Plot: What’s it about?
There’s not a movie in history that has as many memorable quotes that have become as ingratiated into Pop Culture as those found in Casablanca. Winner of three Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Director, the film has gone onto countless accolades aside from those bestowed by “The Academy… It’s almost instantly recognizable as perhaps the most popular movie ever made and it’s hard to imagine that the film stayed in Warner’s vaults because they didn’t know if the movie would work. Granted, the film did come out at the perfect time, just when World War II was beginning (for the United States), but it’s proven time and again that it has all the right elements that will likely last for years to come. Perhaps one of the best reasons the film works on so many levels is that it has a bit of everything. A movie like “Citizen Kane”, arguably the “greatest.. film ever made, works on as many levels too, but Casablanca has elements of drama, romance (naturally), action and even a bit of humor. As Roger Ebert states in his commentary, there’s never really been a negative review of the film, it’s truly the one movie that appeals to most every person, regardless of age, race or gender.
Based on the play “Everybody Comes to Rick’s”, the film was a launching pad for Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman (perhaps one of the prettier faces to ever grace the silver screen…or any screen). Before this, Bogart had been relegated to supporting parts as gangsters. It was with this and his earlier role in “The Maltese Falcon” that he finally gained the notoriety that he so justly deserved. As mentioned before, the movie wasn’t really thought to be that great. It was an “A.. list picture, to be sure, but the overall success of the movie was just good timing. The great thing was that not only were the leads good, but the supporting players were perfectly cast as well. Sydney Greenstreet, whose acting career began at the age of 62, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre and Dooley Wilson (Sam) seemed to round out a cast that would be hard to imagine the movie without. The movie was simply one of about 50 movies that were made that year (by Warner Brothers). It seems hard to imagine these days, but they used to recycle the same actors in different movies and Casablanca was thought to be just another movie.
How wrong they were.
The story starts off simple enough. We meet Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) by first looking at his fingers, then hands and finally as he is hunched over a game of chess. The owner of a nightclub in Casablanca, he has a mysterious past but seems at home in his club, Rick’s Cafe Americian. He runs the place while keeping order even when the Germans manage to show up and in their presence he coolly admits his personal motto “I’m a drunkard…” The town of Casablanca is a hodgepodge of civilization with Germans, French and almost every other race crossing paths from time to time. It’s not until Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) shows up with Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) that the story truly starts to get interesting. As we learn later in the film, Rick and Ilsa had a previous relationship in Paris, but when the Germans started to occupy the city, Rick fled only to find that Ilsa had stood him up. His feelings for her are immediately rekindled when he sees her which leads to his “…all the gin joints” line. Laszlo is a legendary hero of the French Resistance and the Germans are after him (though he parades around in town and would have surely been seen and captured by someone, an error that we’re meant to overlook).
As Rick starts to get re-acquainted with Ilsa, he starts to feel emotions that he wanted to be long gone. All the while, he’s trying to help them both to escape Casablanca for Portugal (and therefore freedom) with the help of letters of transport that will guarantee them their freedom. However much Rick wants to use the letters for him and Ilsa, the greatest expression of his love for her is to allow them to escape together. The supporting players are more a part of the movie than we might initially expect. A swarthy little person, who was the initial carrier of the letters (Peter Lorre) is essentially one of the major players. Claude Rains’ role as the local police chief shows him spending half of his time in Rick’s place and the other half trying to please the Germans (even though he professes to not really care). And let us not forget the role of Laszlo, who might have the best role in the movie. The sequence in which the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise”, is sung not only because it shows how much influence Lazslo has, but also the triumph over the Germans; if only in song. Perhaps one of the most moving scenes in the movie, in my opinion.
