By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com November 26, 2012 at 1:57PM
One of a slew of patriotic movies made in the early 1940s, "Casablanca" had originally been put into development in the immediate aftermath of the events of Pearl Harbor in December 1941. And the war in Europe cast a heavy shadow over the production. Conrad Veidt, who played Major Strasser (and who was, interestingly enough, the best paid actor in the cast) had fled Germany with his Jewish wife in 1933 after learning he was being hunted by the SS. However, Veidt insisted on being cast only as Nazi villains, believing it would help the war effort -- while many extras in the film were bona-fide European emigres who shed real tears during the battle-of-the-anthems sequence. Events took a further turn on November 8, 1942 during Operation Torch, when Allied troops invaded French North Africa, with Casablanca itself being recaptured on November 10th. The news caused some hand-wringing at Warner Bros., with executives proposing that the film should be altered to reflect current affairs, with plans put in motion for a new scene featuring Rick and Captain Renault (Claude Rains) hearing of the invasion. Plans were held up due to Rains' filming commitments elsewhere, and in the meantime, rival studio executive David O. Selznick screened the film and told Jack Warner he'd be mad to alter the ending and should release the film -- which was scheduled to come out the following spring -- as soon as possible to tie it to the invasion. Warner listened, and it premiered in New York on November 26th. Its general release, on January 23rd, 1943, turned out to coincide with a conference between FDR and Churchill in Casablanca, giving the film additional free publicity, helping to make it the seventh biggest grosser of the year.
With the movie proving successful, ideas started to be flirted with for a sequel, which would have been called "Brazzaville," announced in early 1943, with Bogart and Sydney Greenstreet returning, and Geraldine Fitzgerald ("Wuthering Heights") playing the new love interest, a Red Cross nurse. The film never came to pass, but "Casablanca" did live on, not least in the traditional radio drama adaptations. 1955 saw a ten-part TV prequel air as part of "Warner Bros. Presents" on ABC, with actor Charles McGraw ("The Killers," "Spartacus") playing Rick and Marcel Dalio, who'd played croupier Emil in the film, taking over the role of Captain Renault. Nearly thirty years later, another attempt was made at a prequel series, with "Starsky & Hutch" actor David Soul playing Rick, a young Ray Liotta as bartender Sascha, and Scatman Crothers as Sam. It lasted only five episodes on NBC, but you can watch some very brief footage below. The story has also moved to other mediums; co-writer Julius Epstein attempted, unsuccessfully, to mount a stage musical version in the 1950s and 1960s, while the original play, "Everybody Comes to Rick's," received a short-lived run in London's West End in 1992 starring soap star (and convicted murderer) Leslie Grantham. And there've been some literary follow-ups too: 1998 saw the publication of "As Time Goes By," a Warners-approved sequel by crime reporter and Time music critic Michael Walsh, which fills in Rick's past as a New York gangster, as well as reuniting him with Ilsa for a plot to kill Nazi Reinhard Heydrich. It was, unsurprisingly, poorly received. Film critic David Thompson also filled in some blanks in his novel "Suspects," which reveals that Ilsa became the PA to U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold. We may not be out of the woods with a movie sequel yet, however. Earlier this year, it was revealed that Cass Warner, Jack Warner's granddaughter, had uncovered a treatment by original co-writer Howard Koch, written in the 1980s named "Return to Casablanca," revolving around Richard, the illegitimate son of Rick and Ilsa, in the Casablanca of the 1960s, and it sounds, frankly, horrible. Nevertheless, Cass is hoping to package the project, with Warner Bros. indicating that with the right director and star on board, they might consider developing the film.
In one of the better known journalistic experiments in Hollywood history, in 1982 Film Comment writer Chuck Ross had an idea to see how capable Hollywood types were at spotting a work of greatness. He put a new cover on the "Casablanca" script with the title of the play "Everybody Comes to Rick's," changed the name of Sam, and submitted it to 217 Hollywood agencies. Of the 85 that read it, only 33 recognized it as "Casablanca." Four offered to represent Ross, with one commenting "it would be good for TV." Most of the rest turned it down with notes that included "I think the dialgoue could have been sharper and the plot had a tendency to ramble" and "Too much dialogue, not enough exposition, the story line was weak, and in general didn't hold my interest." Depressing stuff, and as Ross wrote recently, "My guess is that even fewer agents would recognize it today... there is little doubt that it would be tough to get it represented, let alone made."