Follow TV Tropes


Headscratchers / Casablanca

Go To

  • There's a lot of discussion I've read about why Major Strasser has some but not a lot of authority in Casablanca. Many people refer Casablanca as Vichy, but in the film it's said multiple times that Casablanca is "Unoccupied France". What exactly does that mean? It's not Free France as people have to meet in secret and Germans are welcome to come and go. But it's not Vichy either since it's said not to be and Strasser can't just walk in and run the show. There's also debate over whether Lorre says "De Gaul" or "Weygand". If this is Unoccupied France, then the first makes sense.
    • It's not Vichy France in the sense that it's not France at all - it's a nominally independent kingdom of Morocco. The real power, however, was held by Vichy government. And "unoccupied France" at the time was a semi-official term for Vichy France - that is, roughly speaking, southern part of the country - since, unlike in the north, there were no German troops stationed in the Vichy-controlled territory until the very time the film was released.
    • Advertisement:
    • It's definitely Weygand. Even in Vichy France a paper with De Gaulle's signature on it would be worthless.
  • So Ilsa couldn't reveal in a letter that her husband was Victor. But why couldn't she just say "it seems that reports of my husband's death were greatly exaggerated, I'm so sorry?" She'd already told Rick that she was (or so she thought) a widow; did she think he wouldn't believe that there'd been a failure of communication? Or that it'd be better if he spent years with NO IDEA why she'd ditched him?
    • Because she's worried about hypothetical letter-readers figuring out or already knowing who her husband is?
    • Wartime letters were subject to censoring and inspection, especially in occupied areas with active resistance movements. The wife of a Resistance leader would be kept under extremely close scrutiny, her letters would probably be read as a matter of course, and anyone she wrote to would also be kept track of. Additionally, is there any reason to believe that she knew where Rick was to write to him later?
      • Yes, there is. She left him a letter at the hotel (that would thus not be read by Nazis and before anyone knew she was Lazlo's wife) that explained that she was leaving and never coming back. She could have said "I found out my husband is still alive" without revealing anything else.
      • The hotel in the city that was going to be occupied by Nazis that same day. How's she supposed to be 100% secure that Rick will get the letter before the Nazis seize the hotel and, thus, the letter? Or where he'll be following his escape from the city, assuming he manages to get out okay? She's playing it safe.
      • ...for both of them. Ilsa probably figured (rightly, as later events proved) that Rick would stay behind to HELP her get together with Lazlo and risk capture at the hands of the Nazis if she told him the whole truth about what was happening. The flashback shows that she knows Rick's on their blacklist. It's safer for everybody that Rick just thinks that she's a jilting creep.
    • Advertisement:
    • Also, of course, Love Makes You Dumb. How clearly are you likely to be thinking when hastily writing a Dear John letter to your one true love?
  • Wasn't Renault's defection at the end a little too... complete? I mean, he goes from being a Vichy collaborator who only looks after number one, to leaving his cushy job as police chief so he can join Rick with the Allies at Brazzaville. I mean, I could quite easily buy Renault deliberately looking the other way as Rick leaves Casablanca for Brazzaville by himself - maybe with an admission that he too can after all be something of a sentimentalist - but throwing everything away and becoming a fully-fledged Resistance member himself? It just seems out of character, judging by the Louis Renault we see over the rest of the film.
    • Maybe he thought there'd be less danger in going than just waiting to be arrested. Or, more likely in the spirit the film is intended, he realised he was too much of a patriot to keep on working for the Nazis, and left to fight from the outside.
      • My take is that he went over because he believed that he would no longer be safe. Strasser's death would eventually come to the notice of a higher-ranking Nazi, and even if Louis could build a case that he wasn't to blame, he couldn't be sure that it would be sufficiently convincing. (The Nazi procedure often ran along the lines of You were here; you were nominally in charge; it's your fault.) He's still looking out for Number One: it's much safer to run before he's being chased, and by going with Rick, he can be more sure that Rick makes it away safely. If Rick doesn't make it safely to Brazzaville he's got knowledge that makes him a danger to Louis.
