In one of cinema’s iconic moments, at the end of Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine says, “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Well, the famously open-ended conclusion may not have been a conclusion at all. One of the film’s Oscar-winning screenwriters, Howard Koch, penned a treatment for a sequel more than 30 years ago; Cass Warner, granddaughter of Warner Bros. co-founder Harry Warner, wants to realize that vision, the New York Post reports
“It was just gold,” Warner tells EW of discovering the 1980 treatment at Koch’s home in Woodstock, NY. “When he pulled that out and showed it to me, I almost fainted.”
Warner, who became friends with Koch while taking his screenwriting class in 1988, recently approached Warner Bros. to make a sequel based on the treatment, which is called Return to Casablanca. In it, Ilsa and Victor Laszlo (originally played by Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid) search for Rick after he joins Free French forces opposing Nazi general Erwin Rommel in North Africa. It turns out that Ilsa gave birth to a son, and that Rick – not her husband Victor – was the father. That son, described in the treatment as a “handsome, tough-tender young man reminiscent of his father” is now in his twenties, and his quest to find Rick is at the center of the new story.
Koch was in his 80s when he gave the treatment to Warner. He couldn’t get an agent to represent him due to his age, so Warner decided to lobby for the film on his behalf. She also felt compelled to help the ailing writer because he and the other Casablanca screenwriters receive no royalties from the film. “He had to sell his Oscar to send one of his grandchildren to college,” she says.
Warner Bros. initially passed on the idea of producing Koch’s sequel, but they didn’t entirely rule out the possibility. “For whatever reason they couldn’t justify taking interest in it until it was packaged more,” Warner says. “They didn’t go, ‘what a ridiculous idea’; they went, ‘bring us [a director] we like and maybe.'”
Of course, another daunting obstacle is Casablanca‘s legacy. The film won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1943 and contributed some of the most memorable lines in movie history, including “Play it, Sam” and “Here’s looking at you, kid.” All subsequent sequel and spin-off ideas have failed to launch or met with poor reception. A previous Warner Bros. attempt at sequel, Brazzaville, never made it past the treatment phase; TV shows in 1955 and 1983 were both quickly cancelled; French auteur director François Truffaut refused an offer to direct a remake due to the original’s cultural weight in America. So, naturally, there are those who feel Casablanca should remain a standalone work.
Warner acknowledges the skeptics’ concern but says the new film would tell a good story and point younger viewers to the original. “I want generations to continue to appreciate Casablanca,” she adds. “I feel it’s a tool to do that.”
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