Naturally, we all know how the movie ends, even those of us who have not seen it in its entirety. Casablanca begs to be seen. Period. The film has been ranked as the greatest Romantic movie ever made, ranked #3 as the greatest Movie ever made and contains one of the screen’s greatest heroes in Rick Blaine (all by the American Film Institute). All accolades aside, the movie doesn’t feel dated, though it celebrates it’s 60th Anniversary. The odds are that a movie like Casablanca will never come our way again. Watch it for the action, watch it for the romance, and even watch it for the humor (it has the elements of all three). But the movie is one that truly gets better with repeated viewings. The film is on so many “Greatest.. lists, that most people lose count. Well, my friends, it’s on there for a reason. To see Bogart, Rains, Bergman and others in their finest hour, pick this up as Warner has done it right the third time around (even though the previous offerings weren’t all that bad). If ever there should be a movie in your collection, this is it.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
When “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” was made, Humphrey Bogart was already a well-established star. He had not yet won an Academy Award (he’d have to wait until 1951′s “The African Queen” for that), but some of his performances were already etched in the minds of the American public. With this movie, he created a much darker character and some say that it’s his best performance. Unlike his roles as Rick Blaine in “Casablanca” and Frank McCloud in “Key Largo”, Fred C. Dobbs was a supposedly decent man, just down on his luck. Based on the novel by B. Traven (who supposedly existed, but no one ever met him face to face), the project interested Director John Huston during the mid-30′s. However, it got put on the back burner for years and Huston went off to war. It wasn’t until he returned that he actually made the movie and his choice of the lead was Bogart as the troubled Dobbs. Huston cast his own father as that of an old prospector who spins tales of gold and riches. They would both win Academy Awards (John for Screenplay and Direction and Walter for Best Supporting Actor). It was the first father/son win in Oscar history.
The movie, though, was that which most audiences had never seen. Humphrey Bogart was known for playing the male lead and this was a cry back to this days as a gangster when he was still playing second fiddle to James Cagney in films like “The Petrified Forest” and “Angels With Dirty Faces”. What makes the film so memorable is the fact that it’s one of the few that has delved so deep into the human psyche. It’s probably the definitive film about green, human nature and paranoia. There is a line form “Wall Street”, uttered by Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gecko that says it simply: “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is rightï¿½”. These are words that Frec C. Dobbs (Bogart) and his friend Curtin (Tim Holt) could understand, to be sure. Though not a commercial success at the time, the film was critically praised and it was rumored that Jack Warner (head of Warner studios) was the film that he was most proud of. Nominated for four Academy Awards, it won three (losing Best Picture to Lawrence Oliver’s “Hamlet”). This movie, though, showed depth for Bogart, depth that many thought didn’t exist.
The movie starts off simply enough; we meet Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) as he is down on his luck in Tampico, Mexico. Begging for money, he gets a few meals staked by what appears to be a wealthy American (Director John Huston in a cameo). Meeting up with another American, Curtin (Tim Holt), the two are taken advantage of while working on an oil rig. It turns out to be a scam and their weeks of hard work have only paid off in blisters and pain. As luck would have it, though, the two meet the man who owes them their money and after a bar room brawl, they take only what is theirs. As time goes by (no pun intended), the two meet up with an old prospector (Walter Huston) who spins tales of gold and riches. Figuring they have nothing else to lose, they agree to go in the Sierra Madre Mountains and see if they can find their fortune. The three are bound only by trust and the desire for fortune as they set out on a journey that will change their lives forever.
As they find out, gold isn’t sitting around in the form of nuggets, they have to look closely for it and once it’s found, it still looks like dirt. On the verge of frustration, the three finally hit the mother lode. However, as bags of gold begin to accumulate, Dobbs begins to change. He suggests that the three be responsible for their own share of the gold and each find a hiding place for it. Seeing no problem, they agree. Dobbs had said that when he started, he’d only get $5,000 worth and leave. Now that the gold is ripe for the taking, though, each tends to want as much as they can carry. The lands of Mexico are no place for greed, though. Lawlessness abounds and in one of the movie’s most famous scenes, bandits attempt to buy the guns from the prospectors; only to be run off. As Dobbs’ paranoia starts to take over, they split up. Curtin and Dobbs are heading back to town while Howard (Huston) must head to an Indian village to pay off a debt. It’s at this time that Dobbs’ greed takes overï¿½
The movie was probably Huston’s greatest ever, on par with that of “The Maltese Falcon”. Bogart was never better and it’s a shame that his Oscar would come for the role of Charlie Allnut in “The African Queen” instead of this (not that he wasn’t deserving there). Tim Holt was hoping that the success of this movie would lift him out of the “B” movies that he has starred in before, but it did not. As for John Huston, the sometimes actor/writer/director would go onto make many more great movies and even play one of the best villains in “Chinatown”. His father, Walter, would make three more movies after this and died in 1950. Even today the movie still gathers accolades as it was recently selected to the American Film Institute’s list of the Top 100 movies of all time (#30). “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” remains a classic for one undying reason: few movies have delved so deep into the soul of man to reveal human nature.