      • Or maybe it's just the beginning of a beautiful friendship...
      • Add to all of this, Louis isn't quite the dedicated collaborator he pretends to be - he has a habit throughout the film of undermining or snarking Strausser in such a way as to make sure that Strausser won't get sick of him and have him shot or something. Plus, Victor is an All-Loving Hero.
    • Advertisement:
    • This troper always assumed he'd been deep undercover for the Resistance from the start; he plays Xellos to everyone's Lina throughout the story because cynicism is the easiest disguise for idealism (see also: Rick). And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to the Wild Mass Guessing page.
    • According to The Other Wiki, nobody knew how the film would end till a few days before shooting — the original play ends with Rick ushering Laszlo and Ilsa out of the cafe on their way to the airport, and then waiting for the Nazis who are about to come in to arrest everybody. Not even Bogie, Bergman, Heinreid, Raines and Veidt knew the ending till they got the script pages on the day of shooting. Add in to the fact that Operation Torch had occurred during filming (the producers had planned a scene after the ending we know showing Rick and Louis in a invasion boat about to fight the Nazis, but Claude Raines wasn't available and they decided the scene would be pointless anyway), and you see why they had to go ahead and give Renault his great Heel–Face Turn.
    • One should also note that SEVERAL times throughout the film, Renault made it clear his allegiances lay to those he figured would win. It was not just that Renault was an undercover good guy, he just wanted to make sure he ended up on the side of the winning team.
    • And, most obviously, he's just seen his best friend throw aside his cynical facade to do the right thing at great personal cost, and this inspires Louis to finally give in to his better instincts and do the right thing himself. Through the movie, Louis has never made any great secret what he thinks of the Nazis, but he's lacked the moral courage to act on his feelings; Rick's example finally pushes him into action. It's easier to do the right thing if you don't have to do it alone, and it's the sort of moral decision that's perhaps best made in the heat of the moment; because if you take the time to count the cost of an act of self-sacrifice, you may be less likely to do it.
  • There are two sub-texts going on with Captain Renault: One, he is proud of being French and lets Strasser and his local entourage know, "I was with (the Americans) when they blundered in Berlin in 1918." These are the words of a virulent nationalist and by extension, his feigned absence of political viewpoints exist for the second subtext. He is a corrupt public official in a city that runs on corruption. The leader of all illegal activities is Ferrari, who only wants two things: money and Rick's Café American. Rick it seems owns the only Hotel (you can see it is attached to a hotel from the outside shots), Bar and Casino in town or at a minimum the best one and one with the best location. Ferrari buys Rick's. Ferrari can now oversee the illegal activity (much of it goes down at Rick's) as the owner not as a guest. Renault, who no doubt took bribes to let Ferrari know of the goings on at Rick's, is now replaceable. Louis Renault knows his financial footing is not as secure once Rick's is sold
    • Note that few of the above explanations are mutually exclusive. Cumulatively, it seems Louis had a lot of reasons to do what he did.
      • So to add one more, this time a bit Meta: Vichy government in North Africa never felt really secure in the first place. This, in fact, was the very reason why just a few days prior to the film's release it was almost effortlessly defeated by the Allies in the course of Operation Torch, with lots of former collaborators defecting to Free French forces. And this is December 1941 already. Rick may pathetically declare that America is still asleep, but lots of people already sensed that US entry into the war is only a matter of time really - and with Battle of Britain lost by Nazis, it was becoming more and more obvious that Casablanca was strategically vulnerable to the Allied attack, regardless of possible German successes in the East. So we can say that Renault was just more insightful (by virtue of his position at the very least) than your average Vichy guy. And yes, one could deduce from his conversations with Strasser that he has serious doubts that Germany will win the war.
  • And now, it's time for the ever-popular, plot-ruining question...

Why didn't they all get on the plane together?

