Plot: What’s it about?
“We’ll always have Paris”
“I’m a drunkard…”
“Play it, Sam. Play “As Time Goes By.”
“The Germans wore gray, you wore blue…”
“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine…”
“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship…”
“I’m shocked, shocked”
“Round up the usual suspects”
“Here’s lookin’ at you, kid…”
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 #2 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 up this HD DVD as Warner has done it right the second time around (even though the first offering wasn’t all that bad). If ever there should be a movie in your collection, this is it.
Video: How does it look?
“Casablanca” got the royal treatment (the treatment it rightfully deserves, no less) back in 2003 when Warner put out “Casablanca” as a two-disc special edition. I remember watching it and with a few subsequent viewings, it really does look that good and we’re talking about a movie that’s over sixty years old now. Black and white movies look great on home theater and “Casablanca” is certainly no exception to this rule. This new HD DVD is the first black and white movie on the new format, so I was anxious to see how this fared with its color counterparts. My instincts were correct and “Casablanca” manages to improve on the perfect transfer from the previous standard DVD set. The image is windowboxed (or pillarboxed as it is also known) due to the fact that the original image is 1.33:1 but don’t think that just because this movie is old that it can’t look good. Just like the newer movies, we can see levels of detail that we thought were lost over the years. Little things, like the writing on a book or a piece of paper. Truly, when seeing this movie on HD DVD we have to think “Why can’t all movies look this good”. Hopefully everyone reading this review has seen “Casablanca” at least once and viewing it High Definition just makes it that much more enjoyable – assuming that’s possible.
Audio: How does it sound?
The original mono track was used for the standard DVD release and for the most part it sounds fairly good. This HD DVD gives us a Dolby Digital Plus 1.o track and while most movies of this time period are marked with an awful “hiss” that seems to date the movie, this isn’t the case here. The dialogue is very clean and free of any distortion that might plague other movies. While there are not a lot of “surround” effects per se, there are some scenes that do stand out as sounding really good. Again, the scene in which “La Marseillaise” is sung, is a shining example of how robust this track can be. A few gunshots are fired, but they won’t wake the neighbors. Honestly, audio is about the last thing that comes to mind when watching “Casablanca”, but it’s nice to know that the film now sounds as good as ever.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The good news is that all of tehe supplements found on the standard two-disc release are present on this new HD DVD release. We start out with two screen-specific audio commentaries, the first is by noted film critic Roger Ebert. Ebert also recorded a track for Citizen Kane (among others) and 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. 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. Though both tracks are great, Ebert’s is the one of choice. Some additional material on the first disc contains an introduction by actress (and formerly Bogart’s wife), Lauren Bacall; the original theatrical trailer and the 1992 re-release trailer. Some cast and crew bios are also found as well as the awards that the film has garnered.
The 90 minute documentary “Bacall on Bogart” is 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. Also included is 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 rememberances from the folks who were working on the film (yes, some are still alive) and details a lot of good information about the movie. This is followed up by a six minute featurette entitled “As Time Goes By: The Children Remember” which has interviews with the children of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.
A big feature of this set is the fact that some deleted scenes and outtakes were found. Though they’re included here, they are shown without sound (this was 45 years “pre-DVD” here, so they weren’t really scoring them with sound) but don’t add any new necessary information to the movie; it doesn’t need it! One of the more interesting features is the full-length cartoon, “Carrotblanca” which features about every Warner Brothers animated character in the arsenal. The parody of the movie is actually a pretty good retelling of the movie and the right animated characters depict the correct characters in the movie (Tweety is a dead on for Peter Lorre)! Funny and if this is any indication of what the Warner Brothers cartoon shorts are to look like, then count me as “excited”! There is a radio production of Casablanca performed by Bogart, Bergman and Henreid. This is similar to a feature on The Third Man DVD. The original 1955 pilot episode of the television show “Casablanca” is included as well. Rounding it out are some DVD-ROM features, including a link to the website, screenplay, etc. I’m sure I’m leaving some things out, but suffice it to say that if you’re a fan of this movie (or movies in general), this belongs on your shelf.