AKA "Adventures in Renault's Casablanca"
With thanks to WolfDaddy for research assistance.
It is established early on in the film Casablanca that human life is cheap in Casablanca. At the center of this is Claude Rains' Renault, prefect of police and the man who is frequently responsible for "helping" people leave Casablanca. He can get them exit visas so they can get on that plane to Lisbon that helps European refugees jump on to America, provided they can offer something in negotiations.
Is Renault the most suspicious character in Casablanca?
Very good question. At the surface we see how he selects attractive young ladies to "discuss" obtaining exit visas. However, closer inspection reveals that perhaps Renault does not restrict himself to "beautiful young girls" and perhaps they are not even his real interest. Perhaps, as some evidence shows, Renault is one of the first characters in American film history to represent a closeted homosexual struggling with his sexual identity. Much has been made over the years about womanizing being a cover for men who resist their true sexual orientation. Renault fits the bill on this accord. He makes no effort to hide his use of young women and at times flaunts it, especially to Rick.
"Perhaps now I shall pay a call on Yvonne, maybe get her on the rebound."
Later, Renault is sitting with Rick when Yvonne walks into Rick's with a German officer, causing Rick to remark that Renault is a little too late to make his move on her. Renault's response is to note that "in her own way, she may constitute an entire second front. Now I must go and flatter Strasser some more."
Yet, at the same time, Renault is starting to show his romantic side.
"I like to think that you killed a man, it's the romantic in me."
This is a prelude to later comments Renault will make in reference to Rick. However, prior to the entry of Ilsa, which triggers some interesting comments from Renault, he alludes to his personal philosophy. As Rick's theme is "I stick my neck out for nobody," an obvious reference to the American position on the war at that time, Renault's theme is "I will take what comes."
This also leads into Renault's comment that "Rick is completely neutral in all matters, and this takes into account the field of women as well," which causes Renault to smile broadly.
Later, we will experience Renault's clinching speech about Rick. Upon meeting Ilsa and Victor Lazlo, he comments that Rick "is the kind of man, well, if I were a woman, I should be in love with Rick, but what a fool I am talking to a beautiful woman about another man."
While Renault also informs Ilsa that he noticed Rick was looking at her in a way that made him feel "quite jealous."
Rick himself makes an odd comment as he is drinking the night Ilsa walked into his club. "They grab Ugarte, then she walks in. That's the way it goes, one in, one out." There is something fundamentally odd about Rick equating Peter Lorre with Ingrid Bergman in the way he does here, but now we are getting off the track.
Renault's "feigned" jealousy over Ilsa's appearance comes on the heels of his repeated comments that he has never seen Rick show an interest in any woman. It is due to Renault's influence that Rick's Cafe remains open and perhaps for why it has become the most successful business of its kind in Casablanca. Renault is constantly following Rick around, highly interested in his business, but always maintaining his own position. Sure, Rick lets him win at roulette, but why is Renault so fascinated with Rick when there are more powerful men in town for him to pal around with?
A young couple from Bulgaria enters the picture soon after and Renault sends the female half of the couple to speak with Rick regarding whether or not she can trust Renault's word. "He's just like any other man, just more so," notes Rick. After she notes that she brought her husband with her to meet with Renault, Rick tells her that apparently "Captain Renault is becoming more broad minded." Does he keep his word? "He always has in the past."
"Why do you interfere with my little romances?" Renault asks Rick after the young couple wins enough at the roulette table to purchase and exit visa. "Put it down as a gesture to love." Somehow there seems to be an undercurrent in their conversations that speaks to some sort of backstory we are not privy to. Incidental conversation written into the script that on the surface seems to innocently make reference to something that would have been unacceptable in a Hollywood film at the time. Were the writers secretly telling us another story that was meant to be concealed within a script with many other twists and turns?
The famous ending of Casablanca sees Rick turning his position so that Ilsa and Lazlo can leave Casablanca on the plane to Lisbon after convincing both Ilsa and Renault that Rick himself will be on the plane with her. When the story turns, Renault stands with Rick rather than supporting the bad guys, even though he phones Strasser ahead of time to inform him of what is happening. "I'm staying here with him," Rick tells Ilsa as he looks at Renault. After Strasser is shot, long looks between Rick and Renault cause Renault to tell the police to "round up the usual suspects." He has decided to become a patriot, but perhaps Renault, as a man guided by personal interests, sees this as an opportunity to spend some serious quality time with Rick.
"I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."