Who, exactly, was checking the visas? Strasser was dead, Louis seemed pretty chill about the whole thing and wasn't going to try anything stupid with that gun trained on him, the engineers working on the plane probably aren't going to be asking questions for a buck-fifty an hour, and considering our heroes' collective cleverness plus Capt. Renault's connections, it seems pretty likely that during a four-hour flight to Lisbon they might conceivably come up with something the people at the other end would find believable, if only for the ten minutes it would take for them to scarper. It doesn't really bug ME, since I like the film for other reasons, but I remember that, on the DVD documentary, someone mentioned a friend who saw it on opening night having a problem with this apparent plot-hole.

  • Well, Rick can't return to America. We're never told exactly why, though Louis has some theories. There's really no point in him leaving. Although he could have gone to Lisbon and then departed for elsewhere, but seeing as his implied plan is to join the resistance movement, Morocco is as good a place for him to stay as any.
    • Strasser arrives before the plane takes off and isn't shot until just as it's going, and Rick's no idiot - he's probably aware that Louis managed to alert Strasser in some way and was staying back to make sure that he or anyone else on the ground couldn't interfere with the plane's take-off (or even order the Luftwaffe to 'accidentally' shoot the plane down - I wouldn't put that past the Nazis either).
    • Yeah... it's not like they never did anything of the sort in real life...
  • Do we know who was crewing the plane? A crew member just inside the door checking papers is not unrealistic. And for that matter what exactly would be the legalities when they got to Lisbon having just stowed away without the proper documents.
  • Its not a plot hole because the primary motivation is Rick getting away from Ilsa for personal reasons.
  • Getting to Portugal is only the first step. Sure, they all could have gotten on the plane, but that would leave two of the three men without appropriate papers for where they were when they got off. And it would be much more difficult to get forged papers in Portugal than it would be in Casablanca, which was under a comparatively loose rein by the Nazis.
  • A number of reasons. Firstly, the simple matter is that it is worth remembering that in Portugal you were dealing with Salazar and his regime, who looked for absolutely any excuse imaginable to waylay and generally damage the Allies, and while the visa and the fact that they wouldn't be hanging around Lisbon long would have helped, it probably wouldn't have prevented them from getting snapped up by Portuguese intelligence (and possibly even giving justification for the detaining of those WITH the visas). Secondly, Rick can't really go back to the US, and as previously mentioned, Lisbon is VERY unhealthy for him to be in for any prolonged period of time. Thirdly, there is the simple fact that Rick was acting as a decoy to draw the not-dead-yet Strasser and the others from stopping the plane and generally ruining everything. And finally, there is the fact that Rick is not one to run from a fight and the fight is currently where he is, in Africa. It isn't like him to avoid a confrontation he believes is justified, and it is quite clear by this point that he is ready and willing to fight. The neutral US and ESPECIALLY Salazar's Portugal aren't good places to do that: far better to march down to Brazzaville and join the FF units that will actually be actively confronting the Nazis and their various pawns soon.
    • Salazar's Portugal was nominally neutral and really didn't stick its neck out for nobody. It traded with the Allies and the Axis and mistrusted both. In 1943, Salazar (like pretty much everybody else outside of territories controlled by the Axis) thought that the Allies were probably going to win and actually allowed the Allies to install a military base in the Azores. According to some historians, up to 100 000 Jews took refuge in Portugal during the war.
    • Although in late 1941, when the movie is set, the Allies victory was looking a lot less certain — the United States hadn't entered the war, the Nazis were occupying Europe and a good chuck of North Africa, and were only just beginning to get bogged down in Russia. At that stage, anyone who was playing on the side of the winners would be more inclined to side with Nazi Germany than the Allies, hence why they'd want to get in and out of Portugal as quickly and with as little hassle as possible.

  • Posted this in the main page as well, but when Rick forces Louis at gun point to call the airport and have a plane prepped, Louis deceives Rick by calling Major Strasser instead. However, when the party arrives at the airport, a plane is prepped and ready for take-off, which is either a hole in the script, as the message should have never reached the airport, or an incredible stroke of luck for Victor and Ilsa...
    • The plane was set to leave anyway, the point of the call was to make sure nobody tried to stop Laszlo (which is conceivable given he's a well-known figure).
