Back to IndieWire

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.

This Article is related to: Features and tagged , ,