Just as Rick Blaine and Ilsa Lund will always have Paris, movie lovers will always have Casablanca.
For 70 years the star-crossed wartime romance of Rick and Ilsa — memorably portrayed by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman — has thrilled audiences. On Wednesday, viewers in 450 theaters across the U.S. will see a digitally restored Casablanca in its element, on big screens, sitting raptly among strangers in the dark.
Casablanca is probably second only to The Wizard of Oz with regard to references in hundreds of movies and TV shows, from Play it Again, Sam and When Harry Met Sally, to Frasier and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Yet what makes Casablanca so widely imitated is the perfection making the original impossible to recreate. No studio executives in their right minds would greenlight a Casablanca remake.
They would regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of their lives.
But what if someone did? Who could possibly replace Bogart, Bergman and their indelible co-stars?
The idea occasionally floats around Hollywood, usually with some currently hot celebrity couple in mind: Bennifer, Brangelina, or Madonna and whomever she seduced at the time. Stardom and vanity would likely overshadow the story.
I'm not rounding up the usual suspects for a dream cast, and don't expect anyone to agree with my choices. It doesn't take much to see that the opinions of one little movie critic don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.
But here's looking at these kids:
Rick Blaine: Bogie wasn't a classically handsome and tender leading man, so let's eliminate the obvious options of George Clooney and Brad Pitt. We need an actor capable of showing vulnerability beneath a rugged, world-weary exterior. Someone romantic in spite of himself, and not so famous that casting overshadows the character. Welcome to Casablanca, Clive Owen.
Ilsa Lund: Bergman's icy beauty is impossible to duplicate, so let's focus upon the continental flavor of the role. Ilsa is a cultured, confident woman after traveling the globe, breaking hearts, with lingering regret about it. The role requires an actor capable of softening a steely demeanor at precisely the right moments. With her own European accent tempered like Bergman's, we'll go with Oscar winner Marion Cotillard.
Victor Laszlo: This is where we cast a bankable leading man, one who won't mind when he gets the girl but not really her heart. Paul Henried was a perfect compliment to Bergman; both classy and beautiful. We want someone who'll strike the same sparks with Cotillard while artfully concealing his envy of Owen. Everything is in order, Ryan Gosling.
Capt. Louis Renault: The amusingly corrupt French policeman patrolling Casablanca is one of the two easiest roles to recast: We'll be shocked, shocked to find anyone except Oscar winner Jean Dujardin strolling into the fog with Owen at the fadeout. That could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Major Heinrich Strasser: This is the other bit of slam-dunk casting. We need an imperious Nazi ferreting out resistance fighters, and viewing Rick's alleged neutrality with suspicion. Oscar winner Christoph Waltz, you had the role at the word "Nazi."
Signor Ugarte: The petty criminal dealing letters of transit he murdered two Nazis to obtain is a small but crucial role, originally played by Peter Lorre. The remake needs an actor who'll recall Lorre's strangeness and capture the pathetic soul inside. After what he showed in Young Adult, I'd suggest the wild card candidate Patton Oswalt.
Sam the piano player: Essentially a cameo, so go with a star. My pick is an actor-musician who can carry off one of the most famous movie songs ever, and who realizes the significance of Dooley Wilson's role for African-Americans. Play it, Jamie Foxx.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.