    • The point of the original headscratcher, I believe, is that Strasser could have called the airport and had the plane held up, as well as ordering a squad of police to meet him at the airport (which he did). However, he didn't have that kind of authority. Strasser was just a visiting German officer, not a Vichy official. He had just enough influence with the police, since they knew he was already working with Renault, but he had absolutely no power to call the airport and tell them to stop a plane taking off.

  • Ugarte could've sold Rick out in an attempt to save himself, couldn't he? If he was as much of a slimeball as Rick and the others took him to be, he could've told the Nazis after his arrest, "Hey, if you let me live I can tell you where those letters of transit I stole are..." Not that it probably would have helped, but it would've been worth a shot, if he was willing to sell Rick out to save himself. But apperantly he wasn't. After he's dead, the Nazis still don't know that Rick has those letters. So there are two complaints here. One: after Ugarte was arrested, why wasn't Rick worried about the Nazis finding out he had those letters of transit? In his place, most people would probably try to get rid of those letters as fast as possible. And two: Ugarte took Rick's secret to the grave with him, and Rick never seems to aknowledge it. Ugarte deserves some credit for covering for him, at least.
    • The Nazis did suspect that Rick had the papers. That's why they closed down the bar and ransacked the place.
      • But it took them a while to do that, didn't it? If Ugarte had given them any substantial clues, surely they'd have been onto Rick sooner.
    • The interrogator could have been a bit too enthusiastic in his treatment of Ugarte, killing him before they got a concrete lead on things. Not unheard of in Nazi treatment of prisoners. Also, this is when Rick is still in his ultra-cynical and bitter "I stick my neck out for nobody" phase, and had last seen Ugarte as he was callously shrugging off the man's pleas for help. He probably doesn't believe Ugarte died protecting his secret (and let's face it, Ugarte's the kind of shifty little bastard you wouldn't easily believe would have a core of decency and loyalty within him) and by the time his idealism has thawed enough to allow him to consider the possibility he has other fish to fry that are more important rather than eulogising Ugarte. As for why he wasn't worried, again, this is in his 'not-really-giving-a-shit-about-anything' phase.
    • Most likely Ugarte did spill the beans (and the Nazis just finished him off when they had what they wanted), but they don't know what happened to the letters after Ugarte's arrest. They assumed Ugarte would have them with him at the arrest, but now the case is more complicated: Rick is a cautious man and doesn't want to be involved in those things, so he may have given them to someone else by now. Also Strasser and Renault know quite well that Rick would be a tougher nut to crack than Ugarte. So they try to play it clever until they know for sure where those goddamn letters are. Renault even tells it exactly like that: He is convinced that Rick has the letters, but he knows he won't find them with him.
    • Ugarte knowing Rick has the papers is one thing; knowing where Rick hid them (or if he even still has them) is another. He can only reveal that he handed them to Rick for safekeeping, if he did tell that much.

  • Why on Earth are the Nazis honouring the letters of transit? We're told they were signed by Charles de Gaulle - who was, at that time, head of the Free French Army and living in England. He had no official post in the government until after the war. Given that the Nazis' major opponent throughout the film is the Free French, why would they honour the papers? Hell, even if they'd been signed by Petain, I doubt that the SS would have recognized his jurisdiction.
    • It was signed by General Weygand. Peter Lorre just has a thick accent.
    • Further muddying things up: the English and Spanish subtitles on the DVD say De Gaulle, but the French ones say Weygand—even the transcribers were divided on what Lorre actually said. However, most fans accept Weygand as the correct signatory, because he's the only one that makes any logical sense.note 
    • The bigger question is why the letters of transit were still valid when it was more-or-less common knowledge that they had been stolen. Even if the general public didn't know it, the government certainly did. Why hadn't they sent word to all the airports and transit authorities to ignore the letters and arrest whoever showed up trying to use them?
      • Chances are the Portuguese authorities would not be familiar with French letters of transit and simply accept them at face value (which were exit visas to permit them to travel abroad).