The African Queen
Well it’s about damn time! Back in 1998 the American Film Institute gathered experts from every aspect of the film world and came up with their “definitive” list of the top 100 American movies of all-time. I obsessed over this list for a while, eventually watching every movie in it. At the same time, the fledgling DVD format was very young and only a handful of these films were available on the format, the others were either in LaserDisc or VHS formats. As the years passed, more and more of these movies were released to DVD and many in special edition format. Warner in particular, took a great effort to offer many of these movies as two-disc editions that really stood out from some of the more bare bones releases. Films like “Singin’ in the Rain”, “The Philadelphia Story”, “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” I’m going somewhere with this, I assure you. After a while, virtually every film on that list was released on DVD in one form or another, but one movie has to be last, right? As you may have guessed by now, the absolute last movie to be released on DVD (and Blu-ray) is the film in question: “The African Queen”. It’s been so long, in fact, that the American Film Institute has even done an update to that original list and the 100 movies are now different; many are the same but there are now some omissions and new additions. Regardless, the Bogart and Hepburn fans can rejoice as the little tale of the boat, the drunk and the missionary is now available on disc!
We meet the rather small cast all at once in, surprisingly enough, Africa. Rose (Katherine Hepburn) and her brother Samuel (Robert Morely) are missionaries trying to bring religion to a small African village. But this is the start of World War I and the German troops are taking over anything and everything they can. It’s not too long before Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) makes his stop to deliver the mail that the village is burned and Samuel killed by the Germans. The town abandoned, Rose and Charlie head aboard “The African Queen” (the name of the boat and film) to head down the river and try to escape the hands of the Germans. The journey itself is dangerous enough, but add in the German boat, the Louisa, and you’ve got a lot of trouble brewing for Rose and Charlie. The backdrop of World War I is only part of the plot as the real action and charm of the movie is between two of the greatest actors to ever grace the screen: Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. The two are polar opposites, he a free-wheeling Canadian who likes his Gin and she the prim and proper English lass from the midlands of England. If you’ve ever head the phrase “opposites attract”, well it’s never been more evident than in this film.
The phrase “they don’t make them like they used to” certainly rings true here and having both Hepburn and Bogart on screen in the same film is a bit like having Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep on screen nowadays. John Huston directed this timeless classic based off a novel from C. S. Forester, perhaps better-known for his “Horatio Hornblower” novels. I’m reminded of the first time I saw this movie, back in the mid 80′s. I wasn’t the film buff I am now, but remember seeing a broken down Bogart chest high in water pulling a boat through the water. This is late in the movie, of course, but I asked my mother what the movie was and we watched the rest of it. The movie, now sixty, years old hasn’t lost any of its charm or allure and I doubt sixty years from now much won’t have changed. “The African Queen” is one of those movies that seems to have it all, action, romance and drama and it works well on each of those levels. If you’re a fan of the movie then I need say no more and if you’ve never seen the film, well I can only give it my highest recommendation.
The Maltese Falcon
The anti-hero, the McGuffin, the duplicitous femme fatale, film noir, German expressionism seeping its way into film—these things have influenced movies for longer than this reviewer’s father has been alive, and they’re things that we take for granted because they’ve become old hat. But everything has a beginning, and for many of these elements we so easily recognise and enjoy today, The Maltese Falcon was where it started.
