It would be a crime to talk about my favorite movie scenes of all time and not mention great dialogue. Sure, a great story idea goes a long way, but great lines push movies into the timeless category. Classic movie lines like “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown” and “Alright, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up” come from incredible closing scenes in their respective films. Sometimes, the most famous lines are improvised, like Dustin Hoffman’s “I’m walkin’ here” from Midnight Cowboy and Tommy Lee Jones’ famous “I don’t care” from The Fugitive. Mickey Rourke’s “I know who I am” monologue from Angel Heart is drastically underrated, as is Ralph Fiennes’ “I have flown too high on borrowed wings” from Quiz Show. However, the best scene of classic dialogue unquestionably comes from the airport scene in Casablanca.
Frankly, I could have picked almost any moment from Casablanca for this list, and the La Marseillaise scene is particularly poignant, but this is the scene people remember most, and for good reason. Casablanca is basically the Hamlet of film, in that so many lines have become cliches in our modern language. In just the scene between Rick and Ilsa alone, we get “Do the thinking for both of us,” “We’ll always have Paris,” “I’m no good at being noble,” “Amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world,” and of course “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
We as an audience wouldn’t blame Rick for going through with what everyone thought he was doing and staying with Ilsa. When they were together the first time, she thought Victor was dead. However, Rick goes above and beyond what we expect him to do and commits a completely selfless act. Rick describes himself early on in the film as someone who “sticks his neck out for nobody,” but throughout, we see him helping people constantly.
Rick keeps everyone in the dark about what he plans until this scene, and while that is necessary for him to get away with it, it also adds to the poignancy of it all, because he and Ilsa’s affair is ending now. The camera zooms in on their faces so we can see every emotion running through their minds—Rick’s nostalgia, Ilsa’s shock, Rick’s commitment to joining the cause, and Isla’s ultimate acceptance. The score switches to “As Time Goes By” right after Rick says “We’ll always have Paris,” cementing the memory in their minds forever.
Rick and Victor have a brief but respectful conversation, and Rick says his final line to them, “Better hurry or you’ll miss that plane.” Just look at the pained expression on Bogart’s face as he delivers the line.
He knows he’s doing the right thing, but he also knows if Ilsa doesn’t leave now, he’s going to start rethinking it. In just a quick line and expression, we see a man at war with himself, trying to choose between his own desires and the greater good. The fact that he does choose the latter is one of many reasons why Casablanca is one of the greatest films ever made.
I will be away for the next few days, so I’ll be revealing my #3 scene on Sunday, but I guarantee it’s one unlike any other.