|“||Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.||„|
|~ One of Rick's most famous lines|
Before the events of the films and even before he met Ilsa, Rick was a fighter for the underdog, running guns to Ethiopia during its war with Italy and fought on the Loyalist side of the Spanish Civil War.
However after having his heart broken by Ilsa, Rick became a cynical businessman and at the beginning of the movie, is completely neutral about the Nazis and would stick his neck for nobody. He also uses women for a good time and then shuns them afterward, likely to fill the void in his heart. However, underneath his cynical nature is still a good man and after reuniting with Ilsa and learning more about her, regains his humanity and heroic side.
At the beginning of the movie, Rick is running Rick's Café Américain, a popular nightclub in Casablanca, Morocco. He meets a crook named Ugarte who just killed two German couriers and took letters of transit, special passes that will let anyone fly around german-controlled Europe and to neutral Portugal. Despite his dislike for Ugarte, Rick agrees to hold onto the letters of transit for him while Ugarte hides from the Nazis. Unfortunately, Ugarte dies after being arrested by the police after a skirmish. Meanwhile, everyone is hearing about Victor Lazlo, a Czech resistance leader, escaping from a concentration camp and frequently eluded the Nazis, along with his wife, Ilsa. He makes it to Casablanca where Major Strasser, the main villain, tries to make sure Victor does not leave.
Ilsa asks Rick's friend, Sam to play, As Time Goes By. As he plays, Rick, who never wanted to hear the song again sees Ilsa. When the nightclub closes for the night, Rick flashes back to Paris, enjoying his time with Ilsa. Before the Nazis take over Paris, Rick waits for Ilsa until Sam gives him a letter from her. The letter states she can never see him again and his heart is broken. However, meeting with Ilsa slowly removes the bitterness in his heart, even rigging a roulette table to help some refugees obtain some money for some exit visas. Victor requires the letters of transit to escape Europe and hopefully head to the United States to continue his work. Rick still bitter about Ilsa refuses to give them to Victor, even as Victor offers large sums of money and tells Victor to ask his wife why he won't give them to Victor. As the Germans hangout at Rick's, the begin playing "Die Wacht am Rhein". Lazlo, angered, tells the band to play "La Marseillaise". Rick nods the band to play and they begin drowning out the Germans. In frustration, Strasser orders Louis Renalt, an openly corrupt police captain to shut down Rick's. Renalt, wanting to suck up to Strasser, shuts the place down under suspicion of gambling, while hypocritically accepting some winnings himself.
Ilsa goes to Rick and tries to explain what happen only to force a gun on Rick. Rick walks towards her and offers to let her shoot. Ilsa, who is still in love with Rick despite also being in love with Victor is unable to. Rick and Ilsa talk and learns that when Victor was in a concentration camp, she thought he was dead and tried to move on with Rick only to learn he had escaped but was ill, forcing her to leave him in Paris to tend to her husband. Meanwhile, Victor escapes a police raid and hides at the abandoned Rick's. Renalt arrests him on a minor charge. However, by this time Rick becomes the good man he once was an formulates a plan. He tells Renalt to let Victor go in order to charge him to the greater crime of having the letters of transit. Victor grabs the letters of transit when ambushed by Renalt. However, Rick points a gun at Renalt and orders him to call the airport with the letters of transit. Renalt calls Strasser under the pretense of calling the airport which alerts the high-ranking Nazi.
At the airport, Rick convinces Ilsa to go on the plane with Victor, telling her that if she stayed she'd regret it, and she had a high chance to be put into a concentration camp along with Rick. Rick then assures her that they'd "always have Paris." Victor welcomes Rick back to the fight, confident that the Nazis will be defeated. Ilsa and Victor get on board just as Strasser arrives. Renalt tells Strasser that Victor was on the plane. Strasser goes to a phone to get the plane to stop but Rick kills him. As the police arrive, Renalt tells them that Strasser was shot. With no one to suck up to, Renalt asks them to round up the usual suspects, concealing the fact that Rick killed him.
Because of his actions, Renalt warns Rick that he would not be safe in Casablanca. Renalt, who owed Rick 10,000 francs if Victor escaped, offers to join Rick in joining the Free French in Brazzaville. As the two walk in the rain, Rick tell Louis that this would be the start of a beautiful friendship.