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“Casablanca” Sequel Could Be the End of a Beautiful Friendship

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So now we know for sure. As strongly implied by body language and elliptical editing, “Casablanca”’s Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) did have sex when she secretly visited him at his Café Americain to plead with him for the letters of transit that would get her and her husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) out of Morocco. In fact, it was unprotected sex, because she conceived a son who would grow up to be a chip off the old block.

Such is the thinking behind “Return to Casablanca,” a proposed sequel based on a long-moldering treatment by Howard E. Koch, one of the writers of Michael Curtiz’s 1942 classic. If the movie sees the light of day, however, it won’t have lookalikes playing Rick, Ilsa, or Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains), should any exist. And it won’t “round up the usual suspects,” though there’d be a role for one of Rick’s staff as an old man.

The producer behind the project, reported Lou Lumenick in a well-received piece in yesterday’s New York Post, is Cass Warner, the granddaughter of Harry Warner and grand-niece of Jack L. Warner. Warners has apparently told her they would consider making the film if she first attaches a big-name director.

Koch, who died at 95 in 1995, told Lumenick in a 1982 interview that his idea for a “Casablanca” sequel had been rejected by Warners in 1981. Koch said he “proposed a story revolving around the son of Rick Blaine and Ilsa Lund – ‘conceived the night he renewed his affair with Ilsa in Casablanca’ – and the young Richard’s efforts to find his father, who disappeared during the war.”

“I plunged the son into the Middle East today, and I proposed getting the actors from the cast who were still alive — including Ingrid Bergman — to play older versions of their characters,” Koch told Lumenick. “I felt it would have been an interesting thing to do without violating ‘Casablanca.’ ”

In a 1988 synopsis, Koch had Ilsa and Laszlo trying “to locate Rick after he and Renault left to join the Free French forces opposing Rommel in North Africa. They have had no success.

“After leaving Casablanca for America, Ilsa learned she was pregnant,” Koch wrote. “She gave birth to a boy who grew up in America. The real father of the boy, it turns out, was not Laszlo but Rick.

“He was conceived the night Ilsa came to Rick’s place to plead for the Letters of Transit . . . The secret was not kept from Laszlo, but being the kind of man he was and owing so much to Rick, he adopted the child and treated him as his own son.

“The boy was named Richard, and he grew up to be a handsome, tough-tender young man reminiscent of his father. He had been told the truth about his origin and has a deep desire to find his real father, or at least more about him, since Rick’s heroic actions in Casablanca have become legendary.’’

Morocco achieved independence in 1956, and Richard’s experience of the former French protectorate is very different from his father’s experience of it under Vichy. He is guided to the ruins of Rick’s café by one of its former waiters (presumably the bartender Sascha, who was played in “Casablanca” by 39-year-old Leonid Kinskey rather than Carl, who was played by 59-year-old S.Z. Sakall). The café had been blown up by the Nazis after Rick’s departure.

Richard is further helped by an Arab guide called Joan – she becomes his love interest – who is fighting a guerrilla war against vestigial Nazi interests in the region. Koch’s son Peter told Lumenick that she was probably named for Joan Baez, whom Koch admired.

Koch shared the Oscar for Best Screenplay for “Casablanca” with Julius and Philip Epstein. He was also hired by Jack Warner to write “Mission to Moscow” (1943), but after the war was fired by him for its perceived pro-Stalinism. Koch was blacklisted by Hollywood in 1951 and moved to England. The best-known film among his later credits is “633 Squadron” (1964).

Back in America, he taught a screenwriting class in Santa Barbara. One of his students was Cass Warner.

“We instantly became like family when he discovered who I was and that I was fascinated by his stories of working on the lot as I was writing a book on the family then,” she told Lumenick. “He loved working at Warner Bros. despite my great uncle Jack throwing his name onto the McCarthy blacklist.” Visiting him at his home in Woodstock, she “discovered stacks of unproduced screenplays and treatments,’’ Warner recalled. “He said he couldn’t get representation as he was told he was too old. Without hesitation, I volunteered to try my best to get his works produced.’’

Given the fate of the short-lived 1983 TV series “Casablanca” and the esteem in which the Bogart-Bergman movie is held, a sequel is a risky prospect. Certain American films – “Citizen Kane,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “The Big Sleep,” “The Searchers,” “Vertigo,” “Some Like It Hot,” “Annie Hall,” and “Blue Velvet” among them – demand not to be bled for new movies because of their integrity as discreet pieces of art. “Casablanca” (which I reviewed here when it was revived in the UK in February) is one of them. The thought of Ilsa and Rick’s lovechild is tantalizing, but like Rick and Louis Renault walking off at the end of the movie, he should be enveloped in mist – and mystery.

Image: Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in “Casablanca”/© 1942 Warner Home Entertainment

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