1942’s Casablanca has never been officially remade, but that hasn’t stopped the steady flow of spoofs and stealth remakes as time has gone by.
This feature contains spoilers for the endings of Casablanca and (arguably by extension) all of the other films discussed.
For those who are somehow unfamiliar with the plot either from the original film or the myriad pop culture references to it, Casablanca takes place in December 1941, as refugees are fleeing the war in Europe for the then-neutral United States. Based on the unproduced play Everybody Comes To Rick’s, the film sees ex-pat bar owner Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) deliberating over whether or not to help his old flame Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) escape to America with her wanted Czech resistance leader husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid).
Gripping, moving, and remarkably quotable, the 1942 film has long been held as one of the greatest Hollywood films ever made. At the time, it won three Oscars (for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay) and by the mid-1970s, it had been broadcast more times on US TV than any other movie. As we’ve noted in a previous feature, “As Time Goes By” was chosen as the basis of Warner Bros’ modern studio fanfare specifically because of its prominence in Casablanca.
The film’s cultural cache is such that it’s well known by generations of viewers through countless references in later movies, whether it’s the conversations about the film in When Harry Met Sally or the naming of The Usual Suspects after one of Claude Rains’ iconic repeated lines as Captain Renault.
Heck, the ending alone is so famous that the “alternate ending” gag has been covered comprehensively in TV shows ranging from The Simpsons to Saturday Night Live – the latter of which mines loads of laughs out of J.K. Simmons and Kate McKinnon speed-running the iconic farewell scene – and that’s just one possible angle on a classic.
Although the film has had authorised sequels (the 1998 novel As Time Goes By) and prequels, (a short-lived 1983 TV series starring David Soul as Rick) there’s never been an official follow-up or remake. Francois Truffaut turned down a remake that Warner was setting up for the filmmaker in the 1970s, but as shown whenever the film press starts circulating a half-baked rumour that Madonna will be directing an update set in modern-day Iraq, (funnily enough, she didn’t) the idea of reimagining this definitive work is considered heresy.
That’s not stopped some filmmakers from either spoofing or liberally borrowing the plot and transplanting it into other settings. Whether attributed or not, we’ve seen the story adapted repeatedly, as vehicles for Woody Allen, Pamela Anderson, and even Bugs Bunny. From spoofs to stealth remakes, here are some alternate takes on Casablanca’s story…
Honourable Mention: To Have And Have Not (1944)
Let’s start with a remake that the filmmakers insisted was not a remake, despite contemporary reviews describing it as such. Based on Ernest Hemingway’s novel of the same name, To Have And Have Not is a Howard Hawks movie in which Humphrey Bogart (him again) plays a stubbornly neutral fisherman living near Vichy-controlled Martinique, who’s persuaded to help the French Resistance by a woman (Lauren Bacall) with the use of unsigned travel documents.
Transplanting Hemingway’s Depression-era story into an anti-fascist melodrama, Hawks modelled his adaptation after Casablanca in the hope of achieving similar success but was adamant that the film was not a direct remake. All similarities aside, later critical reassessments have set the two films apart. Incredibly, Casablanca director Michael Curtiz was later brought in by Warner to make a more faithful adaptation of the novel, which yielded the less-esteemed 1950 noir drama The Breaking Point.
Alternate ending? The ending of To Have And Have Not is different, so we won’t get into spoilery details here. The particulars of Casablanca’s setting and story are what make the film’s ending so unique and memorable, but as we’re about to discuss, they don’t make it immune to copycats…
Play It Again, Sam (1972)
“Who am I kidding? I’m not like that. I never was, I never will be. That’s strictly the movies.”
Although Woody Allen’s Broadway play and this adaptation of it are titled after a popular misquote, Play It Again, Sam does build towards some of those familiar story beats, as recently divorced film critic Allan Felix (played by Allen) takes advice about dating from an apparition of Humphrey Bogart (Jerry Lacy) and falls for his best friend’s wife Linda (Diane Keaton).
It’s not strictly a direct adaptation, but what lifts this above an honourable mention in this particular category is the way it comically dovetails into a version of Casablanca’s ending. Directed by Herbert Ross, the film combines Allen’s trademark solipsism with a nice dash of slapstick (“Solip-slapstick”?) to an effect that would later become hugely influential on its star’s own directorial style, especially in Annie Hall and Manhattan.
Alternate ending? The foggy airport setting remains intact, but Allan acknowledges his direct quote from the original as he tells Linda to board a plane to Cleveland with her husband Dick (Tony Roberts).
“Who has the time to remember our bad fortune?”
By far the most blatant straight adaptation of Casablanca that we’ll cover here, Armaan is a Hindi film directed by Anand Sagar. Directly lifting the character types and story of the original, Sagar swaps the setting from 1940s Morocco to 1960s Goa, where Indian freedom fighters struggle against the Portuguese. The fundamental things still apply, with Raj Babbar, Ranjeeta Kaur, and Deepak Parashar effectively playing the Bogart, Bergman, and Henreid roles, respectively. Meanwhile, Renault is replaced by Shakti Kapoor’s arrogant Captain Gomes.
This one has a proper Bollywood disco soundtrack too, with Indian chart hits like “Ramba Ho Ho Ho Samba Ho Ho Ho” standing in for the original’s selection of ditties played by Dooley Wilson’s Sam. Rumours of further Bollywood remakes of Casablanca make the UK and US press every few years, but Armaan is the one that stands out.
Alternate ending? In a film with more music in general, Shammi Kapoor gets an expanded role as the Sam stand-in, especially in the more dramatic, action-packed finale, which sees a noble sacrifice and a more tragic final scene.