It’s easy enough in this era to picture what disinterest talk of a remake elicits from our weary hearts, with nearly everything in our multiplexes being a rehash in some form, so picture this: you are in charge of production at Warner Bros.; there have been two adaptations of Dashiell Hammett’s immortal novel within a six year period, with neither really setting the box office on fire. An unproven director gets his secretary to essentially retype Hammett’s novel in screenplay format as an experiment. No A-list actor wants to touch it. But by some miracle, you, Jack Warner, okay the film to go into production on a miniscule budget. It never happened! There was fate or luck or something unexplainable at work there.
Humphrey Bogart ensured his leading man status, enthusiastically stepping up from the token heavy and bad guy he’d been relegated to playing for so long; Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre immortalised themselves, and Mary Astor (the 30s version of Lindsay Lohan, due to her rather saucy extracurricular activity) owned the part of the duplicitous femme fatale.
Sam Spade is a private detective ensnared in a web of murder and deceit when a woman hires him to tail a man. When his partner is killed, and the police start sniffing around him as a suspect, Spade must use all his wiles to get to the bottom of what really happened, and discover who the bad guy is before it’s too late.
A story that’s since been told a thousand times, right? But back then, no one had executed it with the subtext and skill that John Huston did. In a post Code era, where everything edging on morality was questioned, you have a leading man as morally ambiguous as the people his chasing. The rapid fire dialogue, the juxtaposition of their words against their true meanings, told through the subtlety of a glance or a movement—few have approached the economy and effectiveness of this film for doing it like that. Many have tried.
This was also the film that created a genre all of its own. Low angles (though Citizen Kane employed this technique for different purposes earlier), harsh highlights and inky blacks, the atmospheric use and embracing of shadow, sinister silhouettes and ominous artefacts subtly for-telling doom. The cinematography is so brilliant an entire league of films imitated its execution.
This is the blueprint gumshoe movie by which all others that have followed are measured, and none of them have matched its originality and class. It’s really no wonder that it made Humphrey Bogart a star and gave long and acclaimed careers to nearly everyone involved.
Video: How’s it look?
After looking at all of these transfers, they’re the same ones used in the stand alone version of these films. That’s to say, these haven’t been given new digital restorations – they’re the same discs that have been available for a few years.
This is the second incarnation of Casablanca on Blu-ray and this 70th Anniversary Edition boasts an all-new 4K scan by Warner. Looking back on my review of the previous Blu-ray, it was given a perfect score and let’s just say that there’s really no room for improvement as far as the scores go. It’s amazing. I will say that this looks a bit better in regard to contrast, it seems to be a bit more rich and have a tad bit more depth than the previous Blu-ray. The 1.33:1 AVC HD image is full frame, so don’t expect it to fill up your HDTV, but don’t assume that it won’t look phenomenal. It does. Detail seems consistent with the previous release. I’m not sure if there was a need for a new transfer, but we do have what has got to be the best-looking version of this film to date (and this has been a staple of Warner’s catalog since there was such a thing). If there’s anyone out there that doubts that a 70 year-old film can’t look this good, just pop in this disc and your worries will be erased.
The Maltese Falcon
The Maltese Falcon has been graced with an utterly superb 1080p black and white presentation that will leave fans leaping for joy. The Maltese Falcon is replete with unusual low camera angles and intricate setups that draw one into the film, and all I can say is that this presentation makes the most of Arthur Edeson’s smooth, velvety and utterly wonderful cinematography, thus allowing one to take away a new appreciation for his craftsmanship. Image sharpness and fine detail are impressive, with only a small number of shots coming across as soft- most of which contain some level of process work. The fine gained image displays exquisite texturing, with the herringbone pattern in many of the fabrics plainly standing out. Grayscale is incredible, running all the way from deep rich blacks to pure whites. Contrast does get a bit blown out on occasion, but the effect appears intentional. The elements from which THE MALTESE FALCON has been transferred appear to have been digitally scrubbed of blemishes, without compromise to the grain structure.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is more than 60 years old now, but to look at this new Blu-ray, it’s a bit hard to believe. The 1.33:1 VC-1 HD transfer does the film justice as the images look smooth and clean for the most part. There are a few scenes that have some dirt and grain in the background, but by and large this is far and away the best the film has ever looked. The film is black and white and, as such, it places a little more emphasis on the contrast and the black levels. Detail has been improved as well, we can see every pore on Bogart’s aging face, the patters on the shirts and the grain of the gold in their hands. While the movie won’t fill your entire HD screen, that’s quite alright. “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” looks as good or better than any 60 year old film I’ve seen on Blu-ray.
