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CASABLANCA
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Raines, Dooley Wilson, Peter Lorre, Sidney Greenstreet, Conrad Veidt
Director:  Michael Curtiz
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  102 Minutes
Release Date:  December 2, 2008

“But I said I would never leave you…”

“And you never will.”

Film ****

Sometimes the toughest job for a movie critic is to write about a film that’s been so discussed, mulled over, analyzed and praised over the decades that it seems like there’s nothing more to say.  Citizen Kane was one such movie.  Casablanca is another.  In fact, consider those movies one and two on the list of films that everybody’s had a say about, and feel free to rank them in the order that most suits you.

Some films are remembered fondly, some barely, some not at all.  Not many seem as large today or even larger than they did ten or twenty years ago.  That’s perhaps the quintessential compliment you can bestow on Casablanca.  It’s been over 65 years now, and everybody still comes to Rick’s.

The film transformed Humphrey Bogart from movie star and respected actor into a permanent living legend.  It made a little known Swedish actress named Ingrid Bergman into the screen’s most noted luminous beauty.  It made a monster hit and all time instantly recognizable classic out of a lovely but destined to be forgotten tune called “As Time Goes By”.  And, perhaps more than any other picture in history, it’s the one where almost every single line is a classic and continues to be quoted profusely.

Everything about the film signifies “classic”, from the terrific performances to the dramatic, moving (and frequently funny) screenplay, to the sure handed director of Michael Curtiz, to the soaring score by Max Steiner, to the expressive photography, exotic locale, and timing of the picture, as America was entering into World War II and patriotic but troubled citizens across the land were searching for hope.

Based on an unproduced play, the movie brings us into the heart of Casablanca in French Morocco.  The Nazis had occupied France already, with eyes on Britain and eventually America.  Refugees from Europe poured into the desert city with hopes of getting out.  But the Nazi stranglehold on the town was strengthening.  It took either a lot of money or considerable contacts to escape…and sometimes both simply weren’t enough.

It’s against this backdrop of international flavor and political intrigue that one of cinema’s greatest love stories unfolds…how American expatriate Rick (Bogart) meets up with his one time love Ilsa (Bergman) years after she vanished from his arms without an explanation.  But old wounds don’t heal quickly, and new twists don’t help them close. 

Ilsa is and was married to Victor (Henreid), whom she once believed dead but who survived to become one of Europe’s most famous resistance leaders against the Nazis.  To get out of Casablanca and to America would mean the furthering of Victor’s work on an international level.  But can two star crossed lovers see beyond their hearts and pasts to look toward a future and events that are bigger than both of them?

Well, if you’re like the millions of fans who have embraced this movie and cherished it over the years as I have, I don’t have to tell you the answer.  If you’re not one of them, then you really should pick up this terrific collector's set and see what you’ve been missing.

BONUS TRIVIA: No version of Casablanca’s shooting script actually contained the phrase “Here’s looking at you, kid”.  Modern historians attribute the now classic line as Bogart’s own addition to the movie!

Video ***1/2

I've been anxious to see how some truly classic films would play out on Blu-ray, and this is a perfect one to start with.  Warner has delivered this seminal film in a terrific 1080p black and white transfer that maintains the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  I immediately surfed to some of the darker scenes, and found the contrast improved...more detail, less grain, though some grain is naturally inherent in the stock.  For a 65 year old picture, this high definition offering is a lovely revelation.

Audio ***

Though a simple mono track, the Dolby Digital presentation is startlingly clear for a 60 year old picture, with dialogue and effects intact and Steiner’s score sounding more potent and dynamic than ever.  Again, well deserved high marks.

Features ****

This incredible collector's set is an absolute treasure trove for Casablanca fans and lovers of classic movies in general.  There's an introduction by Lauren Bacall, aka Mrs. Bogart, plus two terrific audio commentaries.  The first is by film critic Roger Ebert, the second is by historian Rudy Behlmer…arguably the two best men to ask for in providing commentary for an all time landmark film.  Both are fresh, enjoyable and informative listens…Ebert in particular manages to point out an amusing take on a plot point or two that I had never considered before…priceless!

It continues on with two stellar documentaries.  Owners of the original MGM release will recognize “You Must Remember This”, but will appreciate the chance to view it again fresh.  “Bacall on Bogart” may be the most comprehensive documentary on Humphrey Bogart’s career ever produced.  Filled with film clips (even many early rare ones), interviews and remembrances, this is an indispensable resource for film students and fans alike.  A featurette with the appropriate title "As Time Goes By" has interviews with the son and daughter of Bogart and Bergman respectively, reflecting back on what the film meant to their famous parents!

There are some deleted scenes and outtakes (missing audio tracks, unfortunately, but with subtitles from the original script added), the premier episode from the 1955 television series Casablanca, a radio production of Casablanca featuring Bogie, Bergman and Henreid, a scoring session gallery with some alternate takes of Dooley Wilson singing, production history gallery with photos press materials, studio correspondence and more, plus original and re-release trailers.  One of my favorite extras, however, was the hilarious Warner Bros. cartoon short Carrotblanca, with Bugs Bunny and friends offering one of the most side-splitting spoofs you’ll ever see!

There is also a second DVD disc for "Jack Warner: The Last Mogul"...a full length documentary on the legendary studio head.

And this set is handsomely packaged with a beautiful hardcover photo book, a collection of 10 one-sheet reproductions, a Casablanca passport holder and luggage tag, and some reproductions of correspondence from the day, such as the one begging Warner to let Bogie bust out of his gangster stereotype, and the escape papers made out in Victor Lazlo's name!

Summary:

One of the greatest movies ever made is now also one of the most beautifully packaged Blu-ray collector's sets on the market.  Here’s looking at another 65 years of Casablanca.

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