Okay, so you’ll see that I elevated the four shortcuts to sympathy I catalogued yesterday to our checklist. I’ll add more as I find other recurring themes. Starting today, I’ll also analyze at the bottom of the post what makes each intro unique or daring. Casablanca, for instance, introduces its main character quite late...
Rick Blaine in Casablanca:
- Superimposed over a cheesy model of a globe: “With the coming of the 2nd World War, many eyes in imprisoned Europe turned to America. A tortured refugee trail sprung up. Paris to Orsee, Across the Mediterranean to Oran, then by train or auto or foot across the desert to Morrocco. The lucky few get exit visas to the new world. The other wait in Casablanca, and wait, and wait…”
- A radio man gets a wire about criminals arriving in Casablanca with stolen letters of transit.
- The police chase suspects through the bustling and exotic streets of Casablanca.
- A suspect is shot dead in front of a poster of Petain, the leader of Vichy France. They search him and find he has resistance documents.
- A posh English tourists get news from a local, who explains that Renault is the corrupt chief of police and warns them to be on guard since the city is filled with the scum of Europe, who are vultures. The Englishman thanks the local, but after he leaves he finds his wallet is gone.
- Plane flies overhead, everyone in line for a visa looks up hopefully. A young couple says “Perhaps tomorrow we’ll be on the plane.”
- The plane flies over Rick’s bar…
- The plane lands at the airport. Nazi Major Strasser gets off, greets Renault (Claude Rains).
- Renault assures Strasser that he’ll arrest the man who stole the letters of transit that night. “Tonight he’ll be at Rick’s. Everybody comes to Rick’s.” Strasser says “I’ve heard about this casino, and also Rick himself.”
- Cut to Rick’s door at night. Rick’s black entertainer Sam sings “It Had To Be You.”
- Inside, people complain about the wait to get in. A merchant pays a former heiress very little for her diamonds. A black marketer arranges for someone to get a boat for a lot of cash. A card player asks a waiter if Rick will have a drink with him, says he was a the second biggest banker in Amsterdam. The waiter replies that the leading banker in Amsterdam is now a pastry chef in their kitchen.
- We see Rick’s hands sign a bill, then pan up to show him playing chess by himself.
- They ask if a Nazi banker can come in, but Rick shakes his head no. He does agree to let Ugarte (Peter Lorre) in.
- Ugarte says it looks like Rick has been doing this his whole life. Rick barks “How do you know I haven’t?” “I assumed…” Rick tells him not to assume. Ugarte asks about the couriers. Rick says they’re lucky, now they’re the “honored dead.” Rick won’t drink with him. “You despise me, don’t you?” “If I gave you any thought, I probably would.” “I help people” “For a price.” “Is that so parasitic?” “ I don’t object to a parasite, just a cut-rate one.” Ugarte says he’s leaving soon with the letters of transit everyone is looking for. “I have many friends in Casablanca, but somehow just because you despise me you’re the only one I trust, could you hold these for me?”
- Sam sings “Knock on Wood.” Rick stashes the latter in with Sam’s sheet music.
- A rival bar owner named Ferrari (Syndey Greenstreet) offers Rick money for Sam. Sam responds, “I don’t buy or sell human beings.” “Let’s ask Sam, perhaps he’d like to make a change?” “Let’s ask Sam” Sam says no.
- A girl asks Rick, “Where were you last night?” “That was so long ago I don’t remember.” “Will I see you tonight?” “I never make plans that far in advance.” “What a fool I was to fall for a man like you.” She’s drunk. He kicks her out.
- Renault approaches to talk to Rick. He says that Rick is reckless throwing away women like that. The plane to Lisbon flies overhead. Does Rick want to be on it. He denies it. “I’ve often wondered why you don’t return to America… Did you abscond with the church funds? Sleep with a Senator’s wife? I’d like to think that you killed a man, it’s the romantic in me.” “It’s a combination of all three.” “Why on Earth did you come to Casablanca” “My health, I came for the waters.” “It’s in a desert” “I was misinformed.”
- Renault tells him about an arrest there. Rick assures him that that won’t be a problem: “I stick my neck out for nobody.”
This is the first movie we’ve examined where the hero is introduced late, after everybody talks about him with much mystique. This trick can be effective, since it makes us fascinated by the hero before he even appears, but it’s also risky, since we don’t get to have a “point of view” character yet as we get to know this world. Here, it works here very well. Since everybody keeps talking up Rick, we know that he’ll be our hero and we’re willing to withhold our need for identification until he appears. Denied Rick’s point of view, we start the movie very explicitly with a “voice of God/ viewpoint of God” intro. It would be hard to pull this off in a modern movie. We live in a far more subjective era.