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November 8, 2012

Slate: Did Rick and Ilsa sneak one in in Casablanca?

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 (see video at end).

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 beacon — 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?"

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