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‘Casablanca’ sequel would not live up to the original

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Posted: Saturday, December 1, 2012 12:00 am

Thanksgiving Day marked the movie classic "Casablanca's" 70th anniversary. The film is high on critics and fans list of favorites. "Casablanca's" dialogue includes the most heavily quoted movie lines of all time; example: "We'll always have Paris." The theme song, "As Time Goes By," has also endured.

Rushed into pre-release in 1942 to take advantage of the Allies' recapture of Casablanca from the Nazis, "Casablanca" received eight 1944 Academy Award nominations and won three: best picture, best director (Michael Curtiz) and best screenplay (Julius and Philip Espstein with Howard Koch). Since the general release date was January 1943, the film did not qualify for the 1943 Oscar ceremony.

Humphrey Bogart received a best actor nomination but inexplicably lost out to James Cagney for his portrayal of George M. Cohan in the biographical musical "Yankee Doodle Dandy." Before 1942, Bogart and Cagney most often played gangsters.

While casting "Casablanca," producer Hal Wallis caught a break. Wallis' first choice for Rick Blaine was another notorious screen tough guy, George Raft. When Raft turned Wallis down, the producer then turned to a star who had a good-guy image, Ronald Reagan. In the end, Bogart accepted the Blaine role and went on to become one of Hollywood's most enduring superstars.

To play across Bogart as Rick's lover Ilsa Lund, Ingrid Bergman was one of the last actors considered. Wallis' early choices included the popular Ann Sheridan, Hedy Lamarr and Vivien Leigh before he fortuitously settled on Bergman. Few acting pairs in cinema history are more famous than Bogey and Bergman in "Casablanca."

But while celebrating "Casablanca's" anniversary by watching it on the special DVD edition that includes lost scenes and an introduction by Lauren Bacall, one of Bogart's four wives, I learned something troubling.

Unthinkable though it may be, a "Casablanca" sequel is in the works. Hollywood loves sequels: "Jaws" 1, 2, 3 and 4; "Halloween," 10 and counting. Even though they rarely succeed — the exceptions are "The Godfather" I, II and III and "Star Wars" — it's easier for Hollywood to redo a tried-and-true script than to write a new, creative one. Such is the dearth of today's Tinseltown talent.

Several earlier "Casablanca" redo scripts never got Hollywood moguls' OK. But one version written sometime during the late 1980s by Howard Koch, one of the 1943 "Casablanca" screenplay authors, is still under consideration. Titled "Return to Casablanca," the story picks up where the original left off. Ilsa has safely returned to America and, along with two other principal characters, Victor Laszlo and Captain Renault, is trying to get back in touch with Rick, who remained in North Africa. Ilsa's main motivation is that she has had a child, Rick's baby. While the new plotline is plausible enough, no audience that has seen the original will be satisfied.

Explaining why "Casablanca" is as popular today as ever, Noah Isenberg, who directs New York's Screen Studies Program at the New School's Eugene Lang College, points to Bogart and Bergman's iconic performances as well as a storyline which "plays directly to our common humanity. There's personal sacrifice for the greater good in Rick's relinquishing of Ilsa, the love of his life."

A sequel would be doomed. No actor can substitute for Bogart and Bergman. And no make-over can convey the "common humanity" theme found in the original. Let well enough alone. Rent the anniversary DVD to appreciate "Casablanca" the way it should be enjoyed.

Joe Guzzardi was born in Hollywood where everyone eats, sleeps and drinks the movies. Contact Joe at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

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