The African Queen
“The African Queen” is one of those moves that came out just before widescreen films were showing up and as such, the 1.37:1 full-frame transfer will be window-boxed on your HDTV. Still, this isn’t a totally bad thing as I’ve seen this movie on VHS and even basic cable and let me assure you that the picture quality is significantly improved with this initial Blu-ray release. There’s a sticker on the front of the box that claims this movie as been “meticulously restored” and I believe it. From the opening credits, the film has a saturation of colors that I’d not seen before. Upon previous viewings this had a very washed out feeling to it with no real depth. I’m happy to say that this does as good as I’ve ever seen it. Granted, it doesn’t hold a candle to the modern-day transfers out there. Still, we’ve waited a long, long time for this movie to be on DVD and Blu-ray, so Paramount did do this right.
Audio: How’s it sound?
In addition to a new transfer, we also get a DTS HD Master Audio 1.0 mix. Granted, it’s still a mono mix in that it’ll still have its limits, but there seems to be a lack of distortion on this mix that wasn’t present in any of the others. As anyone knows, dialogue is at the heart of the film and certainly a movie as quoted as this will have every recognizable line sounding its best. Again, as with the audio, I really didn’t think there was any room for improvement here but evidently there was. This is, without a doubt, the best the movie has ever sounded.
The Maltese Falcon
I have to say the sound quality impresses for a film of this vintage. Certainly, there are decided limitations to the fidelity, especially at the top and bottom ends, but the track sounds more robust here than it has in the past. Adolph Deutsch’s music comes across rather nicely, without sounding tinny. Most signs of background hiss and noise have been cleaned up in the mastering process, which leaves a generally smooth quality to the soundtrack. Dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to understand.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
The sound is a mono mix and while mono isn’t bad, it’s a bit odd when we’re used to sounds of all types coming out of every channel, it takes a bit of getting used to. The soundtrack of “Sierra Madre” helps establish the mood and it varies from that of impending doom, to almost a happy circus theme from time to time (I compare it with that of “Jaws”). There is the slightest bit of distortion in some scenes and Bogart’s words seem to have a somewhat raspy sense to them. I have to admit that I’m “on the fence” when it comes to re-mastering older mono films into that of 5.1 sound. Yes, the sound will be a little more robust, but for the purists out there, mono is the way to go. It doesn’t matter, I suppose, as that isn’t the case here. What you’ll get is a great representation of the original mono soundtrack.
The African Queen
Audio-wise this won’t be the disc you pop in to demo your system, there are plenty of other movies for that. “The African Queen” sports a Dolby Digital mono track that sounds pretty darn good. Granted, with a mono track the audio options are severely limited as we only get sound out of one channel, but the sound is strong and doesn’t have that “hissed” or “dated” feel to it like some films of this age. There are a few times in the movie where there was some faux surround sounds like the mosquitoes and some insect chirps from the river, but they’re few and far between. Dialogue is very consistent and strong as well. Like the video, this is a good track but can’t hold a candle to the modern-day soundtracks out there.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The supplements for all four films are the exact same as the stand alone versions. The only real benefit to buying this collection is if you don’t already own these four films (and any movie-lover should), and they’ll take up a bit less space on your shelf than the four individual Blu-ray’s (or the massive Casablanca 70th Edition Blu-ray). The only real addition is the inclusion of four art cards, one for each movie. They’re interesting, but I wouldn’t say they’re the reason to add these to your collection if you don’t have to. Having said that, here’s what to expect:
- Audio Commentary – The late, nooed film critic Roger Ebert, who also recorded a track forCitizen Kane (among others) provides the first track. I find his commentary tracks to be very insightful and informative. Ebert, a movie buff above all else, knows his stuff and points out things that most of us wouldn’t even think to notice (camera angles, lighting and facts about the set) and if it’s a “learning experience” that you’re after; Ebert’s track is a must for any true fan of the movie.