“I stick my cottontail out for no one.”
Due to a complicated rights situation involving all its pre-1950 films, Warner didn’t own the rights to Casablanca at the point when a full-on Looney Tunes parody was green-lit. It was some of the creatives behind the Warner TV series Animaniacs and Tiny Toons Adventures who put together this eight-minute re-telling of the story, in which Bugs Bunny encounters old flame Penelope Pussycat (from the Pepé Le Pew cartoons) as she arrives in Carrotblanca with Sylvester Slazlo (say it with the lisp…) and helps her escape General Pandemonium (Yosemite Sam).
Packaged before Warner feature The Pebble And The Penguin in UK cinemas, the short understandably skews closer to the Tiny Toons style than to Space Jam, which was still a year away. Where some of the references probably go over young kids’ heads, (including the occasionally disturbing sight of Tweety Pie as Ugarte, complete with Peter Lorre’s mannerisms and expressions) this uses familiar characters to tell the story afresh while lampooning it. Carrotblanca has since made its way into the special features on disc releases of the original, and there can be no greater endorsement than that.
Alternate ending? The parody is faithful up to a point, but it’s subverted when Penelope parachutes back down to Bugs to escape Pepé, who’s disguised as a randy air steward. And of course, we end with a “That’s All Folks” featuring creepy Tweety instead of Porky Pig.
Barb Wire (1996)
“Don’t call me babe.”
Speaking of cartoons, here’s Barb Wire. Unlikely as it seems, it’s no secret that this Pamela Anderson star vehicle is essentially a gender-flipped cyberpunk remake of Casablanca. Instead of World War II, it’s a second American civil war that’s the backdrop for David Hogan’s leering actioner, in which bar owner and bounty hunter Barb (Anderson) harbours her ex, freedom fighter Axel Hood, (Temuera Morrison) and his new wife, resistance asset Cora D (Victoria Rowell) on their way to Canada. Well, it’s more faithful to Casablanca than it is to the Dark Horse comic series on which it’s supposed to be based.
Rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for “nudity and sexuality”, the film is more fixated on Anderson’s assets than those of the resistance against America’s ruling Congressional Directorate. Swapping a trenchcoat and fedora for various bustiers, the star’s withering delivery does seem to intentionally mirror Bogey’s, but even if that worked, Chuck Pfarrer and Ilene Chaiken’s script is dead on arrival. Then again, Casablanca never had a video-game adaptation (a third-person shooter which was never released) or a theme song called “Planet Boom”, (performed by Anderson’s partner Tommy Lee) so who’s to say which is the better film?
Alternate ending? The dialogue hits just keep coming as Barb and police chief Willis (Xander Berkeley) plan to go to Paris, of all places. “I do believe I’m falling in love,” he tells her. “Get in line!”, comes the iconic reply. Unlike Carrotblanca, Barb Wire has yet to get a double-pack release with the film that inspired it…
Out Cold (2001)
“Of all of the bars in all the ski towns in Alaska, why did she have to come to this one?”
If futuristic cyberpunk isn’t your speed, how about a bawdy comedy about teen snowboarders? Primarily updating the 1980s ski-resort teen movie sub-genre for the post-American Pie audience, directors Emmett and Brendan Malloy and screenwriter Jon Zack work a few loftier allusions into their story of a wealthy jerk (Lee Majors) taking over and revamping an Alaskan ski village, meeting resistance from the young staff and patrons.
For instance, there’s a lovesick protagonist called Rick (Jason London) who doesn’t realise his summer fling was already engaged until she crashes back into his life. What’s more, there are plenty of other wardrobe and dialogue references throughout the film. Despite distributors Buena Vista getting cold feet about the hard-R content and editing it down for a PG-13 in post-production, the film leans just as hard (if not harder) on the gross-out comedy, which ranges from someone crapping in a drug-test cup, to the bit where Zach Galifianakis (in an early role) gets his penis stuck in a hot tub outlet.
Alternate ending? If there’s any doubt that the references in Jon Zack’s script are deliberate, (“We’ll always have Pedro O’Horny’s”) the Malloys include a direct homage to a shot from Casablanca in the final sequence, in which London and Galifianakis’ characters watch the plane carrying Rick’s lost love fly away.
“Michael Flatley as you’ve never seen him before.”
And then there’s Blackbird, an as-yet-unreleased film that might buck the recent trend of movies referencing Casablanca and falling short. Not to be confused with the Roger Michell drama that’s now playing in UK cinemas, Blackbird is the acting, writing, and directorial debut of dance choreographer Michael Flatley, (yep, Riverdance and Lord Of The Dance Michael Flatley) who also self-financed the film’s production.
As well as Flatley donning Bogart’s white tux on the posters, the film’s official synopsis suggests that it transplants the familiar story beats to a Caribbean island in the present day:
“Troubled secret agent ‘Blackbird’ abruptly retires from service and opens a luxurious nightclub in the Caribbean to escape the dark shadows of his past. An old flame arrives and reignites love in his life, but she brings danger with her.”
Rachel Warren, Eric Roberts, Patrick Bergin, and Ian Beattie co-star in the film, which was completed in 2018 and screened at the Raindance Film Festival that year, but it doesn’t have a trailer or a release date that we know of just yet. Flatley, who has never had any involvement in the film industry before this project, is adamant that this “old-fashioned love story” is not a vanity project and he’s apparently planning a franchise based on the film.
Alternate ending? Who can say? Courtesy of this superb deep-dive feature by Entertainment.ie, we know that audiences saw it at Raindance, but no reviews have yet emerged. When this does get a release date, (maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon?) it’s sure to have curious eyes on it. Here’s looking at you, Michael…
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