Warner Home Video presents
Casablanca (Ultimate Collector's Edition) (Blu-ray) (1943)
Rick: How long was it we had, honey?
Ilsa: I didn't count the days.
Rick: Well I did. Every one of them. Mostly I remember the last one. A wild finish—a guy standing on a station platform in the rain with a comical look on his face because his insides had been kicked out.- Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman
Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid
Other Stars: Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt, Dooley Wilson, S.Z. Sakall, Joy Page, Madeleine LeBeau
Director: Michael Curtiz
MPAA Rating: PG for mild violence
Run Time: 01h:42m:29s
Release Date: 2008-12-02
DVD ReviewContrary to popular belief, Casablanca didn't earn its lofty place in film history by accident. Although stories abound concerning unfinished scripts, on-the-set rewrites, and a confused leading lady, the creative forces behind this iconic film always knew exactly what they wanted. True, no one involved ever purposely set out to make an era-defining classic, but the shooting of Casablanca was far from the disorganized mess Hollywood raconteurs still purport it to be.
The finished film, of course, speaks for itself. Over the years, many movies have sought to imitate Casablanca's unique and subtle blend of mystery, romance, intrigue, light comedy, and topical events, but the formula has never been successfully duplicated. And it's pretty safe to say it never will be.
It's also a safe bet Casablanca will never look any better than on Warner's sumptuous new Blu-ray release. Faithful dOc readers may recall I made the same brazen pronouncement back in 2003 when I reviewed the studio's excellent DVD remaster, but I'm more than happy to eat those words today. This high-def version will not only dazzle the film's faithful throng of admirers, it will also make classic movie lovers salivate at the prospect of seeing all their Golden Age favorites in glorious 1080p. Jack Warner himself never saw such a pristine, eye-popping Casablanca, yet this Blu-ray rendering preserves the visual textures that distinguished the celluloid original.
These words from 2003, however, bear repeating, and apply even more so today: If you bought Casablanca before, you're just going to have to suck it up and buy it again, because this new special edition from Warner is not to be missed. While it's always been easy to appreciate Casablanca's story, themes, script, and acting, this definitive two-disc set raises a veil from the image, uncovering a heretofore unseen brilliance and depth that allows one to look at the film in a whole new way. The silky smooth presentation will surely provoke several jaw-dropping "wows," but the best news of all is that this impeccable transfer makes losing oneself in the magic of Casablanca easier than ever before. What's more, if you're a classics aficionado (like me) and have been on the fence about Blu-ray, let me assure you it's time to make the leap. Who knew black-and-white could look so luscious?
Great films start with great scripts, and Casablanca is no exception. Its screenplay may not be perfect, but it comes darn close. The old adage about too many cooks spoiling the broth doesn't apply here, as at least half a dozen writers made notable contributions to the screenplay. The story of cynical café owner Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), lost love Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), freedom-fighter Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), and those pesky letters of transit, all set against the exotic locale of refugee-ridden Casablanca at the height of World War II, may not seem all that special at first glance, but when trimmed with bright dialogue, layers of conflicting emotions, and the urgency of global crisis, it suddenly adopts a more appealing and substantive slant. A generous sprinkling of humor relieves tension and humanizes the characters, while at the same time providing Casablanca with more quotable lines per capita than any other film in history.
Of course, what would the movie be without Bogart and Bergman? Both act with a naturalness and sincerity that's still effective, underplaying whenever possible and never veering off into campy histrionics. After all these years, their intense chemistry hasn't waned, and despite their legendary status, it's still possible to divorce their personas from their parts. One of the wonderful things about Casablanca is that no matter how many times we've seen it, we always feel like we're watching Rick and Ilsa, and not Bogart and Bergman—a rare example of how the right roles can outshine even the most recognizable actors.
