Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Casablancs Week(ish): Should Rick really have stuck his neck out for Ugarte?

One of the pivotal early scenes in "Casablanca" is designed to show protagonist Rick Blaine's apparent indifference to the affairs of others (read: strict neutrality). When Peter Lorre's seedy Ugarte attempts to flee the police, he clutches Rick in desperation and shouts, "Help me!" Rick tells him he's a fool for trying to escape and lets Renault's men haul him away to the clink (and, I should point out, to certain death--the only question being whether he "committed suicide or died trying to escape."

We are supposed to think Rick is callous in this scene because he "betrays" this guy:

Surrrre. Nothing shady about this one. Just a good ol' wholesome black marketer who, it should be noted, just killed two people in order to snag the letters of transit they carried.
It's clear in their brief scene that Rick views the opportunistic Ugarte with contempt, recognizing him as a man without a code. Ironically, Ugarte sees that same quality in Rick and therefore decides to trust HIM with the letters of transit.
It doesn't end well for Ugarte, who is interrupted in the middle of a good illegal gambling session by the Vichy authorities:

Can I cash out my chips?


Look, I am not denying that Ugarte is in for it and is not about to receive a fair trial with Clarence Darrow representing him or anything, but he instigates a shootout on Rick's premises.

Here he is calmly laying out the case for Rick to assist him by lining up decent legal representation:

What is Rick supposed to do here? Stuff him in his pocket with the letters of transit? Say a magic word and transport him to Lisbon? Switch outfits with him and try to trick everyone into thinking each is the other (actually, that one would be great)?
No, Ugarte gets caught by the armed men pursuing him from FEET away, as was bound to happen:

This is a significant sequence but an odd one. Sure, it shows Rick's "neutrality," but it's not as if there is any alternative Rick can execute in this situation that will make things different. And it's certainly not as though Ugarte is an innocent. We later see Rick help some actual innocents, or at least a lot closer to it.  Still, I understand the rationale behind this whole scene.
What bugs me is this smug prick lurking in the background: 

This is the guy who comes up and sneers, "When they come to get me, Rick, I hope you'll be more of a help."
Again, what was he supposed to do? Come to think of it, what did THIS GUY do? He's just watching the rapid action unfold like everyone else. Then after it's done, he walks up and gets his little dig in on the proprietor. You just KNOW he goes back to his table a few minutes later and tells his companions, "You should have heard me totally call Rick out." He probably got a free drink or two off that story and enough self-righteousness to last through V-E Day.
Rick ends the moment by saying, "I stick my neck out for no one," but what he should say is, "Hey, Louie? Over here. Yeah, Ugarte had a partner. It's this guy next to me."

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