      • I just assumed that there are many letters of transit in circulation and they're all identical. Thus, if you put out an order to ignore the stolen letters of transit, no one will be able to tell the stolen letters from the real ones. So they can either cancel all letters of transit, which would disrupt travel for a bunch of VIPs, or else they can cancel none of the letters of transit and just plan on retrieving these two specific letters before they can be used. They went with the second option.
    • Regarding the dialogue, It's almost certainly "Weygand" — the letters of transit, when finally seen late in the film (Rick takes them out and inspects them in a quiet scene just prior to arriving at the airport), are marked with "Etat Francais" (French State), the legal name of Vichy France. There's no way Vichy would have a (to them) traitor general signing their official documents.
  • Louis tells Rick that Victor won't desert Ilsa in Casablanca, saying "I've seen the woman" and she's too beautiful to leave. When he meets her later that same evening, he mentioned that he had been told she was beautiful, strongly implying he had never seen her before (which would be much more plausible — how would they ever have met?)
    • He could have seen a photo, have been impressed by what he saw, and even more impressed by meeting the beauty in the flesh. The "I was told you were beautiful" was just a way of flattering her without sullying the moment or tipping his hand by revealing he'd had her under surveillance.
  • How did Rick know that the Bulgarian girl was underage?
    • He probably deduced from her looks and manners; underage girls tend to look and act slightly less mature than even slightly older women.
    • I thought it was implied that they knew each other somehow.
    • The age is not the issue (she is legally married at least), but she is clearly uncomfortable with Renault's way of "offering help" and that's what doesn't sit well with Rick. Also she's troubled because of her relationship if her husband finds out, and that's obviously a sore spot for Rick.
  • Why was Ugarte waiting to leave Casablanca if he had exit visas he could have used for himself any time? He clearly states that he wants to leave Casablanca. "I will be finished with the whole business...I'll sell these visas for more than I ever have, and then, Adieu Casablanca!" Why not just use one of those visas himself? If he just needed money for a plane ticket, surely he'd have been able to raise it earlier.
    • It would probably have been too suspicious for a seedy lowlife bottom-feeder like Ugarte to suddenly be brandishing apparently legit transit papers signed by General Weygand of all people.
    • Nobody said he couldn't get a "normal" visa fixed for himself; after all, he was in the business. The special visas were his way to cash out; even legitimate business men said that these documents worth a lot in Casablanca.
  • What did the French soldier say to Yvonne when he saw her with that German soldier?
    • "What are you doing with that German?"
  • Ilsa claims she fell in love with Laszlo because she was so passionate about his cause and admired his bravery. But when she thought he was dead...she gave up on the movement and went to France to start a new love life? To be fair, it could be a Despair Event Horizon, or maybe she was secretly working with the Resistance all along.
    • And she certainly knew that Rick had had something to do with anti-fascist resistance even before WWII, so she may have hoped that he'd resume his activities.
  • I recall the scene where croupier came up to Rick and said that casino had somehow just lost twenty thousand... Was Bulgarian girl really the first one Rick helped in that way?
    • Judging by the reaction of the staff, it really does seem like this is the first time Rick helped someone out like that. It shows us that he's losing his cynicism; he's starting to care about people again.
    • On that topic... The resolution of the plot seems to leave that couple hanging, doesn't it? Louis isn't going to be in his office to sell them letters of transit in the morning, and it's doubtful any of his officers are prepared to dummy up papers for them... then again they could possibly afford Ferrari's prices now.
      • That was the day before they all left. Lazlo's arrest is later the same night and Rick pleads his case the next morning in Louis' office; they'd probably been and gone by then.
