Everybody De-Constructs Rick, Part 2: Capt. Louis Renault
The Story: "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." But it wasn't always that way. The relationship of Rick and Renault is complicated. Both have their sectors of influence, and both wield just enough power that each man is aware of how much they need the other. Rick needs Renault to stay open, and Renault...well, he likes to win at gambling and keep an eye on the trade at Rick's Café Américain.
Renault is the cheeriest of corrupt conformists. He may protest that he's in charge, but he's basically a lap-dog to whoever gives the orders around Casablanca. And right now, as he says "the wind blows from Vichy."
But Louis has the grace of self-knowledge; he knows he's a corrupt official, and he probably stretches the truth of how corrupt he actually is—it's good for business. A hypocrite, an opportunist, a pragmatist, a sexual blackmailer, and with a damned good sense of humor about it, Louis is attracted to Rick—and by some of his dialog, in a rather weird way--not sexually, (even though he does say to Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) that if he were a woman he'd be in love with Rick, whom he affectionately calls "Ricky") but as a reflection of himself. And that reflection looks better, and so does he, if he can trump it up a bit. Renault likes himself in the mirror (and I've noticed in this scene, he rather favors the lamp as he talks to Rick), and he looks on Rick as a brother, a Devil's Advocate, and a fellow corrupt businessman. They're as thick as thieves, but they're still thieves. And as long as they're keeping their hands out of each others' pockets and livelihoods, they have a swell relationship. Free of pretensions, anyway. And Claude Rains, who made a career of playing corrupt men with an air of civility, enjoys the contradictions in playing Renault. In fact, he has some of the best...and best-played...lines in the entire movie.
The Set-Up: It's a busy night at the Café Américain. There are vultures, vultures everywhere. Including the black marketeer Ugarte (Peter Lorre) who has given club owner Richard Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) something to hide for him: two exit visas that would ensure a trip to Lisbon, and from there, freedom in America, away from the Nazi tyranny sweeping two continents. Initially reluctant, Rick agrees to hide them for a short period of time, and drops them in the piano of Sam (the inimitable Arthur "Dooley" Wilson), his piano player. It's business as usual at Rick's. Now, he's just finished pouring a former date, Yvonne, into a cab when the search-light across the way picks him out of the darkness, and he is greeted by Louis Renault (Claude Rains), Casablanca's imperfect prefect of police.
Renault: Hello, Rick.
Rick: Hello, Louie.
Renault: How extravagant you are, throwing away women like that. Someday they may be scarce. I think now I shall pay a call on Yvonne. Maybe get her on the rebound, hm?
Rick: When it comes to women you're a true democrat.
Lieutenant Caselle: Et moi, je vous dis que l'attitude des l'Italie est immonde! Qu'est-ce que vouz auriez fait sans l'armee allemande?
As they talk, Captain Tonelli and Lieutenant Casselle walk by toward the entrance of the cafe. Caselle talks non-stop and Tonelli tries. They both stop, salute Renault and walk into the cafe.
Renault: If he gets a word in, it'll be a major Italian victory.
Renault: The plane to Lisbon.
Renault: You would like to be on it.
Rick: Why, what's in Lisbon?
Renault: The clipper to America. I've often speculated on why you don't return to America. Did you abscond with the church funds? Did you run off with a senator's wife? I like to think that you killed a man. It's the romantic in me.
Rick: It's a combination of all three.
Renault: What in heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?
Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.
Renault: Waters, what waters? We're in the desert.
Rick: I was misinformed.
Emil: Excuse me, M'sieur Rick.
Emil: A gentleman inside has won 20,000 francs...and the cashier would like some money.
(Renault laughs, Rick looks at him annoyed.)
Rick: Ah, I'll get it from the safe.
Emil: I'm so upset, M'sieur Rick. You know, I....
Rick: Forget it, Emil. Mistakes like that happen all the time...
Emil: I'm awfully sorry.
(The three enter the cafe. Sam starts a bouncy version of "Baby Face," Rick smiles and slaps him on the shoulder as they pass the piano.)
