NOTE: This is the very first post in the Great Scene series from all the way back to August 2008.
When you think about it, screenwriting is really aboutscene-writing. If a typical script is 120 pages and the average scene is 2 pages, then that means we write about 60 scenes per screenplay. Clearly, a writer needs to understand how to craft effective, engaging scenes in order to write a good script.
I thought it would be appropriate to begin our Great Scene Series with one of the most memorable moments in cinematic history: the last sequence from the 1941 Warner Bros. classic Casablanca, from the screenplay credited to Julius & Philip Epstein and Howard Koch.
EXT. AIRPORT - NIGHT The entire airport is surrounded by a heavy fog. The outline of the transport plane is barely visible. CUT TO: INT./EXT. AIRPORT HANGAR - NIGHT A uniformed ORDERLY uses a telephone near the hangar door. On the airfield a transport plane is being readied. ORDERLY Hello. Hello, radio tower? Lisbon plane taking off in ten minutes. East runway. Visibility: one and one half miles. Light ground fog. Depth of fog: approximately 500. Ceiling: unlimited. Thank you. He hangs up and moves to a car that has just pulled up outside the hangar. Renault gets out while the orderly stands at attention. He's closely followed by Rick, right hand in the pocket of his trench coat, covering Renault with a gun. Laszlo and Ilsa emerge from the rear of the car. RICK (indicating the orderly) Louis, have your man go with Mr. Laszlo and take care of his luggage. RENAULT (bowing ironically) Certainly Rick, anything you say. (to orderly) Find Mr. Laszlo's luggage and put it it on the plane. ORDERLY Yes, sir. This way please. The orderly escorts Laszlo off in the direction of the plane. Rick takes the letters of transit out of his pocket and hands them to Renault, who turns and walks toward the hangar. RICK If you don't mind, you fill in the names. That will make it even more official. RENAULT You think of everything, don't you? RICK (quietly) And the names are Mr. and Mrs. Victor Laszlo. Renault stops dead in his tracks, and turns around. Both Ilsa and Renault look at Rick with astonishment. ILSA But why my name, Richard? RICK Because you're getting on that plane. ILSA (confused) I don't understand. What about you? RICK I'm staying here with him 'til the plane gets safely away. Rick's intention suddenly dawns on Ilsa. ILSA No, Richard, no. What has happened to you? Last night we said -- RICK -- Last night we said a great many things. You said I was to do the thinking for both of us. Well, I've done a lot of it since then and it all adds up to one thing. You're getting on that plane with Victor where you belong. ILSA (protesting) But Richard, no, I, I -- RICK -- You've got to listen to me. Do you have any idea what you'd have to look forward to if you stayed here? Nine chances out of ten we'd both wind up in a concentration camp. Isn't that true, Louis? Renault countersigns the papers. RENAULT I'm afraid Major Strasser would insist. ILSA You're saying this only to make me go. RICK I'm saying it because it's true. Inside of us we both know you belong with Victor. You're part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you're not with him, you'll regret it. ILSA No. RICK Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life. 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. CUT TO: EXT. ROAD - NIGHT Major Strasser drives at break-neck speed towards the airport. He HONKS his horn furiously. CUT TO: INT./EXT. AIRPORT HANGAR - NIGHT Laszlo returns. Rick walks into the hangar and Renault hands him the letters. He walks back out to Laszlo. LASZLO Everything in order? RICK All except one thing. There's something you should know before you leave. LASZLO (sensing what is coming) Monsieur Blaine, I don't ask you to explain anything. RICK I'm going to anyway, because it may make a difference to you later on. You said you knew about Ilsa and me. LASZLO Yes. RICK But you didn't know she was at my place last night when you were. She came there for the letters of transit. Isn't that true, Ilsa? ILSA (facing Laszlo) Yes. RICK (forcefully) She tried everything to get them, and nothing worked. She did her best to convince me that she was still in love with