THE LAST TRAIN TO PARIS
Robert T. Roe
2005 SE 148th
Portland, OR 97233
SYNOPSIS OF STORY GOALS
I wasn’t driven by ego to pen a sequel for CASABLANCA and neither was my goal financial. Knowing that I did not own the rights to these incredible characters, I embarked on this story as a personal adventure and a writing exercise. By the time I was done, however, I wanted the world to know what I knew and feel what I felt.
When I began, I conjured what had happened to Rick and Ilsa as the years passed. I thought, “Their lives would have gone on just as everyone’s does.” I do not fashion myself as a CASABLANCA expert nor do I want to be known as one. I am more the fan who has watched and studied the film countless times. Surely, I thought to myself, there must be dozens of these scripts lying around by A-list writers. My quest was personal and passionate.
I realized right away that it would be a mistake to take these characters back to Casablanca. A war had changed everything for millions. I also figured out that Ilsa and Victor flew out of Casablanca a day or two before Pearl Harbor. This revelation gave me a starting point that produced the simplest and most logical of questions, “What would have happened if they were real?”
When I attended “Story” by Robert McKee early in 2001, a renowned expert on Casablanca, I had him sign a copy of his book for me. He wrote, “Write what is real, Bob.” In the “real” world what would Victor and Ilsa have done once America had been thrown into the war by Pearl Harbor? We knew that Rick and Louie were headed for the fight. But how? In the real world, Rick would have been disqualified from military service, as he was a wanted criminal in America. Therefore, he and Louie would have fought in the underground- in the French resistance. From CASABLANCA we learned that Rick ran guns and was somewhat of an artillery expert, as he was aware of the “new German cannons” in the flashback to Paris. I drew attention to this in AS TIME GOES BY when Louie jokingly says, “The Germans blew up half of France and Rick blew up the other half.”
I also came to the realization that in real life Rick would have felt lost inside the day the war ended. He was a tough-softy. Ilsa scolded Rick for feeling sorry for himself as one woman had hurt him. He had that other side. Therefore, while the rest of the world partied, he was stymied emotionally. He had no idea where or what to do next. He couldn’t kill Germans anymore, and he was good at it, nor could he go home, as he was a wanted criminal in New York. There was nothing back in Casablanca as he had sold his business, and he could not have Ilsa Lund, the love of his life. As a matter of fact, he had no idea if she was even still living. The best thing to do until he figured it all out was hide in a bottle of bourbon- one after another.
Rick is the primary character of my story and his emotion is the force that drives it. Louie’s role, as his partner in the resistance, changes when the war ends. When Rick crashes, Louie takes care of him. He mentors Rick as a brother and this despite Rick’s occasional “get lost Louie” routine. Louie, fearing that Rick is going too far, finally abducts Rick and takes him home to be nursed by his colorful mother, Josephine.
Then destiny steps in. A special letter was waiting at Louie’s French villa. Louie had been a greater force in the town of Casablanca than Rick ever knew. He owned properties and businesses. At his villa was a bag of mail and in that bag was a letter from Sam to Rick. To our surprise, in Sam’s letter was a two-year-old letter from Ilsa. It was addressed to Rick. Here is one of the parallels I drew from Casablanca. While the letter to Rick from Ilsa at the train station said “good bye forever”, this new one proclaimed, “I will love you forever”. It hurts him more than the first. It gave him new hope and he hated having that hope. He tells Louie’s mother “It’s a disease- a cancer way down deep. It needs to be cut out and thrown away before it kills me!” Yet Rick’s pain was to be compounded by a twist- a surprise no one could have imagined.
In the real world, revenge can be a devilish force. Major Strasser’s family was infuriated over his apparent murder at the Casablanca airport. They vowed to hunt the perpetrators down. Victor and Ilsa’s names were written on the famous letters of transit. Also, Rick and Louie vanished from town that same day. The Strasser’s figured the four of them were accomplices in the murder. It took them four years, but they found them all. The movie actually opens with Major Strasser’s brother finding and killing whom he thinks to be Victor and Ilsa in Prague, and now he sneaks up on Louie who is about to have breakfast on his villa patio. Here comes another parallel between the two stories. Rick saves Louie in a shoot-out that is almost identical to the one he had at the airport with Major Strasser. Rick tells Colonel Strasser, “ I shot your brother in a fair fight, and I’ll shoot you the same way.” And he does, but not until he hears Strasser brag of killing Victor and Ilsa in Prague. When the smoke of battle clears, as Rick stands over Strasser’s body, the first thing that Louie says is, “ I’m sorry Rick.” This is a powerful moment- one that gives an actor an Oscar- and the writer.
Rick has had enough of Europe. He now has a full pardon from the President of the United States and decides it’s time to go home. At the Paris airport, as he is about to board the plane, it hits him. “ Victor Laszlo was dead many times,” he declares to Louie, “I can’t leave Paris until I see her grave.” He tries to excuse Louie from the task, but Louie has invested too much in Rick to not know the end of this story. At the Czech border, when stopped by a Russian soldier, Rick declares that they are going to Prague “to see about a girl”. The Russian laughs in his fondness for the Americans.
In Prague, Victor and Ilsa are in the midst of their own powerful story. In the actual screenplay the movie begins with them still active in the underground. Victor had left Casablanca for America with the goal in mind to persuade the Americans to get involved in the war against Hitler. Pearl Harbor took care of that problem. After a brief stay in New York, Victor and Ilsa return to Europe where Victor assumes his position as the undisputed leader of the Prague resistance. Ilsa is by his side- just as Rick had directed at the airport. And now, though they survived the Germans, the Communists were quickly becoming Victor’s new concern- his new threat against Czech independence. Yet, the threat to them from the Strasser family came as a complete surprise. Colonel Strasser kills their best friends in the resistance in his haste for revenge. Frank and Grace were much like Victor and Ilsa, and protected them by pretending to be them when accosted by Colonel Strasser. They had no idea that this was a personal vendetta that would cost them their lives. Strasser who had their graves marked- Victor and Ilsa Laszlo- buried them. Ilsa was devastated over the loss of Grace who was like a sister to her. She was already disillusioned by the war and frustrated by Victor’s emerging desire to fight the Communists. She begged him to take her back to America.
Victor was the most admirable character in Casablanca. He was handsome, principled, focused, articulate, brave, patriotic and loving toward his wife. There was no way in hell I was going to damage this man’s integrity. Victor stood tall against Rick in Casablanca- clearly the better man. Yet, Victor inspired and influenced Rick. The question remained, “How does Rick get the girl?” After all, this is the only possible ending. The answer once again came from “real life.”
It was this new threat of Communism combined with Ilsa’s unhappiness that would force Victor to realize he could no longer have both- that is, to be a patriot and keep Ilsa as his wife. It was a painful decision. Ilsa had scolded him, “Your patriotism has blinded you even to love.”
Then Rick and Louie hit town and find there way to Victor and Ilsa’s graves. Once again we have a great moment. I imagine Rick with the same look that Bogart had on his face when he saw Ilsa in his “gin joint” for the first time in Casablanca- a bittersweet moment where love is mixed with anger. At her grave, Rick pulls from his pocket the letter from Ilsa that he got at Louie’s Villa. He smoothes it out on top of her gravestone and leaves it. “Damn” he says. “I got suckered into hoping.” He leaves the grave on the words…”maybe there’s a breath of fresh air waiting for me in New York.” They leave the graveyard for a local pub to have one for the road. As they leave the area, Ilsa arrives to say goodbye to Grace. Out on the road, Victor sees Rick and Louie drive away. This is a key moment for Victor and our story.
At the grave Ilsa sees the letter she had sent to Rick. Overcome- knowing Rick had just been there- she faints. Victor arrives, and while trying to revive her, he secretly reads the letter. Then the Russian officer who had been investigating them, steps from the shadows and arrests them. Victor, realizing Rick and Louie are present, cleverly tricks this Russian into parading them around town. The word comes into the bar that Victor Laszlo is alive. When Rick and Louie emerge, there they are. All eyes meet, much the same as at the end of CASABLANCA. This time, however, it would mean something different. Victor had a plan- a plan to keep his patriotic goals but set Ilsa on the road to happiness.
And so the ending is special. It is exciting and romantic. It’s there to be read, or seen. As for myself, I have seen this movie in my mind and heart many times. I hope the world and all its CASABLANCA lovers will someday see it too.