Harry Reasoner from 60 Minutes summarizes Casablanca best – “Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back again. Boy gives up girl for humanity’s sake.” But since we are not into the whole brevity thing, here is Casablanca.
Rick Blaine is an American expatriate who runs an upscale nightclub/gambling den in Casablanca, Morocco in 1941. “Rick’s Café Américain” attracts a mixed clientele, but mostly it attracts refugees desperate to reach the still neutral United States; and those who are willing to prey on those who have little hope. Petty crook Ugarte, played by Peter Lorre, is one such predator. Ugarte shows up to the Cafe and asks Rick to hide two letters of transit. The letters were obtained from two murdered German couriers.
The papers, the magufin in the film, allow the bearer to travel around German-controlled Europe and to neutral Portugal. The letters of transit are priceless, and men, obviously, will kill for them. Rick agrees to temporarily hide the letters, but before Ugarte can sell them. That night, the local police, under the command of Vichy Captain Louis Renault, arrest him. We ultimately find out that Ugarte dies in custody without revealing that he had entrusted the letters to Rick.
Victor Laszlo, a renowned fugitive Czech Resistance leader, and his wife Ilsa Lund soon arrive at Rick’s; looking for Ugarte. Ilsa is the source of Rick’s bitterness and disillusionment; having broken his heart in Paris a few years before. Victor and Ilsa are fleeing the Germans, and hope to leave the territory via the letters. German Major Strasser follows Victor into Casablanca to see that Laszlo does not succeed.
With Ugarte’s death, Laszlo makes inquires about the location of the letters of transit. Ferrari, played by Sydney Greenstreet, is a major underworld figure and Rick’s friendly business rival. He suggests to Laszlo that Rick has the letters. When Laszlo confronts Rick, he refuses to sell at any price, telling Laszlo to ask his wife the reason. Strasser leads a group of officers in the German anthem; interrupting Laszlo. Laszlo pokes the bear with a rousing rendition of the French national anthem to drown out the Germans. In retaliation, Strasser orders Renault to close Rick’s club.
That night, Ilsa confronts Rick in the deserted café. When he refuses to give her the letters, she threatens him with a gun. She can’t shoot because she still loves him. She explains that she believed her husband was dead when they first met in Paris; killed in a concentration camp. It was only when preparing to flee Paris with that she learned that Laszlo was alive and in hiding. She left Rick without explanation to tend her ill husband. Reunited as lovers, Rick agrees to help Ilsa. She leads him to believe that she will stay behind with him once Laszlo leaves.
Aware of Ilsa’s feelings for Rick, Laszlo also arrives at his Café. He tries to persuade Rick to use the letters to take Ilsa to safety. The police arrest Laszlo on a minor, trumped-up charge, and Rick convinces Renault to release him. Rick promises to set Laslo for a much more serious crime; possession of the letters of transit. To allay Renault’s suspicions, Rick explains he and Ilsa will be leaving for America.
When Renault tries to arrest Laszlo as arranged, Rick forces him at gunpoint to assist in their escape. At the last moment, Rick makes Ilsa board the plane to Lisbon with her husband. She would regret it if she stayed. “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.”
Major Strasser, tipped off by Renault, drives up alone. Rick shoots Strasser when he tries to intervene. When the police arrive, Renault pauses, then tells them to round up the usual suspects. As they walk off into the fog together, Renault suggests to Rick that they join the Free French at Brazzaville; the sequel that was never made for Casablanca.