Casablanca: Special Edition

January 28, 2012 17 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

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 Café 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 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?

The folks at Lowry Digital Images have been doing great work with some of America’s greatest films for a few years now. One of their first efforts, North by Northwest, was so widely recognized as having a superb transfer; people didn’t know how to react. Their subsequent work in DVD’s like Doctor Zhivago, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Citizen Kane and Singin’ in the Rain have shown us that no matter how old the movie, it can still look superb on our home theaters. While this new transfer has garnered our highest rating, it doesn’t seem to be on par with that of its predecessors. The previous DVD’s image was pretty good; but this has a look to it that the other one didn’t. Black and white movies do look better on film (DVD) and this is certainly no exception. There is no edge enhancement to speak of and any artifacting that’s seen can only be attributed to the fact that the movie is now 60 years old. There’s movies from five years ago that don’t look this good! The color levels (black and whites, that is) seem to be a bit better on this transfer and the use of shadows that’s so prominent in the film, look amazing. Quite simply, this movie has never looked better and it is yet another testament to Warner, who has been giving their classics the treatment they deserve. If this is any indication of how some of their upcoming releases look (Yankee Doodle Dandy, Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Adventures of Robin Hood); then the bar will surely be raised that much higher. A top notch effort and no less that this movie deserves.

Audio: How does it sound?

Now the audio is a bit of a different story. The original mono track is used here and for the most part it sounds fairly good. To hear this in 5.1 sound might be a bit self-defeating so Warner has wisely not gone that route. 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 i>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?

Warner seems to have pulled out all of the stops here and why not? Their recent line of Two-Disc Special Editions are not only a hit with fans, but they allow for so much more of the experience of DVD. Though some, like Unforgiven and Amadeus are a bit light on supplements; Casablanca has plenty to spare. Starting 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 second disc contains the lion’s share of the supplements, most notably with the 90 minute documentary “Bacall on Bogart”. This 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. A top-notch effort by Warner, who continues to raise the bar when it comes to Special Editions.

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