  • Why don't the Nazis just abduct Laszlo on sight? As far as I can tell, the Nazis run the place. Technically this is "Unoccupied France" but come on, Strasser is clearly in charge here, even Louis takes orders from him, and at one point Louis even mixes up "Vichy" and "Germany" as if they were the same thing. The other point is that Casablanca is entirely corrupt. Louis is constantly taking bribes, for instance. Also, Ugarte gets executed in prison, and Louis casually discusses how they're going to cover it up. Clearly nobody really cares about the rule of law or human rights around here, and that's to be expected because the place is run by Nazis. The Nazis hate Laszlo, right? Because he's a major figure in the resistance? And Laszlo is walking around openly; he makes no attempt to conceal his identity or his past. He walks straight into Rick's cafe, and Strasser confronts him personally...and then orders him to show up for a meeting tomrrow morning. What the heck?? Why doesn't Strasser have Laszlo arrested? Don't tell me that there's a legal reason he can't do that, becuase clearly Strasser doesn't give a damn about legalities. Later on he orders to close Rick's entire cafe, and when Louis asks him why Strasser just tells him to make something up. So make something up about Laszlo, if you have to! Accuse him of murder or whatever. Just put him in custody and put an end to his work in the resistance. This all seems so simple. Why don't they just arrest him? Who could possibly stop them from doing that?
    • There is some difference between having an ally (whom you have under your thumb, more or less) run the place, and openly overriding him. Perhaps, Nazi's hold on Morocco was somewhat shaky, and they weren't sure what would happen if they just ignore local authorities and do things their way. Who knows, maybe it would push Casablanca over the edge, and they would spend more resources trying to win over the rebelling city, than they were willing at the time. I'm sure Strasser was not thinking about those matters even once, but the general line of playing by the rules and acting through Renault could be justified, and Strasser was just following it.
    • Don't forget that as important as Laszlo's figure is, he's just a single person. It's not at all inconceivable that Germans delayed his arrest in order to try to find out more about his resistance network. Consider the police raid on the resistance meeting.
    • The Germans never actually invaded Morocco (most of the North African campaign was centred around Libya and Egypt until the Allies invaded Morocco in 1942). Morocco, and by extension Casablanca, was under the control of the Vichy French government, since it was a French colony and the Vichy government claimed jurisdiction over international French possessions, and Vichy France was technically independent from direct German control until late 1942 (ironically just after the Allied invasion of Morocco). Furthermore, Vichy France was technically neutral following the German occupation (although obviously pro-German in practice). So technically Strasser isn't in charge, Louis is. Of course, in practice Strasser can push Louis around to a certain degree because Louis is taking orders from his bosses in France, who are in turn pretty much being bossed around by the Germans, but he still has to officially defer to Louis because he has no official power in Casablanca and there's no Germany military presence backing him up, so he can't throw his weight too much and still has to put up an official facade of deference to Louis' authority. He can't just order Laszlo kidnapped or arrested or executed because officially he's not actually in charge and has no agents directly under his control to obey such order. Furthermore, in practice Casablanca is also a long way from Vichy or Berlin, Louis is clearly corrupt, and if Strasser crosses the line too far there's little stopping Louis from having him filled with lead and his death blamed on "the usual suspects" (as eventually happens), so Strasser has less direct authority than he'd perhaps like in the situation.
    • Furthermore, while I've no doubt that Strasser would very much like to just stitch Laszlo up on some trumped up false charges and get him out of the way, the situation is pretty touchy. He's popular and well-liked, there's clearly a very powerful undercurrent of pro-resistance, anti-Vichy / Nazi sentiment among the populace of Casablanca, and remember that Casablanca (as with the rest of Morocco / Vichy) is officially neutral; he's a wanted man in German-occupied territory, but while he's in Casablanca technically Laszlo has as much right to be freely walking around there as Strasser does as long as he obeys the law. Overplaying their hand and arresting Laszlo on charges that are too-obviously trumped up and falsified risks backfiring on them and creating a civil unrest that would at least take men and resources to put down, and at worst might create an unstable situation that the Allies would no doubt be all-too-willing to exploit to cause trouble for the Axis Powers.
    • In short, this is essentially a politically and militarily complicated example of Jurisdiction Friction. Strasser is the high-ranking fed who is technically out of his jurisdiction but has connections that let him throw his weight around nevertheless, while Louis is the parochial small-town police chief who privately resents and seethes at having this out-of-towner muscle in on his turf but has to smile and suck it up because of his bosses, while secretly looking for any reason he can to undermine him.

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: