February 17, 2015

#3: The Return

In this ten-part series I study the screenplay of ‘Casablanca’ by breaking it down to its several aspects. Click here and read from down upward for the entire series.

“Victor, I… I feel somehow we shouldn’t stay here.”

Story Covered in Part 3: Once Major Strasser arrives, Renault orchestrates the arrest of Ugarte. Rick cannot and does not save him. He then makes sure that normalcy resumes in the Café for the remaining patrons. Renault introduces Rick to Strasser who questions him about his past and his opinions. Rick smartly evades them all. Strasser explains why they are dying to arrest Laszlo. LASZLO arrives with ILSA, looking for Ugarte. It appears she knows Sam, the pianist. BERGER, a Norwegian approaches him but leaves once Renault and Strasser come to talk to him. They summon Laszlo to the police station next morning. Ilsa seems to be curious about Rick when Renault mentions him.

Step Outline:
  • Pg 27-30: Ugarte’s arrest
  • Pg 31-33: Rick’s conversation with Renault and Strasser
  • Pg 34-39: LASZLO and ILSA arrive and their interaction with Strasser and Renault.
Structure: Apart from the arrest of Ugarte, this entire segment plays out like a play, especially because we have been at Rick’s since pg 8. We wait until page 34 when Ilsa enters the film and we know soon that her past must be connected with Rick’s. The mystery, because the characters seem to know more than we do, is now the primary force holding our attention. More elaboration on Rick and Laszlo follows. But we need something really dramatic to happen soon as thirty per cent of the film is over and the setting-up is not finished yet.

The Character arc:
  • Rick: He is practical enough to not try to save Ugarte. He smartly evades Strasser’s questions which reveal to us that the Germans have been following him and his political neutrality may not be exactly true. Rick, however, insists that his business is “running a saloon”. He repeats two claims which will be proved wrong by the end: “I stick my neck out for nobody” and “My interest in whether Victor Laszlo stays or goes is purely a sporting one.”
  • Victor Laszlo: Strasser reveals and we understand that he is more powerful and difficult to capture than we had imagined. He also seems to be much respected among the resistance fighters as a Norwegian recognizes him instantly and secretly offers his service. Laszlo definitely is brave and has a strong presence of mind – his character seems to be in sync with his reputation.
  • Ilsa: As soon as this very beautiful lady enters, her exchange of glance with Sam creates intrigue and we assume she shares her past with Rick. We are now more interested in her than in Laszlo. She is intuitive because she quickly feels they should not be staying here. She appears to be loyal to and concerned for Laszlo. She also very gracefully handles the uninhibited flirting by Renault.
  • Ugarte is arrested. And this will affect Laszlo’s sub-plot.
  • Laszlo enters the film and is summoned by Strasser. So his sub-plot is kick-started. Also, the brief interaction with the Norwegian has seeded the secret meeting that Laszlo will be conducting the next night.
Tools Employed:
  • Create well-etched believable, relatable characters: The orchestration of characters is really inviting, and each one of them is crafted very well.
  • Use of conflict and rising tension: We realize that Ugarte’s arrest was only to create conflict for Laszlo and Ilsa and these are the people we, with Rick, are more interested in. So as the threat shifts to these two characters, our involvement grows.
  • Play with the expectation of the audience for small pay-offs: Ilsa could have spotted Rick as soon as she entered. But she spots Sam. This exchange creates expectations, and suspense. When they finally meet, it will give us a pay-off that would be non-existent if this expectation was not built.
  • Use visual and cinematic elements to keep long play-like scenes from getting boring: The INSERT of the ring that Berger shows to Laszlo is an image of cinema – cutting extreme close to something of immense value. Same goes with the exchange of glance between Ilsa and Sam. A silent moment and it conveys so much than a page of dialogue. In a play, such moments cannot be created so effortlessly. The arrest of Ugarte is also a much-needed action in this otherwise play-like staging.
  • Foreshadowing: When Rick leaves after the chat with Strasser, Renault remarks: “You see, Major, you have nothing to worry about Rick.” Strasser’s reply is “Perhaps.” This does two types of foreshadowing: one, Rick will becomes the cause of biggest worry in the Third Act; and two, Renault’s alliance with Rick is not totally out-of-character. He definitely has been favorable to him.
  • Use of conflicted dialogue: It has been so since the beginning. But especially through Rick’s and Laszlo’s conversation with the officers, the conflict of the film is expressed brilliantly through conflicted dialogue.
Conventions Broken:
  • Set-up the film quickly: We have reached page 39, but the Inciting Incident of the main plot is not here yet. In this part I feel, the delay starts showing up. But in this story, they could not have done it any other way. Hence, mystery and dialogue, and strong sense of foreboding are being used to keep us involved.
  • Avoid exposition through dialogue: It remains a major achievement of this script.
  • Renault’s mention that “Rick is completely neutral about everything” almost officially seals his representation of the USA. But it is followed by, “And that takes in the field of the women, too” ironically forebodes the conflict of the personal and the political, which will become the main conflict of the film. Ilsa spots Sam as soon as she enters. And a little later, her conversation with Renault on Rick is interrupted by Strasser, the German. Both these instances further add to this particular theme.
  • Renault, while talking to Ilsa, says – “Rick is… He’s the kind of man that, well, if I were a woman and I were not around, I should be in love with Rick.” We may not go that far as to call this a hint at Renault being bisexual, this definitely shows that he as an unusual friendship with Rick. This “unusual friendship” is one of the major sub-plots of the film that will get resolved only in the last page, after the resolution of the main plot.
Standout scene: The conversation between Rick and Strasser, in the presence of Renault has great dialogue and smart exposition. The standout moment for me is when Rick reads about himself in Strasser’s book and wonders – “Are my eyes really brown?” What a masterful line to convey that the Germans know more about him than Rick himself. This one line makes the antagonist really strong.

What is the audience expecting: We know there is something between Rick and Ilsa. We want them to meet soon so that the political drama gets some strong personal touch, and becomes more involving.

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