The peerless supporting cast also earns hearty praise, and adds immense color and texture to the action. Without Claude Rains (who nearly steals the film with his sardonic wit), Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt, S.Z. Sakall, Dooley Wilson, and a host of other accomplished players, Casablanca would sacrifice a sizeable portion of its entertainment value. All create memorable characters and maximize their limited screen time. In the same vein, director Michael Curtiz, one of Warner Bros' tireless workhorses, masterfully paces the film, packing chunks of vital information into brief, seemingly incidental scenes. Through quick vignettes and reaction shots he also conveys both emotion and atmosphere, setting the stage for and enhancing the intimate drama of Rick, Ilsa, and Victor. Subplots abound, but Curtiz' tight, economical style interweaves them without wasting film or breaking the primary story's mesmerizing spell.
Ultimately, though, the movie's underlying themes tie its artistic elements together, and thus create an unforgettable film. Far more than a romantic wartime melodrama, Casablanca integrates potent ideas into its framework that subtly heighten the already emotional material. Issues of redemption, self-sacrifice, duty, and the rediscovery of personal and political ideals all swirl about the story, hammering home the point that "the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world." Few films of the period possessed the courage to put forth such a viewpoint, and it resonated—and still resonates—with audiences worldwide. Which is just one small reason why Casablanca will never go out of style.
Here's looking at you, kid.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: From the opening credits onward, this high-def transfer (which arrives on a BD-25 disc and is struck from the same master as the 2006 HD-DVD) produces images of breathtaking clarity and lushness. Black levels are rich and inky, whites (such as Rick's dinner jacket and Ilsa's dress and cape) pop but never bloom, and the grays in between possess such astonishing variance we almost forget we're watching a monochromatic film. Crisp yet warm close-ups highlight Bergman's creamy complexion and the creases that give Bogart's face such character, while contrast is always spot on, enhancing each scene's mood.
In a side-by-side comparison with the 2003 special edition DVD (upconverted to 1080i), the Blu-ray is markedly brighter, clearer, and easier on the eyes. Shadow detail is more pronounced on the Blu-ray, and grain, while still (thankfully) present, is a tad lighter. A slight bit of DNR may smooth the image somewhat, but no edge enhancement or digital noise mars the presentation. Of course, the picture's sharpness shines a beacon on the primitive special effects, but such instances are fleeting and easily dismissed.
Without question, this excellent effort from Warner is a definite improvement over the previous DVD, and whets our appetite for more classic Blu-ray releases to come.
Image Transfer Grade: A
|Mono||English, French, Spanish||yes|
Audio Transfer Review: It's rare for a Blu-ray disc to offer only monaural sound, but I applaud Warner's decision to forego fashioning simulated multi-channel audio and stick with the film's original track. Some might attribute the lack of an upgrade to laziness on Warner's part, but enhancements to mono audio are usually minimal at best, and Casablanca would see little benefit from such tinkering. This track is identical to the one on the 2003 DVD, and it's a solid, noise-free rendering. All pops, crackles, and static have been erased, resulting in crystal clear, well-modulated sound that perfectly balances the immortal dialogue, atmospheric effects, and Max Steiner's legendary score. The rumble of airplane propellers, bursts of gunfire, and din of Rick's bustling café are all distinct and lively, while Dooley Wilson's vocals on As Time Goes By and Knock on Wood enjoy marvelous depth and resonance. Only very faint hiss can be detected during moments of absolute silence, and never do we hear any tinny, hollow accents or distortion, even when the strings swell during moments of high drama. Though the track features none of the bells and whistles we've come to expect from Blu-ray audio, it perfectly suits the film and never diminishes our enjoyment of it.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Adventures of Robin Hood
2 Deleted Scenes
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by film critic Roger Ebert and film historian Rudy Behlmer
Packaging: Box Set
- Production Research Gallery
- Homage cartoon, Carrotblanca
- TV and radio adaptations
- Scoring session outtakes
48-page hardcover book
One-sheet and lobby card reproductions
Collectible luggage tag and passport holder
Bogart's widow, Lauren Bacall, starts off the video-based supplements (all—unfortunately—in standard def) with a two-minute introduction outlining the film's appeal. Then it's on to two terrific audio commentaries that weed through the myriad legends and myths surrounding Casablanca's production history (such as the original casting of Ronald Reagan as Rick) and set the record straight. Both film critic Roger Ebert and historian Rudy Behlmer provide a constant string of interesting facts, trivia, and perspective with surprisingly little overlap. Of the two tracks, Ebert's is more compelling. His animated scene-specific discussion analyzes both on-screen elements—the carefully constructed lighting, intricate shadow placement, positioning of actors, and finer points of cinematography—and the day-to-day production process. Along the way, he tosses in such tidbits as Bergman's height advantage over Bogart and how the film disguises it, the significance of several throwaway lines, the origin of "Here's looking at you, kid," and the historical inaccuracy of the letters of transit. He dissects various sequences, touches upon censorship issues, and notes the very early anti-Nazi leanings of the Warner Bros studio. He also points out a glaring continuity error I never noticed (and won't divulge) and calls the competitive singing of Watch on the Rhine and La Marseillaise "one of the great dramatic, emotional scenes in motion picture history." He concludes his comments with his personal definition of a classic film—a wonderful viewpoint I intend to adopt.
Behlmer, long regarded as the classic era's foremost Warner Bros authority, takes us inside the studio and into the production's many nooks and crannies. Mostly non-scene-specific and delivered in a nuts-and-bolts, just-the-facts-m'am style, the track offers extensive background on Everybody Comes to Rick's, the original play upon which Casablanca is based, as well as more thorough examinations of cast and crew careers. Behlmer quotes extensively from interoffice studio memos (a commentary highlight), discusses how a parade of uncredited writers beefed up and refined the screenplay, and mentions how various war restrictions affected shooting. A bit dry at times and featuring a few annoying gaps, the track still relays a wealth of information that only enhances our appreciation of this legendary film.
As Time Goes By: The Children Remember allows Stephen Bogart and Bergman's oldest daughter Pia Lindstrom an opportunity to discuss the film's mystique and how their parents reacted to Casablanca's tremendous audience response. Both relate a few production stories and marvel at how a "throwaway" melodrama became a timeless classic in this seven-minute featurette.
Of special note to Casablanca fans is the inclusion of two additional scenes, both restored to the same lustrous vibrancy as the film itself. Sadly, the accompanying audio no longer exists, but subtitles taken from the screenplay run beneath the images instead—a clever substitution. The first scene shows Rick visiting Laszlo in jail and offering to sell him the letters of transit for 100,000 francs. In the second, a German officer gulps a kamikaze cocktail mixed by bartender Sascha (Leonid Kinskey) and passes out on the spot.
Six minutes of silent outtakes are more difficult to follow, and interesting only from a production standpoint. Seeing the material is a treat, but the lack of audio hampers our understanding of the flubs and technical gaffes that ruined the various shots. Scoring Sessions features eight audio tracks of both alternate and final takes of such Dooley Wilson numbers as Knock On Wood, As Time Goes By, and the recently discovered Dat's What Noah Done, as well as Max Steiner instrumentals.
Bacall on Bogart, a 1988 PBS tribute, is the best kind of Hollywood documentary—heavy on the film clips, with a sharp focus on Bogart's acting and professional contributions. Hosted with charming wit and sincerity by Lauren Bacall, this substantive 83-minute film chronicles Bogie's quarter century in Hollywood and inspires renewed appreciation for his immense talent. Featuring extensive sequences on The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, The Big Sleep and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, among many other classics, this worthwhile film is also enhanced by family home movies and a brief look at Bogart's resistance to McCarthyism.
A holdover from MGM's original Casablanca DVD, You Must Remember This—A Tribute to Casablanca is a 35-minute 1992 documentary narrated by Lauren Bacall that chronicles every aspect of the film's production—the evolution of the screenplay, the use of As Time Goes By, casting, censorship issues, and the eleventh hour creation of the film's ending. Screenwriters Julius Epstein and Howard Koch, original playwright Murray Burnett, historians Rudy Behlmer and Ronald Haver, composer Henry Mancini and Bergman's daughter Pia Lindstrom, among others, offer wonderful insights and anecdotes. Also of note, the Casablanca clips used in the documentary show the night-and-day difference in image quality between the film's previous prints and the current digital restoration.
