is always loyal to his friend and even though other opportunities have come (for example a generous offer from Ferrari to work at a rival club), Sam will never leave Rick’s side.
Signor Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet)
Ferrari is the owner of a rival club called The Blue Parrot. Ferrari has an undeniable corrupt side to him, but he still maintains a friendly relationship with Rick. He is always looking for a way to make more money whether it’s buying Rick’s club, hiring away Sam or by more dubious means such a smuggling people from hear to there. Ferrari always seems to pop up whenever there is potential profit to be made, but he could also be a good person to have on your side in times of need.
Carl, the Waiter (S. K. Sakall)
Carl is another great piece that makes Rick’s Café Américain such a great place to visit. Carl is a friendly and passionate fellow whose loyalty to Rick is shown numerous times. We learn that Rick trusts Carl implicitly and he cares for him to the point of making sure he is taken care of even when he club looks to be in jeopardy.
Sascha, the Bartender (Leonid Kinskey)
Manning the bar is the lovable Sascha. He is another of Rick’s loyal employees whose strong relationship with his boss proves itself numerous times. Sascha also doesn’t mind sharing his affection for one certain French woman named Yvonne. He is a fun-loving bartender but he also is dependable when things take more serious turns.
What’s a movie without great characters, right? Well “Casablanca” has some of the best and this is an introduction to ten of them. But there are even more scattered throughout this wonderful movie. Hopefully you’ll take time to meet them all. I promise that it is well worth it.