Sunday, 6 March 2016

The Classic Quote Blogathon: "Here's Looking at You, Kid" from "Casablanca" (1942)

Casablanca (1942) is undoubtedly one of the most iconic films in American cinema history. Directed by Michael Curtiz, it follows three characters involved in a love triangle set against the backdrop of refugees fleeing the German advance in Europe during the early days of World War II. Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) is a hero of the Czech Resistance who has escaped a series of German concentration camps. Accompanied by his wife Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), he has reached Casablanca, a Moroccan city administered by the authorities of Vichy France. Laszlo needs to acquire letters of transit that were recently stolen from two German couriers so that he and Ilsa can get to the still neutral United States and lead the Resistance from there. As it turns out, the only person who can help him is Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), an American expatriate who had earlier fallen in love with Ilsa in Paris at a time when she believed her huband to be dead. Rick now has to choose between his love for a woman and the larger demands imposed on individuals by the war.

Poster for Casablanca
Written by twins Julius and Philip Epstein, Howard Hoch and an uncredited Casey Robinson, Casablanca is well known not only for its tragic love triangle and dramatic wartime plot, but also for its memorable dialogue. No fewer than six lines from Casablanca appear in the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes list, the most of any other picture. Ranked 67th is the classic "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine"; at number 43, we find "We'll always have Paris"; number 32 is "Round up the usual suspects"; ranked 28th is "Play it, Sam. Play 'As Time Goes By,'" often misquoted as "Play it again, Sam"; and at number 20 is "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship," the film's closing line, reportedly written by producer Hal B. Wallis.

Voted the 5th most memorable line in American cinema in the AFI list is my favorite movie quote of all time and the subject of this article: Rick's iconic toast to Ilsa, "Here's looking at you, kid." The phrase is heard in four scenes throughout Casablanca, every instance spoken by Bogart directly to Bergman. The first one occurs during Rick's flashback to the time he spent with Ilsa in Paris. He remembers this exchange the night he first sees Ilsa in Casablanca, as drinks alone at night in the empty "Rick's Café Américaine," listening to Sam (Dooley Wilson) play "As Times Goes By" on the piano. The setting is Rick's apartment in Paris. Ilsa fixes flowers at the window while Rick opens a bottle of a champagne. She walks over and joins him. 
Rick: Who are you really? And what were you before? What did you do and what did you think? Huh?
Ilsa: We said "no questions."
Rick: Here's looking at you kid.
[They drink.] 

 Two scenes later, still inside Rick's flasback, "Here's looking at you, kid" is heard a second time. They have just heard over the radio the tragic news of the Nazi push towards Paris. At "La Belle Aurore," a small café in the Montmartre, Rick gets glasses and a bottle of champagne. He walks over the Ilsa and Sam, who happens to be playing "As Time Goes By" on the piano. Ilsa seems unnverved as Rick pours the champagne.
Rick: Henri wants us to finish this bottle and then three more. He says he'll water his garden with champagne before he'll let the Germans drink any of it.
Sam [looking at his glass]: This sort of takes the sting out of being occupied, doesn't it, Mr. Richard?
Rick: You said it! [to Isla] Here's looking at you, kid.
 The third instance "Here's looking at you, kid" is heard we are back in present day. Ilsa enters Rick's apartment in Casablanca and demands he give her the letters of transit so that Laszlo can escape to America to continue his work. Rick refuses to hand her the papers; he is still angry at her for leaving him in Paris without any explanation and for finding out that she is actually married. Ilsa threatens him with a gun, but then confesses that she still loves him and explains everything to him. When she met Rick in Paris and fell in love with him, she believed her husband had been killed trying to escape a concentration camp. Later, while preparing to flee with Rick after the Germans invaded Paris, she learned that Laszlo was alive and in hiding. She left Rick without explanation to nurse her sick husband back to health. Learning this, Rick's bitterness dissolves and he agrees to help, letting her believe that she will stay with him when Laszlo leaves. 
Rick: What about now?
Ilsa: Now? I don't know. I know that I don't have the strenght to leave you again.
Rick: And Laszlo?
Ilsa: You'll help now, Richard, won't you? You'll see that he gets out and that he'll have his work, all that he has been living for.
Rick: All except one. He won't have you.
Ilsa: I can't fight it anymore. I ran away from you once; I can't do it again. Oh, I don't know what's right any longer! You have to think for both of us. For all of us.
Rick: All right, I will. Here's looking at you, kid.
About fifteen scenes later, towards the end of the film, the last "Here's looking at, kid" is heard. The setting is the Casablanca airport at nighttime. Rick, Ilsa, Lazslo and Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) are all there. Rick had made the thinking for the both of them and ultimately decided to send the woman he loves away for her own good. He hands the letters of transit to Renault and tells him which names to fill in: Mr. and Mrs. Victor Lazslo. Ilsa is initially confused by this, but then Rick's intention suddenly dawns on her. The only way he can keep Ilsa safe is by putting her on the plane with Laszlo, "where you belong."
Ilsa: But what about us?
Rick: We'll always have Paris. We didn't have, we'd lost it, until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.
Ilsa: And I said I would never leave you.
Rick: And you never will. But I've got a job to do, too. Where I'm going you can't follow. What I've got to do you can't be any part of. Ilsa, I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that. Now, now...
[Ilsa's eyes well up with tears. Rick puts his hand to her chin and raises her face to meet his own.]
Rick: Here's looking at you, kid.