me, but that was all over long ago. For your sake, she pretended it wasn't, and I let her pretend. LASZLO I understand. RICK Here it is. Rick hands the letters to Laszlo. LASZLO Thanks. I appreciate it. Laszlo extends his hand to Rick, who grasps it firmly. LASZLO And welcome back to the fight. This time I know our side will win. On the airfield the airplane engine TURNS OVER and the propellers start turning. They all turn to see the plane readying for take-off. Ilsa looks at Rick and he returns her stare with a blank expression. He then glances at Laszlo, as does Ilsa. Then Laszlo breaks the silence. LASZLO Are you ready Ilsa? ILSA Yes, I'm ready. (to Rick) Goodbye, Rick. God bless you. RICK You better hurry, or you'll miss that plane. Rick watches as Ilsa and Laszlo walk very deliberately towards the plane. RENAULT Well I was right. You are a sentimentalist. RICK Stay where you are. I don't know what you're talking about. Rick puts a cigarette in his mouth. RENAULT What you just did for Laszlo, and that fairy tale that you invented to send Ilsa away with him. I know a little about women, my friend. She went, but she knew you were lying. RICK Anyway, thanks for helping me out. RENAULT I suppose you know this isn't going to be pleasant for either of us, especially for you. I'll have to arrest you of course. RICK As soon as the plane goes, Louis. The door to the plane is closed by an attendant and it slowly taxies down the field. Suddenly a speeding car comes to a stop outside the hangar. Strasser alights from the car and runs toward Renault. STRASSER What is the meaning of that phone call? RENAULT Victor Laszlo is on that plane. Renault nods toward the field. Strasser turns to see the plane taxiing towards the runway. STRASSER Why do you stand here? Why don't you stop him? RENAULT Ask Monsieur Rick. Strasser looks briefly at Rick, then makes a step towards the telephone just inside the hangar door. RICK Get away from that phone. Strasser stops in his tracks, looks at Rick, and sees that he is armed. STRASSER (steely) I would advise you not to interfere. RICK I was willing to shoot Captain Renault, and I'm willing to shoot you. Strasser watches the plane in agony. His eyes dart towards the telephone. He runs toward it and desperately grabs the receiver. STRASSER Hello? RICK Put that phone down! STRASSER Get me the Radio Tower! RICK Put it down! Strasser, one hand holding the receiver, pulls out a pistol with the other hand, and SHOOTS quickly at Rick. The bullet misses its mark. Rick now SHOOTS at Strasser, who crumples to the ground. At the sound of an approaching car both men turn. A police car SPEEDS in and comes to a stop near Renault. Four gendarmes hurriedly jump out. In the distance the plane turns onto the runway. The gendarmes run to Renault. The first one hurriedly salutes him. GENDARME Mon Capitaine! RENAULT Major Strasser's been shot. Renault pauses and looks at Rick. Rick returns Renault's gaze with expressionless eyes. RENAULT Round up the usual suspects. GENDARME Oui, mon Capitaine. The gendarmes take Strasser's body away and then drive off. Renault walks inside the hangar, picks up a bottle of Vichy water, and opens it. RENAULT Well, Rick, you're not only a sentimentalist, but you've become a patriot. RICK Maybe, but it seemed like a good time to start. RENAULT I think perhaps you're right. As he pours the water into a glass, Renault sees the Vichy label and quickly DROPS the bottle into a trash basket which he then KICKS over. He walks over and stands beside Rick. They both watch the plane take off, maintaining their gaze until it disappears into the clouds. Rick and Louis slowly walk away from the hangar toward the runway. RENAULT It might be a good idea for you to disappear from Casablanca for a while. There's a Free French garrison over at Brazzaville. I could be induced to arrange a passage. RICK My letter of transit? I could use a trip. But it doesn't make any difference about our bet. You still owe me ten thousand francs. RENAULT And that ten thousand francs should pay our expenses. RICK Our expenses? RENAULT Uh huh. RICK Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. The two walk off together into the night. FADE OUT: THE END
Here is the scene from the movie in two parts: