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Play it again, Sam, and again, and again

Moroccan bars try to cash in on Rick's Cafe from "Casablanca."

In the play, "Everyone Comes to Rick’s," Burnett and Alison changed the location, and populated it with the hard-bitten saloon keeper, his lover and the like. After the play sold to Hollywood, Warner Brothers screenwriters changed the title.

If you believe the guidebooks, the real Moroccan center for World War II intrigue was the sun-splashed port of Tangiers, nearly 200 miles from Casablanca. Indeed, the Tangiers entry of the 2009 Lonely Planet Morocco promises “the anything-goes cynicism, the sense of personal fates enmeshed in political change, even the real model for Rick’s Cafe are all there, waiting to be rediscovered.”

That model, the guide says, was a bar called Caid’s, situated on the bottom floor of the upscale El Minzah hotel. On Caid’s patio on a recent afternoon, a lone tourist sipped a Casablanca brand beer with her Lonely Planet propped open on the table. A native New Zealander, Gillian Tidd, 60, last saw the movie 12 years ago, but she said it helped inspire her visit. “This is where I thought to come,” Tidd said. “For me that was absolutely the connection.”

Inside Caid’s, cafe-style tables were clustered around a piano whose tunes echoed off arched, vaulted ceilings reminiscent of the film. Behind the bar, a plain-spoken man in a white tux, Hassan Zghinou, 52, delivered a rather extreme version of the Rick's origin myth.

“The film Casablanca was made here,” Zghinou said confidently, pausing behind a row of rinsed glasses. “In Caid’s bar.”

Follow-up questions suggested Zghinou may not have seen the film, exactly. The story involved “the woman, the man, the piano player who was black,” he said, but after that the details got hazy. To bolster his case, he listed several of the hotel’s movie star guests, including Jean-Claude Van Damme.

El Minzah’s general manager, Hisham Al Jumaa, 62, told a more modest story. "Casablanca" was made in Hollywood, of course, but “the idea of the film started here,” he said, adding that he first learned this from producers for a German radio show. “They checked it and they proved it.”

How exactly, Al Jumaa wasn’t sure. “There is no document, nothing registered,” he said.

Al Jumaa, a busy man with a large hotel to run, said he was simply relaying what he’s been told. He made no claims of Casablanca expertise. Press Al Jumaa, and he’ll admit: his favorite movie is "Spartacus."

But the possibility that Rick’s Cafe was invented without reference to his hotel struck Al Jumaa as unlikely. “A writer needs to start with a little something real,” he said.