A “Casablanca” Character Guide for Newcomers

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)

CASA RICK

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 CafĂ© AmĂ©ricain. 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)

casa Ilsa

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 CafĂ© AmĂ©ricain 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)

casa Lazlo

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)

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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)

casa Strasser

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)

casa ugarte

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)

casa Sam

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)

casa ferrari

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)

casa Carl

Carl is another great piece that makes Rick’s CafĂ© AmĂ©ricain 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)

casa sascha

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.

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REVIEW: “The Maltese Falcon” (1941)

Classic Movie SpotlightMALTESEA good argument could be made that The Maltese Falcon is Humphrey Bogart’s best film. It’s a movie that seems to get better each time I watch it and has earned it’s recognition as a film noir classic. It’s also a film featuring two notable firsts. This was Sydney Greenstreet’s first feature film and it was John Huston’s directorial debut. Huston also wrote the story which is based on Dashiell Hammett’s novel of the same name. It’s said that Huston extensively planned everything in the script, even to the most minute detail. It certainly shows. The movie is smart, well written, and very well made.

Bogart plays Sam Spade, a San Francisco private investigator. He and his partner Miles Archer, played by Jerome Cowan, meet with an attractive new client, Ruth Wonderly (Mary Astor), who hires them to help find her missing sister.  Archer volunteers to follow her as she meets with Floyd Thursby, an acquaintance of her sister. Later that night Spade receives a call that Archer has been murdered. Spade weaves through a barrage of lies and an assortment of shady characters to find that it all revolves around a priceless statuette of a bird covered in jewels.

Bogart wasn’t Huston’s first choice to play Sam Spade but after George Raft turned down the part Bogie was brought in. This was the beginning of a great friendship between Bogart and Huston that spawned many other wonderful films such as “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, “The African Queen”, and “Key Largo”. Bogart’s performance is simply brilliant and it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role. Mary Astor gives a strong performance and sets the table for some of Bogart’s best lines in the film. Add Peter Lorre and Greenstreet and you have an incredible cast. Also keep an eye out for a cool cameo from Walter Huston, John Huston’s father.

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The film’s is also helped by some fine cinematography. The movie features some crafty camera work and low-level lighting which adds to the picture’s mood and tone. Cinematographer Arthur Edeson plays around with the angles and camera locations which give the movie a cool, slick look.  It’s such a technically sound and stylish movie and Huston’s accomplishment is really profound considering this was his first picture.

The Maltese Falcon epitomizes what high level filmmaking and cinema storytelling is all about. Bogart’s performance became the model for other film noir detective roles and the supporting cast is nothing short of brilliant. The movie was nominated for three Academy Awards but it’s contribution to filmmaking  can’t be measured by that alone. This is a motion picture classic and it should be considered mandatory viewing for any fan of film. If you haven’t seen The Maltese Falcon, it’s time to.

VERDICT – 5 STARS

5 STARSs

5STAR K&M