It’s not very often you can pinpoint the origin of a word or phrase to one specific speaker at one specific moment in time. The usual suspects might sound like an ordinary phrase which could have been first put together by anyone at any time but that’s not the case; its origin lies, quite specifically, in the 1942 film Casablanca.
Of course, the film industry has presented English with reams of memorable quotes and catchphrases and none more so than Casablanca, the source of those famous lines ‘here’s looking at you kid’, ‘play it Sam’ and ‘we’ll always have Paris’. It’s not just a great classic film; it’s a veritable catchphrase treat.
The usual suspects features in the line ‘Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects’, delivered by Claude Rains as the character Captain Louis Renaud, the Vichy French police inspector of the Moroccan city. He gives this order to appear to act responsibly although he knows that the usual suspects, that is the customary lot, the crooks you would expect, cannot possibly be guilty of the shooting since he saw Rick, played by Humphrey Bogart, pull the trigger right in front of him moments before.
The prevalence of the phrase may have become more widespread thanks to another film, Bryan Singer’s 1995 US movie The Usual Suspects.
Of all the quotes in all the scenes in all of Casablanca, the usual suspects is probably the one which is the least associated with the film and the most engrained into everyday language.