Rarely did all of a film's stars re-create their roles for a radio rehash, but Bogart, Bergman and Henreid nevertheless joined forces for an April 26, 1943 broadcast reunion. The Screen Guild Players version of Casablanca trims the story down to a lean 22 minutes (!), but the trio of actors tries their best to weave a romantic, emotional mood despite the truncated story. Intermittent coughing from the studio audience lends the broadcast an interesting theatrical feel.
Who Holds Tomorrow? is an 18-minute excerpt from the premiere episode of a 10-week Casablanca television series aired by ABC-TV in 1955. A wooden Charles McGraw stars as Rick in a new, updated story transpiring in the familiar Café Americain. Acting across the board is stilted and stiff, with Gig Young's introduction to the episode and a dated GE iron commercial offering more entertainment value than the show itself. A few incidents of dropout and distortion mar the audio presentation, but the video quality is surprisingly crisp and clean.
On the lighter side, the 1995 Warner cartoon Carrotblanca mercilessly spoofs the film with a gallery of Looney Tunes characters. Daffy Duck, as Sam, sings a hilariously violent Knock on Wood, Bugs Bunny makes an appropriately suave Rick, but Tweety Bird steals the show with his dead-on impersonation of Peter Lorre's Ugarte. Bright, vivid colors and a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track really light up this fun diversion.
Finally, hardcore film and Casablanca buffs will devour the Production Research section, which offers tremendous insight into the film's production and the inner workings of the studio system during Hollywood's Golden Age. Through the duplication of 40 documents (most inter-office memos), we learn about the film's shooting schedule and production delays, see original cutting notes and press releases (including one transitioning Bogart from tough-guy villain to romantic lead), and absorb several fascinating tidbits, such as the brief consideration of both Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne for the role of a female "Sam." Memo highlights include studio chief Jack Warner grousing about excessive takes and film waste, and producer Hal Wallis chiding the crew for various mistakes and prodding director Michael Curtiz to adhere to a firmer schedule. Fifty black & white production stills, including shots of sets and exteriors, publicity photos and poster art, enhance the documentation.
Original trailers for both Casablanca and The Adventures of Robin Hood (also available on Blu-ray disc) complete the extensive Disc 1 extras.
The only new video extra resides on Disc 2, and though it just briefly touches upon Casablanca, it's still a worthy and relevant addition to this set. Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul, an absorbing 1993 documentary produced by Gregory Orr, the studio chief's grandson, cogently examines the immigrant background, impoverished youth, steady ascension, and shrewd (some might say ruthless) business dealings of one of the most colorful, successful, and enduring movie executives in Hollywood history. At first, the 57-minute film seems like little more than a laudatory family tribute, as it chronicles the Polish roots and early struggles of the four Warner brothers. But as youngest sibling Jack emerges as the quartet's leader, Orr doesn't shy away from spotlighting his grandfather's insatiable ambition and its impact on the Warner family. Though not as slick and star-studded as many film documentaries, The Last Mogul tells a fascinating story with insight and fairness.
Extras Grade: A+
Final CommentsA kiss may be a kiss, and a sigh is just a sigh, but movies are just plain better on Blu-ray, and an enduring classic like Casablanca is no exception. The sparkling high-def transfer infuses this Oscar-winning masterpiece with even more drama, style, romance, and intrigue than ever before, and Warner's elegantly appointed ultimate edition dresses up the film with a host of handsome collectibles. Sure, it's pricey, but this set is a must-own for serious film fans, a worthy upgrade from the standard DVD, and easily earns our highest and heartiest recommendation. Without question, you'll play it...again and again.
David Krauss 2008-12-10