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Why 'Casablanca' Sequels Never Work

Thompson on Hollywood By Aljean Harmetz | Thompson on Hollywood April 3, 2013 at 12:52PM

Sequels are big business. “Spiderman 24” and “Star Trek 48” will probably grace the box office sometime in the 22nd century since Hollywood is expert at squeezing every dollar from film and digital stones. Luckily, some movies resist every attempt to find a future for their main characters. “Casablanca” is one of them.
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Casablanca

Sequels are big business.  “Spiderman 24” and “Star Trek 48” will probably grace the box office sometime in the 22nd century since Hollywood is expert at squeezing every dollar from film and digital stones.

Luckily, some movies resist every attempt to find a future for their main characters. “Casablanca” is one of them.

The New York Post reported March 31 that a collector had purchased from the widow of Murray Burnett -- the co-author of “Everybody Comes to Rick’s,” the play on which “Casablanca” was based -- a treatment for a sequel that he wrote in the 1980s.

It was neither the first nor the last time that writers would try to find some way to extend the lives of Ilsa and Rick -- with or without Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. After “Casablanca” was a box office success and unexpectedly won the Academy Award as the best picture of 1943, Warner Bros. announced “Brazzaville,” which would star Humphrey Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet, and, replacing Ingrid Bergman, Geraldine Fitzgerald as a Red Cross nurse. It was the first of many attempts that went nowhere.

"Casablanca"
"Casablanca"

“The reason it never works, no matter how hard they try, is that people have in their heads Bogart and Bergman,” Julius Epstein, who shared an Oscar for the movie’s screenplay with his twin brother Philip and Howard Koch, told me in the 1990s when I interviewed him for my book, “The Making of ‘Casablanca.”  “The new actors may be better, but they’re not Bogart and Bergman.”

Howard Koch wrote a treatment for a sequel that had as its lead character the son of Bogart and Bergman. Presumably the boy was conceived during that dissolve in Rick’s apartment. Epstein went a different way. He tried twice -- in 1951 and again in 1967 -- to turn the movie into a Broadway musical.

“Casablanca” had barely reached theaters in 1943 when Frederick Stephani, a writer-director of the serial “Flash Gordon” (1936), concocted a story in which Rick and Captain Renault (Claude Rains) had been secretly working for the allies. “Casablanca’s producer, Hal Wallis, asked a writer under contract to Warners, Frederick Faust, to assess the story. “The moment Rick becomes, as in Stephani, an agent of the secret police, the interest in his position and character largely evaporates,” Faust wrote in a memo, and Stephani’s story was rejected.

In 1955, Warners tried again, with a television series starring Charles McGraw as Rick. The stories were heartwarming with Rick helping an Arab orphan in one episode. The series lasted seven months.

Warners had more success in 1998 with a moderately well-reviewed novel by Michael Walsh, “As Time Goes By.” Even though Rick was a Jewish gangster and Ilsa’s husband was conveniently killed, words on a page did not have to compete with Bogart and Bergman.

Perhaps the most successful tribute to the movie is not a sequel but a recreation of Rick’s Café in Casablanca. A commercial attaché at the United States Consulate in Casablanca, Kathy Kriger daydreamed about building Rick’s Café. September 11, 2001 changed the fantasy to an obsession.  Watching “Casablanca” once again on September 12, she decided that she could do something about an anti-Arab backlash in America. Within a week she had resigned from the Foreign Service to “create an iconic gin joint” in a city she loved. It took three years to thread her way through the agony of Arab bureaucracy and Arab banks, a journey detailed in her book, “Rick’s Café, Bringing the Film Legend to Life in Casablanca.”

Rick’s Café opened in 2004. According to Jessica Rains, the daughter of Claude Rains, and Monika Henreid, the daughter of Paul Henreid, two of the polyglot group of Americans, Europeans, Chinese, Japanese, and Moroccans who have thronged the bar, the food is good too.

This article is related to: Features, Classics, Casablanca


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.