A report that there’s newfound momentum behind a sequel to Casablanca has sent fans of the classic film into a tizzy this week. How could they squander the mystery of its perfect ending? How could anyone fill the shoes of Bogey and Bergman? Shouldn’t they just leave Rick and Ilsa alone?
But there’s another question, this one raised by the last-known synopsis of the sequel itself, from a treatment written—before it was buried again—by original screenwriter Howard Koch:
After leaving Casablanca for America, Ilsa learned she was pregnant. She gave birth to a boy who grew up in America. The real father of the boy, it turns out, was not Laszlo but Rick.
He was conceived the night Ilsa came to Rick’s place to plead for the Letters of Transit ... The secret was not kept from Laszlo, but being the kind of man he was and owing so much to Rick, he adopted the child and treated him as his own son.
Did Rick and Ilsa really get down to making baby Ricks the night she came for the Letters of Transit? Not recalling any such border violations, we decided to go to the tape.
As we can see, after Ilsa sneaks out of her husband Laszlo’s hotel room, she passionately confesses her love for Rick, melts into his arms in a kissing embrace, and then—after the turn of a lighthouse—they go back to discussing escape plans for leaving the Vichy territory. But what could be contained in that lighthouse? Some have found quite a lot, describing the beacon as “suggestive” and even finding in its contours something “rather phallic.”
Discouraged, we turned to the novelizations of Ilsa and Rick’s story. In the novel As Time Goes By, published by Warner Books, Laszlo asks his wife, “Why did he give us the letters of transit, when he might have kept them for himself?”
“I’m sure I don’t know,” replied Ilsa. Her mind flashed back to the last time she had seen Rick alone, in his apartment above the café last night. She had been ready to sleep with him or shoot him, whatever it took to get the letters of transit that were her husband’s passport to freedom. She had not shot him.
A bit more suggestive than a lighthouse, but not quite a smoking gun, either.
The last place we could turn was the production history of the film. Casablanca was produced during the time of the Hays Code, which censored, among other things, depictions of what it viewed as immoral sex. These censors objected to several different aspects of the film, including the idea that Capt. Renault solicited sexual favors from the women to whom he gave visas. When it came to what transpired between Rick and Ilsa in his apartment, the censor, Joseph Ignatius Breen, was clear about what he saw in the script: He detected the implication of a “sex affair” that “would be unacceptable if it comes through in the finished picture.” To remedy this affront, he offered detailed instructions:
We believe this could possibly be corrected by replacing the fade on page 135 with a dissolve, and shooting the succeeding scene without any sign of a bed or couch, or anything whatever suggestive of a sex affair.
The final cut of the film, then, is clean of this suggestion—at least as far as the censors could tell. Were the filmmakers able to slip something past them, perhaps in the form of that lighthouse, to tell us what really went down in Morocco?
At least there’s one thing that we can be sure of: They’ll always have the sex they had in Paris.