A cynical American expatriate struggles to decide whether or not he should help his former lover and her fugitive husband escape French Morocco.
The story of Rick Blaine, a cynical world-weary ex-patriate who runs a nightclub in Casablanca, Morocco during the early stages of WWII. Despite the pressure he constantly receives from the local authorities, Rick's cafe has become a kind of haven for refugees seeking to obtain illicit letters that will help them escape to America. But when Ilsa, a former lover of Rick's, and her husband, show up to his cafe one day, Rick faces a tough challenge which will bring up unforeseen complications, heartbreak and ultimately an excruciating decision to make.
In World War II Casablanca, Rick Blaine, exiled American and former freedom fighter, runs the most popular nightspot in town. The cynical lone wolf Blaine comes into the possession of two valuable letters of transit. When Nazi Major Strasser arrives in Casablanca, the sycophantic police Captain Renault does what he can to please him, including detaining a Czechoslovak underground leader Victor Laszlo. Much to Rick's surprise, Lazslo arrives with Ilsa, Rick's one time love. Rick is very bitter towards Ilsa, who ran out on him in Paris, but when he learns she had good reason to, they plan to run off together again using the letters of transit. Well, that was their original plan....
During World War II, Europeans who were fleeing from the Germans, sought refuge in America. But to get there they would first have to go Casablanca and once they get there, they have to obtain exit visas which are not very easy to come by. Now the hottest spot in all of Casablanca is Rick's Cafe which is operated by Rick Blaine, an American expatriate, who for some reason can't return there, and he is also extremely cynical. Now it seems that two German couriers were killed and the documents they were carrying were taken. Now one of Rick's regulars, Ugarte entrusts to him some letters of transit, which he intends to sell but before he does he is arrested for killing the couriers. Captain Renault, the Chief of Police, who is neutral in his political views, informs Rick that Victor Laszlo, a resistance leader from Czechoslovakia, is in Casablanca and will do anything to get an exit visa but Renault has been "told" by Major Strasser of the Gestapo, to keep Laszlo in Casablanca. Laszlo goes to Rick's to meet Ugarte, because he was the one Ugarte was going to sell the letters to. But since Ugarte was arrested he has to find another way. Accompanying him is Ilsa Lund, who knew Rick when he was in Paris, and when they meet some of Rick's old wounds reopen. It is obvious that Rick's stone heart was because of her leaving him. And when they learn that Rick has the letters, he refuses to give them to him, because "he doesn't stick his neck out for anyone".
Rick Blaine, who owns a nightclub in Casablanca, Morocco, discovers his old flame Ilsa is in town with her husband, Victor Laszlo. Laszlo is a resistance leader from Czechoslovakia, and with Germans on his tail, Ilsa knows Rick can help them get out of the country - but will he?
- In the early years of World War II, December 1941, the Moroccan coastal city of Casablanca attracts people from all over the world, particularly Nazi-occupied Europe. Many are transients trying to get out of Europe; a few are just trying to make a buck. Most of them -- gamblers and refugees, Nazis, resistance fighters, and plain old crooks -- find their way to Rick's Café Américain, a swank nightclub owned by American expatriate Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart). Though we learn later that Rick once harbored enough idealism to put himself at risk to fight fascism, he's now embittered and cynical, professing to be neutral and detached: "I stick my neck out for nobody."
Ugarte (Peter Lorre) comes to Rick's with letters of transit he obtained by killing two German couriers. The papers allow the bearer to travel freely around German-controlled Europe, including to neutral Lisbon, Portugal; from Lisbon, it's relatively easy to get to the United States. They are almost priceless to any of the refugees stranded in Casablanca. Ugarte plans to make his fortune by selling them to the highest bidder, who is due to arrive at the club later that night. However, before the exchange can take place, Ugarte is arrested by the police under the command of Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains). A corrupt Vichy official, Renault accommodates the Nazis. Unknown to Renault and the Nazis, Ugarte had left the letters with Rick for safekeeping, because "...somehow, just because you despise me, you're the only one I trust."
Through Renault, Rick is introduced to the small company of Nazi officers who oversee Casablanca. Among them is Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt), whom has come to Casablanca for an inspection of his staff and who makes no effort to hide his suspicion of Rick. Strasser goes so far as to ask Rick if he can imagine the German war effort reaching the shores of the United States, even New York City. Rick gravely warns him that "there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn't advise you to try to invade."
Soon the reason for Rick's bitterness re-enters his life. Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) arrives with her husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) to purchase the letters. Laszlo is a renowned Czech Resistance leader who has escaped from a Nazi concentration camp. The letters are their only way to escape to America to continue his work. At the time Ilsa first met and fell in love with Rick in Paris, she believed her husband had been killed. When she discovered that he was still alive, she left Rick abruptly without explanation and returned to Laszlo, leaving Rick feeling betrayed. After the club closes, Ilsa returns to try to explain, but Rick is drunk and bitterly refuses to listen.
At different times Rick and Ilsa torment themselves by asking the club's piano player, Sam (Dooley Wilson), to play As Time Goes By, a song they loved when they were together in Paris. (The famous line "Play it again, Sam," which refers to this song, doesn't actually appear in the movie -- Ilsa says "Play it, Sam," and later, Rick orders "Play it!") While Sam plays the song, Rick reminisces about his affair with Ilsa in Paris. Though she seems happy to be with Rick, her mood near the end of their time together is cautious because she has learned her husband may not be dead. When the Nazis begin to close in on Paris, she receives word that Victor is indeed alive in another part of Europe. She and Rick had been planning to take a train to Southern France to escape the German Army's assault; however, on the platform Rick receives a handwritten letter from her. She writes that she can't explain why she's leaving him but she loves him. Rick and Sam leave without her.
The next night, Laszlo, suspecting that Rick has the letters, speaks with him privately about obtaining them. They're interrupted when a group of Nazi officers, led by Major Strasser, commandeer Sam's piano and begin to sing "Die Wacht am Rhein" (The Watch on the Rhine), a German patriotic song. Infuriated, Laszlo orders the house band to play "La Marseillaise" in honor of Occupied France. The band leader looks to Rick for guidance; he nods. Laszlo starts singing, alone at first, then long-suppressed patriotic fervor grips the crowd and everyone joins in, drowning out the Germans. In retaliation, Strasser orders Renault to close the club.
Later that night, Ilsa confronts Rick in the deserted cafe. He refuses to give her the documents, even when threatened with a gun. She is unable to shoot, confessing that she still loves him. Rick decides to help Laszlo, leading her to believe that she will stay behind when Laszlo leaves.
Laszlo is jailed on a minor charge. Rick convinces Renault to release Laszlo, promising to set him up for a much more serious crime: possession of the letters of transit. However, Rick double crosses Renault, forcing him at gunpoint to assist in the escape. At the last moment, Rick makes Ilsa get on the plane to Lisbon with her husband, telling her that she would regret it if she stayed: "Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life."
Major Strasser drives up, tipped off by Renault, but Rick shoots him when he tries to intervene. When his men arrive, Renault informs them that Strasser is dead and covers for Rick by sharply ordering them to "round up the usual suspects." He then recommends that they both leave Casablanca. Renault, suggesting they join the Resistance, walks into the fog with Rick who says "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."