You know, Rick, I have many
a friend in Casablanca,
With its Academy Award for Best Picture, plus its occupying the number two position on The American Film Instituteís original list of The 100 Greatest American Movies Of All Time and the number one position on AFIís list of The 100 Greatest Love Stories Of All Time, there is no denying the pedigree of silver screen classic CASABLANCA ($65). However, in 1942, this widely regarded masterpiece of the cinema was just another in the countless stream of movies 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, patriotism 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 Cafť Amťricain. The proprietor is American expatriate Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), whose checkered past prevents him from returning home. Like many other characters in the story, Rick is amongst the many who relocated to Casablanca as a result of the Nazi's occupation of Europe. From the get go, we learn that 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 a black marketeer named Ugarte (Peter Lorre) who intends to sell them to the highest bidder.
Of course, the Germanís are onto Ugarte; however, before he is arrested, the black marketeer entrusts the letters of transit to Rick for safekeeping. 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. 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 Rickís 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 the history of cinema.
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 willingly 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 Henreidís inspired work, choosing between Rick and Laszlo is not only difficult for Ilsa; it is also difficult choice in the minds of the audience. 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.
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, irony and good humor. Conrad Veidt exudes both arrogance and menace in perfect measure with his portrayal of Major Strasser, the German in charge of keeping Laszlo detained in Casablanca permanently. While Major Strasser isn't the film's largest role, Veidt created a highly memorable Nazi screen villain, one that 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, Joy Page and Curt Bois all add to the screen legend that has become CASABLANCA.
Warner Home Video has made CASABLANCA available on Blu-ray Disc in a 1.37:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the VC-1 codec. The 1080p black and white presentation is positively luminescent. CASABLANCA truly looks exquisite in high definition and the picture quality here improves upon the 35mm prints of the film that Iíve seen screened theatrically. Image sharpness and fine detail are of the highest caliber for this kind of vintage film. Arthur Edesonís Academy Award nominated cinematography is of the old school Hollywood glamour variety, so image sharpness can be variable. In particular, the close-ups of leading lady Ingrid Bergman were shot through diffusion filters and with the kind of perfect lighting that makes her appear even more exquisitely beautiful, but such shots are ever so slightly hazy in comparison to the main body of the film. In high definition, CASABLANCA appears more dimensional that it has previously and displays far more texture. Blacks are truly inky, while the whites are pure. Contrast and grayscale are excellent, with plenty of nuance being readily apparent in the image. As I stated previously about the filmís digital restoration, there has been a near total elimination scratches and blemishes from the film proper; however the stock footage incorporated into CASABLANCA maintains the same rough quality that it has always had. A grain structure is visible, but it maintains an organic quality for the presentation.
CASABLANCA is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a very nice Dolby Digital monaural 192kbps soundtrack that is identical to what was contained on the DVD release. As expected, there are the frequency limitations that one normally associates with recordings over six decades old, but still, this soundtrack still manages to sound quite pleasant when amplified. The orchestration of Max Steinerís 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.
The interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene many of which have been ported over from the DVD release. Things start off with an Introduction to the film by Bogartís widow Lauren Bacall. Also featured on the first disc are two separate running 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 Ebertís, which also features a movie fans sense of enthusiasm. 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 Hollywoodís 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 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. A Scoring Sessions Gallery offers a number of musical cues from the original recording sessions. A Production History Gallery provides series of memos and other documents from the filmís original production. An original theatrical trailer, 1992 reissue trailer, plus a bonus trailer for THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD is also provided.
A Bonus DVD contains the fifty-seven minute program Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul- the 1993 biography paints a fairly detailed portrait of the legendary studio head. The Ultimate Collectorís Edition CASABLANCA comes packaged in an attractive box that also contains a forty-eight page Hardcover Casablanca Photo Book, plus Poster, Lobby Card and Memo Reproductions. A set containing a Casablanca Emblemed Passport Holder and a matching Luggage Tag close out the physical supplements.
CASABLANCA remains one of the greatest cinematic masterpieces, not to mention iconic love stories of all time. Warnerís high definition Blu-ray of CASABLANCA is truly superb and the Ultimate Collectorís Edition gives devotees of the film a little something extra. Absolutely, positively recommended.
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