- Audio Commentary – Also included is a second track by film historian, Rudy Behlmer. Behlmer’s track is informative as well, but much less enthusiastic than Ebert’s. While he knows his stuff, he can’t really communicate it in a way that the common person can appreciate.
- Introduction by Lauren Bacall – Bacall introduces the film.
- Additional Scenes and Outtakes – Minus sound, but still impressive nonetheless for a film of this age.
- Scoring Session Outtakes – Essentially the same as above, only with the score instead of scenes.
- Bacall on Bogart – A documentary of the life and times of the most celebrated actor of all-time. The man’s entire life is covered here and almost no stone is left unturned. Conveniently divided into chapter stops, this allows quick access to most any part of his life. The documentary is somewhat “dated” as it was made in the late 80′s, but considering the whole thing is a retrospective, it shouldn’t matter much.
- You Must Remember This: A Tribute to Casablanca – A newer documentary (circa. 1998) that’s a tribute to the movie itself. “You Must Remember This: A Tribute to Casablanca” is just over a half-hour long. This contains remembrances from the folks who were working on the film (yes, some are still alive) and details a lot of good information about the movie.
- As Time Goes By: The Children Remember – Interviewed are the children of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman as they reflect on the careers of their parents.
- Production Research Gallery – A photo gallery.
- Casablanca Cartoon – A truly unique Warner Brothers cartoon and a take off on the film.
- Who Holds Tomorrow? Television episode from 1955 – The entire episode is included.
- Radio version of Casablanca with the stars from the film – The three stars of the film reunite and perform the radio version of the film.
- Theatrical Trailers
The Maltese Falcon
- Audio Commentary – Bogart biographer Eric Lax sits down and delivers a pretty insightful and informative commentary track. This isn’t new to the Blu-ray, but fans of the film will enjoy it nonetheless.
- The Maltese Falcon: One Magnificent Bird – A look at the making of the film.
- Breakdowns of 1941: Studio Blooper Reel – As the name entails, some outtakes of the vintage decree.
- Makeup Tests – we get a loo at some of the stars and their makeup tests.
- Becoming Attractions: The Trailers of Humphrey Bogart – Hosted by Robert Osborne, more than meets the eye.
- Warner Night at the Movies – 1941 Short Subjects Gallery – Similar to that found on Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
- Audio Feature: 3 Bonus Radio Show Adaptations – Audio versions of the movie, featuring Edward G. Robinson.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
- Audio Commentary – Eric Lax, Co-Author of “Bogart” gives a very informative commentary track here. He obviously knows his stuff and though not a whole lot of information is learned, we learn a lot more about the man instead of the movie. No matter, because there’s plenty more features for us to learn about the movie.
- Discovering Treasure: The Story of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – John Millus (Director) narrates as we’re taken on the trip that was the making of this movie. Interviews with Huston’s ex-wife as well as Martin Scorsese, Leonard Maltin and Robert Osborne tell us all we need to know about the making of this movie. I have to believe them when they say “…it’s a miracle that this movie ever got made!”
- Documentary Profile: John Huston – Hosted by Robert Mitchum (this dates the documentary a bit, as Mitchum died over 5 years ago), this takes us on a path from his days directing “The Maltese Falcon” up to his later movies like “Prizzi’s Honor”. Of course, everything in between is also covered. For anyone wanting to know about John Huston, this is a good place to start.
- Warner Night at the Movies – 1948 Short Subjects Gallery
- Theatrical Trailers
- Audio Feature: Radio Show with the Movie’s Original Stars – The Lux Radio Theater has an audio-only portion as Humphrey Bogart and Walter Huston recreate their screen roles to the delight of the audience.
The African Queen
- Embracing Chaos: Making The African Queen – This documenatry gives us some insight from those associated with the film (those who are still alive, anyway) the trip as to how the movie made it from book to screen, how it was produced, cast and the adventures that Bogart, Hepburn, Bacall and Huston had in Africa.