'Casablanca' plans could be the start of something ugly


As if we didn't have enough problems, they're now making a sequel to "Casablanca." Only the most absolutely perfect movie ever made.

There are certain things you just don't mess with. The Bill of Rights. Cherry Garcia ice cream. Ellen Barkin's crooked smile.

And, of course -- actually way, way beyond, of course -- "Casablanca."

We're not discussing "Beethoven 3," folks. Or "Look Who's Talking, Still." This is art. Making a sequel to "Casablanca" is like painting the other moods of the Mona Lisa.

But they're doing it. Yes, they are. First there will be a book, and then a TV movie. This is what people in Hollywood do. They think books are written only as so much movie fodder. And, over lunch at Spago's, they tell themselves the world needs another "Casablanca."

I'm trying to imagine how they'd do it. Where will they take Meester Reek? Who plays him?

HTC There is plenty to be worried about. They once did a remake of "It's a Wonderful Life," starring -- I swear -- Marlo Thomas. And Henry Winkler did "A Christmas Carol." Talk about casting. Henry Winkler as Scrooge? Is that perfect? This is the kind of creative mind that would give us Richard Simmons as Rick.

It could be worse.

We could have the gay "Casablanca" (k.d. lang plays Sam). The black "Casablanca," with Billy Dee Williams. "Casablanca: The Musical," starring Robert Goulet.

I know. "The Muppet Casablanca." Kermit as Rick, Miss Piggy as Ilse and Michael Caine in the Claude Rains role.

OK, laugh. It'll probably be Alan Alda. Here's looking at you, young woman.

What are they doing to us?

I'm sure they got the idea from "Scarlett," the sequel to "Gone With the Wind." The book sold about 6 million copies, and they're making a TV movie. "Gone With the Wind" and "Casablanca" are the twin Hollywood icons. They are cultural benchmarks. And they are as different as Ollie North and Ice Cube.

I don't care about "Gone With the Wind" and feisty women who melt into their lovers' arms while Atlanta burns. Anyone who'd read "Scarlett" would also read "The Bridges of Madison County" and think it's literature.

"Casablanca" is different. It's one of those litmus tests for a relationship. You take the person you're dating to "Casablanca." And if the person pops up with, "I liked 'Havana' better," you're out of there before the butter melts on the popcorn. Don't worry. He/she probably didn't like Raisinets either.

There are other tests, of course. Like Chinese food. And Woody Allen, whom I now hate for making me hate myself for still loving his movies.

There's John vs. Paul. Willie vs. Mickey. Roe vs. Wade.

In the book category, there's "Catch-22," the best novel of the post-war years. And now Joseph Heller, God help him, is writing a sequel. Yossarian is going to be in public relations or something. Milo is apparently a defense contractor. Is this working for you?

Like most great novels, "Catch-22" is timeless. And yet, Yossarian, the character, belongs in World War II, just as Holden Caulfield must forever be a confused kid. I don't want to see him today.

I also don't want to see Victor Laszlo win the Nobel Peace Prize and then return to a loveless marriage with Ilse while Rick and Louis help the Free French defeat Rommel, while learning, in their off hours, how to make sauce.

It isn't that there haven't been successful sequels. John Updike did four Rabbit books. John Dos Passos wrote the "USA" trilogy. The first two "Godfathers" were great. But these are rarities. More often, we're looking at "Rocky V."

Besides, what actor in his right mind would play a role created by Bogart? There is no other Bogart. Won't be. Can't be. I see Bogart in "The Maltese Falcon" telling Mary Astor that she's taking a fall. He says he'll wait for her -- unless they string her up by her pretty little neck. And then he'll always remember her.

I don't think you want to try that scene. Or the airport scene in "Casablanca," unless you're doing it for laughs like Woody did.

If you had to try, you'd do this: You get Nicholson. If anyone can do it, Big Jack can. You get Robert Towne and maybe Robert Stone to co-write the script for that edgy, seedy, gin joint feel. You get Roman Polanski off the morals charge, promise he'll use Depo-Provera after the film, and get him to direct.

And, then, it still wouldn't work.

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