Renault: Rick, there's going to be some excitement here tonight. We're going to make an arrest in your cafe.
Renault: This is no ordinary arrest. A murderer, no less.
Renault: If you're thinking of warning him, don't put yourself out. He cannot possibly escape.
Rick: I stick my neck out for nobody.
Renault: A wise foreign policy.
They start upstairs to Rick's office, passing Casselle who is still haranguing Tonelli.
Lieutenant Caselle: La Corse, la Tunisie, Nice, que-c'est-que vous avez fait pour les avoir!!
Renault: We could have made this arrest earlier this evening at the Blue Parrot. But because of my high regard for you, we're staging it here. It will amuse your customers.
Rick: Our entertainment's enough.
Renault: Rick, we're going to have an important guest here tonight. Major Strasser of the Third Reich, no less. He wanted to be here when we make the arrest. A little demonstration of the efficiency of my administration.
Rick: I see. And what's Strasser doing here? He certainly didn't come all the way to Casablanca to witness a demonstration of your efficiency.
Renault: Perhaps not.
Rick (to Emil): Here you are.
Emil: It shall not happen again.
Rick: That's all right. Louis, you got something on your mind. Why don't you spill it?
Renault: How observant you are. As a matter of fact, I wanted to give you a word of advice.
Rick: Yeah? Have a brandy?
Renault: Thank you. Rick, there are many exit visas sold in this cafe, but we know that you've never sold one.
Renault: That is the reason we permit you to stay open.
Rick: Oh? I thought it was because I let you win at roulette.
Renault: That is another reason. There is a man arrived in Casablanca on his way to America. He will offer a fortune to anyone who'll furnish him with an exit visa.
Rick: Well, what's his name?
Renault: Victor Laszlo.
Rick: Victor Laszlo...
Renault: Rick, that is the first time I've ever seen you so impressed.
Rick: Well, he's succeeded in impressing half the world.
Renault: It's my duty to see that he doesn't impress the other half. Rick, Laszlo must never reach America. He stays in Casablanca.
Rick: It'll be interesting to see how he manages.
Renault: Manages what?
Rick: His escape.
Renault: But, I just told you...
Rick: Stop it. He escaped a concentration camp. The Nazis have been chasing him all over Europe.
Renault: This is the end of the chase.
Rick: 20,000 francs says it isn't.
Renault: Is that a serious offer?
Rick: I just paid out 20. I'd like to get it back.
Renault: Make it 10. I'm only a poor corrupt official.
Renault: Done. No matter how clever he is, he still needs an exit visa. Or I should say two.
Rick: Why two?
Renault: He's traveling with a lady.
Rick: He'll take one.
Renault: I think not. I've seen the lady. And if he did not leave her in Marseilles or Oran, he certainly won't leave her in Casablanca.
Rick: Maybe he's not quite as romantic as you are.
Renault: It doesn't matter. There is no exit visa for him.
Rick: Louis, what ever gave you the impression that I might be interested in helping Laszlo escape?
Renault: Because, my dear Ricky, I suspect that under that cynical shell you're at heart a sentimentalist.
Renault: Oh, laugh if you will, but I happen to be familiar with your record. Let me point out just two items:...
Renault: In 1935, you ran guns to Ethiopia; In 1936, you fought in Spain on the Loyalist side.
Rick: And got well paid for it on both occassions.
Renault: The winning side would have paid you much better.
Rick: Well, it seems you're determined to keep Laszlo here.
Renault: Well, I have my orders.
Rick: Oh, I see. Gestapo spank.
Renault: My dear Ricky, you overestimate the influence of the Gestapo. I don't interfere with them. And they don't interfere with me.
Renault: In Casablanca, I am master of my fate!
Renault: I am...
Lieutenant Casselle: Major Strasser is here, sir!
Rick: Uh, you were saying....
Renault: Excuse me...
(Rick gets up and, laughing, watches Renault leave)
Words by Murray Burnett, Joan Alison, Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch and Casey Robinson.
Pictures by Arthur Edeson and Michael Curtiz.
Casablanca is available on DVD from Warners Home Video.
Next week: The hund