Without question, CASABLANCA ($25) is one the greatest American films of all time. This enduring classic has everything one could want in a movie- real Hollywood stars, heroes, villains, wartime intrigue, humor, patriotism and a love story to end all love stories. CASABLANCA was a special film when it was released, earning the Academy Award for Best Picture for 1943. However the legend of CASABLANCA did not end there. Over the next fifty-five plus years, the mystique of CASABLANCA has continued to grow in the hearts and mind of film fans everywhere. In 1998, the American Film Institute placed CASABLANCA at number 2 of the 100 Greatest American Films.
The exotic location of French Morocco is the setting for this World War II story of refugees who find their way to Casablanca hoping to escape the Nazi onslaught across Europe. Much of what transpires on screen takes place in one of Casablanca's hottest nightspots- Rick's Café Américain. Humphrey Bogart portrays the club's proprietor Rick Blaine, an American whose checkered past prevents him from returning home. Like many other characters in the story, Rick is amongst the many whom relocated to Casablanca as a result of the Nazi's occupation of Europe. Rick's place has always been a hotbed of activity, but things get even hotter when two German couriers are killed and their letters of transit wind up in the hands of named Ugarte (Peter Lorre) who intends to sell them on the black market.
Not wanting to have the papers in his possession, Ugarte entrusted the letters of transit to Rick for safekeeping prior to his arrest. Now, transit papers just happen to be the most valuable commodity in all of Casablanca, and Rick soon finds himself under the scrutiny of the German authorities, as well as everyone else with an interest in leaving the country. Paul Henreid plays Victor Laszlo, a Czech resistance leader and concentration camp escapee whom the Germans want to detain indefinitely. Laszlo, above everyone else, has the greatest interest in leaving Casablanca and the biggest need for the missing transit papers. Ingrid Bergman portrays Ilsa Lund, the beautiful young woman traveling with Laszlo, whose history with Rick leads to the film greatest conflict. While foreign intrigue seems to be central to the story of CASABLANCA, the film is really one of the most romantic films of all time. The story of Rick Blaine, Ilsa Lund and Victor Laszlo is the silver screen's best-known love triangle. Ilsa is torn between her devotion to one of the Europe's greatest resistance leaders and her passionate love for a man whose greatness is measured in his devotion to lost causes.
Humphrey Bogart was never more romantic or dashing than in the role of Rick Blaine. With this role, Bogart created the archetype for the tough but tender leading man whom men can respect and can make women swoon. Ingrid Bergman was never more luminous than she is in CASABLANCA and she was one of the few actresses that could make an audience believe that two men could be so hopelessly in love with her that they would sacrifice everything for her. Paul Henreid exuded true screen magnetism and with the role of Victor Laszlo he made the audience believe that he was a leader of men who could inspire those around him. Henreid's strong performance is critical to the believability of the film's love triangle. Thanks to Henreids inspired work, choosing between Rick and Laszlo is not only difficult for Ilsa; it is also difficult choice in the minds of the audience.
The three central performances are the key to the success of CASABLANCA, however the film would have been diminished without the contributions of its supporting players. Claude Rains was seldom better than in the role of Captain Louis Renault, the lecherous Prefect of Police. Rains carries off the part with just the right combination of swagger and good humor. Conrad Veidt exudes both arrogance and menaces in perfect measure with his portrayal of Major Strasser. While Major Strasser isn't the film's largest role, Veidt created a memorable screen villain who has withstood the test of time. CASABLANCA might not have been CASABLANCA without Dooley Wilson's portrayal of Sam; it is his performance of As Time Goes By that will be forever locked in the consciousness of film fans. Sydney Greenstreet, S.Z. Sakall, Madeleine LeBeau, Leonid Kinskey and Curt Bois all add to the screen legend that has become CASABLANCA. Under the Academy Award winning direction of Michael Curtiz, CASABLANCA maintains a swift pace that is filled with tension. Additionally, it is Curtiz that prevents the film's romance from becoming bogged down in sentimentality.
MGM Home Entertainment has done a wonderful job of bringing CASABLANCA to DVD. The disc deploys dual layer technology to contain both the film and You Must Remember This, a documentary hosted by Lauren Bacall that looks back at CASABLANCA and features interviews with surviving members of the production team. MGM's black and white film element used for the transfer of CASABLANCA is nearly pristine, with only an occasional reminder that this film was made over fifty-five years ago. The transfer itself offers deep blacks, superior contrast and an image that is crystal clear and highly detailed. Evidence of MPEG-2 compression artifacts are scarce on this superbly authored DVD.
The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack was surprisingly clean sounding for a film of this vintage. Fans of legendary composer Max Steiner will be happy to know that his score reproduces quite well on the DVD; feel free to apply enough amplification to give the film that theatrical feel. A French language soundtrack has also been encoded into the DVD, as have English and French subtitles. The interactive menus contain a bit of animation and music that complements the film nicely. Through the menus one can access the above-mentioned documentary, which fans will find quite enjoyable. A theatrical trailer has also been included, in addition to the standard scene and language selection features.
CASABLANCA is truly one of the greatest films of all time- deserving of a place of honor in every DVD collection. MGM Home Entertainment has done a fine job with the DVD, so acquiring CASABLANCA is a no-brainer. Absolutely recommended.
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