World War II had engulfed most of Europe and refugees everywhere were searching for the exits. The most popular way out was through Lisbon, Portugal, but getting there was a bit of a do. A long, roundabout refugee trail led desperate refugees from Paris to Marseilles, across the Mediterranean to Algeria, then by train or auto or even by foot across northern Africa to Casablanca in French Morocco.
Once in Casablanca, those with enough cash or influence could scare up exit visas and scurry off to Lisbon, then the Americas. Ah, but those unlucky ones, those without means, would wait in Casablanca “and wait and wait and wait.”
Picture yourself in an open-air city market, dripping with intrigue, teeming with black marketeers, smugglers, spies, thieves, double agents, and assorted ne’er-do-wells, all loudly engaged in their business activities. And of course there’s the aforementioned refugees attempting to deal and double-deal their way out. It’s December 2, 1941. The news spreads quickly through the market that two German couriers on their way to Casablanca have been murdered. They were carrying “letters of transit” allowing the bearers to travel freely around German-controlled Europe and to neutral Portugal. You better believe these papers are to kill for.
Now walk into a cafe owned by an American expatriate named Rick. It’s the place in Casablanca where everybody and everything eventually show up. And right on cue, the letters of transit do, in the possession of Ugarte, the town weasel. And so does everyone else who is anyone else: There’s Czech resistance leader, Victor Lazlo, Norwegian Ilsa Lund (Rick’s former lover), nasty German Major Strasser, Vichy syncophant Louis Renault, rival club owner and black marketeer Senor Ferrari, Sam the piano player, and a cast of, if not thousands, dozens. Of course, all of this is taking place not in Casablanca but on the lot of Warner Brothers studio in Hollywood, California.
The story line is well-known by most movie-goers, and the cast is like one large dysfunctional family. If you haven’t seen Casablanca during its first 70-plus years, chances are you never will. But if you have, you’ll probably see it again and again. And you probably have your favorite scene. Maybe it was this one: