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But A Kiss Is Still A Kiss

So maybe the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. That doesn't mean no one cares what happens to them.

A lot of questions were left unanswered when Ilsa Lund and Victor Laszlo fled Casablanca for Lisbon, leaving stoic saloonkeeper Rick Blaine standing on an airport tarmac in one of Hollywood's most famous final scenes.

Did the Czech freedom fighter and his wife make it to safety? Would Humphrey Bogart's Rick and Ingrid Bergman's Ilsa ever be reunited? And what happened to the "beautiful friendship" that began that foggy night?

Michael Walsh thinks he knows. In As Time Goes By, a novel being released today as both a prequel and a sequel to Casablanca, he ties up just about all the big-screen classic's unfinished plot points. More on those later.

"There are a number of unanswered questions that the movie raises," said Walsh, a former music critic for Time magazine. "That's why the movie is so popular. It's ambiguous. ... What I tried to do was tie up some loose ends and leave a lot of others."


Author Michael Walsh

The 406-page book, whose title is borrowed from the film's signature song, reaches back to New York City in the 1920s and '30s to cast Rick as a Jewish gangster named Yitzik Baline. It stretches forward to send him to wartime Prague, where he conspires with Victor and Ilsa to assassinate the real-life Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich.

"It's a very complicated, twisty-turny thriller plot," Walsh said.

The new developments, he said, seemed obvious once he immersed himself in the original 1942 film, which won three Oscars.

As for Rick, "his young manhood would coincide exactly with Prohibition... It was the days of the great gangsters, the nightclubs, the speakeasies."

Given Rick's unexplained assertion that he can't go home to New York, his handiness with a pistol, and a Hollywood tradition of ethnic gangster movies, Walsh said it seemed perfect to have him flee after a 1930s gangland bloodbath. He flees to Paris, of course, where he loses Ilsa the first time, and then to Casablanca.

And what of Czech resistance hero Laszlo, freshly escaped from a Nazi concentration camp and, when we last met him, on his way to the United States via Portugal with Rick's true love?

In Walsh's version, Laszlo never goes to America.

"Victor Laszlo is a Czech partisan," Walsh said. "What else could [he] possibly be doing besides planning the assassination of Heydrich?"

In Walsh's book, Rick, fearing brutal Nazi reprisals if Heydrich is killed, tries unsuccessfully to stop the assassination at the eleventh hour. Victor dies while killing the German.

That conveniently frees Ilsa to rignite her romance with Rick, whose sense of duty forced him to send her away at the end of Casablanca.

"I can't live without you, Ilsa," Rick says in the book. "I thought I could. God knows I tried. But I couldn't. Not after Paris. Not after Casablanca. Not now. Not ever."

In the end, Ilsa, now married to Rick, makes his trademark toast:

"Here's looking at you, kid."

Warner Books president Maureen Egen said she invited Walsh to write the book after Warner Brothers (the studio behind Casablanca and now a part of Time Warner Inc.) proposed the idea.

Camille McDuffie, a spokeswoman for Warner Books, said the company had made no decisions about eventually turning the new novel into a movie.

As Time Goes By has no literary parent: Casablanca, inspired by a play called Everybody Comes to Rick's, was never a book.

Does it make sense to toy with a classic?

"On the one hand, I'm somewhat curious," said film critic Leonard Maltin, who had not yet read the book. "On the other hand, it's risky, to say the least, to tamper with perfection. ... That film leaves me completely satisfied.

"I don't want to know more about Rick, I like the mystery."

Written by Beth Gardiner