An American café owner in neutral Casablanca meets his lover from Paris and helps an underground leader escape from the Germans.
In Casablanca refugees wait for visas. After two Germans were killed, suspects are arrested, and a fleeing man is killed. Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) welcomes Nazi Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt). At his café Rick (Humphrey Bogart) refuses to take a check from a banker. Ugarte (Peter Lorre) tells Rick he is selling two letters of transit and asks him to hold them. Rick hides them in the piano. Sam (Dooley Wilson) sings, and Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet) wants to buy Rick's place. Rick sends Yvonne (Madeleine LeBeau) home. Louis tells Rick he is going to make an arrest and says Victor Laszlo must not get a visa. After Major Strasser arrives, Ugarte is caught and arrested for the murders. Major Strasser questions Rick. Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) come in; Louis joins them, and Major Strasser orders them to report for questioning. Berger (John Qualen) tells Victor about a meeting. Ilsa asks Sam to play "As Time Goes By," but he stops when Rick sees her.
Rick stays up late drinking and asks Sam to play it, remembering being in Paris with Ilsa, who says her man died. They kiss. Germans are invading, and Sam says that Rick has a price on his head. Rick and Ilsa plan to meet, and he wants to marry. Sam brings Rick a note that Ilsa can never see him again. Back in Casablanca, Ilsa comes in and tells drunk and bitter Rick about a heroic man she met. Victor and Ilsa report to Major Strasser, and Louis says they get no visa. Strasser asks Victor for names of underground leaders and says Ugarte is dead. Rick goes to Ferrari, who wants to sell the transit letters. Rick asks Ilsa why she left; but she says he has changed, and she is married to Victor. Ferrari says he can get Ilsa a visa, but not Victor. Ilsa wants to wait for Victor. Ferrari says Rick may have two transit letters.
Yvonne comes into Rick's place with a German soldier, and Rick stops a fight. A young wife asks Rick if she can trust Louis to give her two visas. Rick helps her husband win at roulette. Louis calls Rick sentimental. Victor asks Rick for help leaving and offers 200,000 francs, but Rick says to ask Ilsa. Victor has the band drown out a German song with the "Marseillaise." Major Strasser orders Louis to close the place, and Strasser warns Ilsa to go to occupied France. Victor asks Ilsa if she was lonely while he was in the concentration camp. Rick finds Ilsa in his room. She asks for the letters, but he says he only cares about himself. Ilsa holds a gun, and Rick tells her to shoot. Ilsa admits she still loves him, kisses him, and explains about Victor.
Carl (S. Z. Sakall) and Victor come back from a meeting that was broken up. Victor asks Rick to take Ilsa away and is arrested. Rick asks Louis to release Victor and says he is leaving with Ilsa. Rick offers to let Louis capture Victor with the letters. Rick sells his place to Ferrari. As Rick gives Victor the letters, Louis arrests him; but Rick has a gun and orders Louis to call the airport. Louis calls Major Strasser. At the airport Rick persuades Ilsa to go with Victor and tells Victor that she only pretended to love him. Victor thanks Rick. Major Strasser arrives but is shot dead by Rick when he pulls a gun. Louis says to round up the usual suspects as the plane takes off. Rick and Louis plan to go to free France.
Rick says he is not noble but acts so, while Victor
is simply noble. Louis has no scruples and admits it, offering
a comic contrast. Rick's pain of lost love mirrors the dreadful
war situation; yet despite his emotional devastation he is able
to see that the latter is so much more important.