Why ‘Casablanca’ Sequels Never Work

Why 'Casablanca' Sequels Never Work

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.

“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.

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Comments

Michael Chase Walker

I remember Sydney Pollack's "Havana" with Robert Redford and Alan Arkin being touted as a Casablanca-related offshoot, and then after seeing it wondered why they even bothered. I would like to see musical adapted by the Takarazuka Revue, an all-female Japanese musical theater company that ran from November 2009 through February 2010.

Aljean Harmetz

Thanks, Mike. Corrections made

Edward, I agree. And I have watched, rather painfully, "The Evening Star." Interestingly, bad movies can often be successfully remade. To me, the prime example of a classic book that only became a classic movie the third time it was filmed, is "The Maltese Falcon." There was a 1931 movie with Bebe Daniels, then a 1936 version (titled "Satan Was a Lady") starring Bette Davis. What John Huston did was put much of Dashiell Hammett's pacing and dialogue directly on to the screen, sort of like some painters throw paint at a canvas.

Jamie, I think "Casablanca" does come close to being a "perfect" movie. As I wrote in "The Making of Casablanca," I think that Howard Koch's idealism was leavened by the Epstein twins' cynicism, and vice versa, so the script got better and better in every version I read.

Murray, Thanks for your comment. It's a cruel world out there.

mike schlesinger

Some corrections: The 1936 serial is simply named "Flash Gordon." "Space Soldiers" was its TV title, to avoid conflicting with a then-current series. The 1955 TV series "Casablanca" did not air weekly, but every third week, in rotation as part of a semi-anthology series called "Warner Bros. Presents." And for the sake of completeness, the 1983 TV series with David Soul merits mention.

Edward Copeland

With a film as indelible as Casablanca, there absolutely no point in doing a sequel without at least some of the original cast members available to re-create their roles. Even then, it usually turns out to be a bad idea. If anyone needs evidence, watch — if you dare — The Evening Star, the sequel to Terms of Endearment. Only Shirley MacLaine really returned, Jack Nicholson put in a cameo and Miranda Richardson and Marion Ross took over two other parts. Jeff Daniels knew enough to stay away. There's also The Sting II, where somehow Paul Newman and Robert Redford were transformed into Jackie Gleason and Mac Davis. With all the dumb ideas people in the entertainment industry come up with, Ray Bolger singing "If I Only Had a Brain" should play at all industry-related venues and meeting spots on a perpetual loop.

MURRAY WEISSMAN

How great to read an Aljean column on a subject she is so expert about.
Extend my regards to her, one of the best ever NYT reporters

Jamie

Every once in a rare while you get a "perfect" movie. Casablanca isn't just Bogart and Bergman. Where could you find another Dooley Wilson, Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, or Peter Lorre? The sound, the cinematography, the dialogue and even the history of the time all come together for a film that simply defies either remake or sequel. Just give up and leave it alone to continue to amaze future generations.

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