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Casablanca: I Stick My Head Out For Nobody

By Karel Segers

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Casablanca was shot and released during World War II, the time period in which the story takes place. Over seventy years old today and still loved by many, this is a truly unique picture; a brilliantly written story from the pens of brothers Julius and Philip Epstein, perfectly executed by director Michael Curtiz. Not many know that it was effectively an adaptation of a - not so successful - stage play “Everybody Comes To Rick’s”. However, the studio believed that the play’s plot could be adapted for the screen and become ‘a box office natural’. At Warners they’ve always had a nose for great cinema.

Seventy years is a long time and it is worth bringing the film under the attention of younger film lovers every now and then. So they can savour the genius and learn how the film in fact contains cinema history’s most mis-quoted line “Play it again, Sam”. For the actual line, you will have to watch and listen out for yourself, as that scene is not our movie moment this time around.

I STICK MY HEAD OUT FOR NOBODY

If you haven’t seen the film - shame on you - I won’t spoil the ending for you; but Rick will make a major sacrifice. This contradicts his mantra “I stick my head out for nobody” and it completes his character journey. However, when you watch the Movie Moment, you will see that Rick has effectively been taking risks to help people all along. His cafe is neutral territory and he protects this neutrality with vigour.

So if Rick doesn’t change, how then does Casablanca offer its Hero a journey? Well, Rick is tested as to how far he is willing go in his commitment to help people - and the cause he believes in. The ultimate test in Act Three will confront him with a dilemma of epic proportions…

A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP

Our scene sits about fifteen minutes into the movie and it is brimming with character setup, plot exposition and memorable quotes. Yet the tone is delightfully lighthearted, so four and half minutes whiz by. If anything, this scene is the true beginnings of that ‘beautiful friendship’.

The scene flows seamlessly from the previous, after a quick cutaway to the searchlight signals a new action. We see Rick (Bogart) with Captain Renault (Rains), who quips “How extravagant you are, throwing away women like that,” a subtle foreshadowing of the movie’s final frame with these same two men. Notice how Renault is dressed in white uniform, where he will be black at the end. This man goes through a journey, too.

RICK THE SENTIMENTALIST

Much like the entire film, dialogue carries the story, interspersed with relevant action, some of it again foreshadowing of what is to follow later, such as the plane for Lisbon taking off. After Rick’s croupier appears to ask for money, the action moves to the interior. Where the initial dialogue set up suspense about an imminent arrest, Renault soon turns the topic to the story’s main plot about the exit visas for Viktor Laszlo.

At this point, we arrive at Rick’s office, where he keeps his money and his secrets. The men talk in quiet and we learn for the first time about Rick’s impending dilemma: to provide Viktor Laszlo with the visas - or not. Renault clearly already knows Rick “I suspect that under that cynical shell, you’re at heart a sentimentalist.” Another flash forward to the conflict and melodrama that is to follow.

About Karel Segers

Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst, script editor and producer with experience in rights acquisition, script development and production. His screenwriting classes have trained writers in Australia, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and his clients include international award-winning filmmakers as well as three Academy Award nominees. Karel is the founder of The Story Department and Logline.it!, and he ranks in the world's Top 10 of most influential people for screenwriting on Twitter.

 

Screenwriting Article by Karel Segers

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