Although spoken four times throughout Casablanca, "Here's looking at you, kid" was not written by any of the screenwriters and does not appear in any of the screenplay drafts; the original scripted line was "Here's good luck to you." Supposedly, the phrase was improvised by Bogart in the Paris flashbacks scenes with Rick and Ilsa; since it worked so well, they decided to use it again later in the film. Legend has it that Bogart changed the line after teaching Bergman how to play poker between takes. When he beat her hand by laying face cards — a king, queen and jack, all of which appear to be "looking at you" — he said the line to her to let her know that he had won. Bergman thought the expression was funny and Bogart became so stuck on saying it that he ad-libbed it during a few key moments between Rick and Ilsa just to see her reaction.

Rumors aside, the line "Here's looking at you, kid" definitely predates both Casablanca and earlier stage work done by Bogart. The toast "Here's looking at you" appeared as early as 1881, in a glossary of saloon language in the Washington Post. According to Colin McNairn, "the toast originated from the old practice of drinking from glass bottomed tankards, which allowed a tippler to see an approaching enemy when in his tankard was in the 'bottoms up' position. The same position, assumed in the course of a friendly toast, would, therefore, enable the toaster to look directly at the toastee." For example, in a section entitled "Editor's Table" featured in an issue of The Yale Literary Magazine dated April 1895, the following was written: "Are your glasses filled, gentlemen? Then, here's to the rose of the girlhood — Dorothy, and one more in which that jolly devil, Saint Elihu, shall join for all his shadowy background and his austere countenance. And so fellow Collegians — 'here's looking at you.'" In addition, in March 1932, Eddie Cantor signed his name in cement at Grauman's Chinese Theatre and wrote, "Here's looking at you, Sid" (referring to Sid Grauman, owner of the building), leading us to believe that the phrase was widely used at the time.

"Here's looking at you, kid," was the toast Rick and Ilsa shared in avowal of their love, a sentimental formula for the idea that "we'll always have Paris." Rick never says their obsession with each other will cease simply because "the problems of two little people don't amount to a hill of beans in a crazy world like this"; if the most famous scene in American movie history works, the film's dramatic evocation of the emotional cost of renunciation is the reason. Rather than merely being a shorthand goodbye, Rick's "Here's looking at you, kid," is a way of recalling Paris, of asserting that memory's potency, and of affirming that Rick and Ilsa's separation will be geographical, not emotional or spiritual.
(Peter J. Bailey)

This post is my contribution to The Classic Quote Blogathon hosted by The Flapper Dame. To view all entries, click HERE.

In a Manner of Speaking: Phrases, Expressions, and Proverbs, and How We Use Them and Misuse Them by Colin McNairn (2015) | The Reluctant Film Art of Woody Allen by Peter J. Bailey (2001) | The Yale Book of Quotations edited by Fred R. Shapiro (2006) | We'll Always Have the Movies: American Cinema During World War II by Robert McLaughlin (2006) | English Language & Usage Stack Exchange | IMDb | TCMDb (Articles)


  1. I love your take on this! I also did a quote from Casablanca and its just great that two people can use the same film with different dialogue! That just shows the greatness of the film! No matter where this quote actually originated from - its safe to say that Bogart delivers it perfectly every time! And the meaning that it gives between the two characters is just so believable! Thank you so much for participating and I hope in the future we can continue to participate in each others blogathons!! -Emily

  2. Great post, I wonder how many people see the Eddie Cantor, "Here's looking at you, Syd" thinking it a reference to Casablanca, not realizing predates it by 10 years.