Occupying the number two position on The American Film Institute’s list of The 100 Greatest American Movies Of All Time and the number one position on AFI’s list of The 100 Greatest Love Stories Of All Time, there is no denying the pedigree of silver screen classic CASABLANCA ($27). However, this widely regarded masterpiece of the cinema was, in 1942, just another movie being released by the Warner Bros. Hollywood dream factory. Staring its existence as an un-produced play called Everybody Comes to Rick's, CASABLANCA was rewritten and refined into its final form by Hollywood screenwriters Julius & Philip Epstein and Howard Koch. Now as perfect a movie, as CASABLANCA seems today, the film was still being fine tuned as it was being shot, with revisions to the script continuing throughout much of principal photography. Of course, none of that is apparent while one watches CASABLANCA, because the final product is a perfect mix of romance, wartime intrigue and humor.
Set in the French Moroccan city of Casablanca during the Second World War, the events of CASABLANCA take place in and around a nightspot known as Rick's Café Américain. The proprietor is American expatriate Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), who finds his life suddenly complicated when he unexpectedly comes into possession of the travel papers that belonged to two murdered German couriers. Further complicating matters for Rick is the appearance of Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), a Czech resistance leader and Nazi concentration camp escapee, who has arrived in Casablanca in the company the beautiful Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman).
As it turns out, Ilsa is a woman from Rick’s past- one whom the nightclub owner still loves, despite his bitterness over the abrupt end to their relationship. Of course, since Rick is in possession of the letters of transit that Victor desperately needs to flee Casablanca and escape the Nazis- Ilsa goes to plead her case to Rick, only to find her love for him rekindled. This leaves Ilsa torn between her devotion to one of the Europe's greatest resistance leaders and her passionate love for a man who has devoted his life to fighting for lost causes. The ultimate resolution to this legendary love triangle gives CASABLANCA one of the most unforgettable endings in all the history of cinema. In addition to the three leads, the wonderful cast also features Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, S.K. Sakall and Dooley Wilson. For a more detailed appreciation of CASABLANCA, please see The Cinema Laser’s review of the film’s initial DVD release.
Warner Home Video has made CASABLANCA available on DVD in its proper 1.37:1 full screen aspect ratio. This is a truly superb black and white transfer that easily bests all previous home editions of CASABLANCA. For this release, CASABLANCA has undergone the restorative magic of Lowry Digital Images, which has rejuvenated the film’s appearance on video. The image is very crisp and highly defined, so much so, that one can immediately see the subtle little stylistic shifts in the film’s glossy high glamour cinematography. There also seems to be a bit more depth in the image than was detectable before. Blacks appear pure, as do the whites and the picture produces an excellent grayscale. The film’s digital restoration has eliminated scratches and blemishes from the film proper; however the stock footage maintains the same rough quality that it has always had. Compression artifacts are very well concealed.
CASABLANCA comes with a very nice Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack. Sure there are the expected frequency limitations associated with recordings over six decades old, but the track still manages to sound reasonably good when amplified. The orchestration of Max Steiner’s wonderful score sound a bit truncated, but for the most part, the music holds up well and allows one to appreciate how the composer integrated the popular song As Time Goes By into said score as a continually reoccurring theme. Additionally, background hiss and other audio anomalies have been cleaned up, leaving a crisp, precise sound. Dialogue is always fully understandable and the voices of Humphrey Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre resonate their very unique sense of character. French and Spanish language tracks are also encoded on the DVD, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the two-disc set’s fine supplemental features. Disc one starts off with an introduction to the film by Bogart’s widow Lauren Bacall. Also featured on the first disc are two separate audio commentaries. The first commentary features film critic Roger Ebert, while the second is with film historian Rudy Behlmer. Both commentaries are exceedingly well detailed and scholarly, but neither is unapproachable by the casual listener, especially Ebert’s, which also features a movie fans sense of enthusiasm. An original theatrical trailer, 1992 reissue trailer, plus bonus trailers for THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY and THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE are also provided. Biographical/film notes on the key players close out disc one.
On disc two, one will find more extensive supplemental programs. The Children Remember is a seven-minute program featuring Stephen Bogart and Pia Lindstrom, who discuss their memories and feelings of their parents in regards to CASABLANCA. A Tribute To Casablanca runs just shy of thirty-five minutes and looks back on the production, as well as the impact this film had on moviemaking over the decades. Bacall on Bogart is a ninety-minute documentary/biography on one of Hollywood’s greatest leading men and cinematic icons. The program features film clips, photos and home movies, with Lauren Bacall taking the viewer through the life and career of her late husband- painting a picture of the man, and not just the movie star.
Also included on disc two are two deleted scenes with subtitles, as the audio has been lost to the ages. A series of outtakes complements the deleted scenes. A 1943 Screen Guild Theater Radio Show adaptation of CASABLANCA is also provided, as is Who Holds Tomorrow, a 1955 television adaptation. Carrotblanca is 1995 Looney Toons tribute to the classic film, that proves to be quite amusing, especially seeing Tweety in the Peter Lorre role. Scoring Stage Sessions offer a number of musical cues from the original recording sessions. A series of memos and other documents from the film’s original production closes out the materials on disc two.
CASABLANCA is truly one of the greatest cinematic masterpieces of all time. Warner’s excellent two-disc special edition DVD release does complete justice to a film of that particular stature. If you are a long time CASABLANCA, Bogart or Bergman fan, or even if you are someone just discovering this wonderful classic film for the first time, this is a must own DVD. Absolutely recommended.
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