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Warner Home Video presents
Casablanca: SE (1943)

Louis: And what in heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?
Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.
Louis: The waters? What waters? We're in the desert.
Rick: I was misinformed.

- Claude Rains, Humphrey Bogart

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: September 19, 2003

Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre
Other Stars: S.Z. Sakall, Dooley Wilson, Joy Page, Madeleine LeBeau
Director: Michael Curtiz

Manufacturer: Wamo
MPAA Rating: PG for (extremely mild violence)
Run Time: 01h:42m:29s
Release Date: August 05, 2003
UPC: 012569568129
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ A+A+B A

DVD Review

Contrary to popular belief, Casablanca didn't earn its lofty place in film history by accident. Although stories abound concerning unfinished scripts, on-the-set rewrites and a confused leading lady, the creative forces behind this iconic film always knew exactly what they wanted. True, no one involved ever purposely set out to make an era-defining classic, but the shooting of Casablanca was far from the disorganized mess Hollywood raconteurs still purport it to be.

The finished film, of course, speaks for itself. Over the years, many movies have sought to imitate Casablanca's unique and subtle blend of mystery, romance, intrigue, light comedy and topical events, but the formula has never been successfully duplicated. And it's pretty safe to say it never will be.

When MGM released the inaugural Casablanca DVD back in 1998, fans were so thrilled to finally see the film in the new digital format, no one griped about the transfer. Far from perfect yet by no means inferior, the image quality certainly surpassed VHS versions, so viewers assumed Casablanca couldn't look any better. But DVDs and display monitors have come a long way in a short time, and after several other classics (North By Northwest, Sunset Boulevard, Citizen Kane, and Singin' in the Rain, among others) underwent age-defying facelifts, film buffs hoped Casablanca would receive a similar visual makeover.

Well, the beloved Oscar®-winning film finally got one, and the results are worth the wait. If you bought Casablanca before, you're just going to have to suck it up and buy it again because this new special edition from Warner is not to be missed. While it's always been easy to appreciate Casablanca's story, themes, script, and acting, this definitive two-disc set raises a veil from the image, uncovering a heretofore unseen brilliance and depth that allows one to look at the film in a whole new way. The silky smooth presentation will surely provoke several jaw-dropping "wows," but the best news of all is that this impeccable transfer makes losing oneself in the magic of Casablanca easier than ever before.

Great films start with great scripts, and Casablanca is no exception. Its screenplay may not be perfect, but it comes darn close. The old adage about too many cooks spoiling the broth doesn't apply here, as at least half a dozen writers made notable contributions to its screenplay. The story of cynical café owner Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), lost love Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), freedom-fighter Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), and those pesky letters of transit, all set against the exotic locale of refugee-ridden Casablanca at the height of World War II, may not seem all that special at first glance. But when trimmed with bright dialogue, layers of conflicting emotions and the urgency of global crisis, it suddenly adopts a more appealing and substantive slant. A generous sprinkling of humor relieves tension and humanizes the characters, while at the same time providing Casablanca with more quotable lines per capita than any other film in history.

Of course, what would Casablanca be without Bogart and Bergman? Both act with a naturalness and sincerity that's still effective, underplaying whenever possible and never veering off into campy histrionics. After all these years, their intense chemistry hasn't waned, and despite their legendary status, it's still possible to divorce their personas from their parts. One of the wonderful things about Casablanca is that no matter how many times we've seen it, we always feel like we're watching Rick and Ilsa and not Bogart and Bergman—a rare example of how the right roles can outshine even the most recognizable actors.

The peerless supporting cast also earns hearty praise, and adds immense color and texture to the action. Without Claude Rains (who nearly steals the film with his sardonic wit), Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt, S.Z. Sakall, Dooley Wilson, and a host of other accomplished players, Casablanca would sacrifice a sizeable portion of its entertainment value. All create memorable characters and maximize their limited screen time. In the same vein, director Michael Curtiz, one of Warner Bros' tireless workhorses, masterfully paces the film, packing chunks of vital information into brief, seemingly incidental scenes. Through quick vignettes and reaction shots he also conveys both emotion and atmosphere, setting the stage for and enhancing the intimate drama of Rick, Ilsa, and Victor. Subplots abound, but Curtiz' tight, economical style interweaves them without wasting film or breaking the primary story's mesmerizing spell.

Ultimately, though, the movie's underlying themes tie its artistic elements together, and thus create an unforgettable film. Far more than a romantic wartime melodrama, Casablanca integrates potent ideas into its framework that subtly heighten the already emotional material. Issues of redemption, self-sacrifice, duty, the rediscovery of personal and political ideals all swirl about the story, hammering home the point that "the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world." Few films of the period possessed the courage to put forth such a viewpoint, and it resonated—and still resonates—with audiences worldwide. Which is just one small reason why Casablanca will never go out of style.

Here's looking at you, kid.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Flat-out gorgeous is the only way to describe this new transfer of Casablanca, lovingly and impeccably restored by the optical wizards at Lowry Digital Images. By weaving their now familiar magic, the Lowry technicians have turned a 60-year-old movie into a brand new release, finally revealing to all the world Casablanca's exceptional artistry. Cinematographer Arthur Edeson lavished immense care on every shot and the enviable results are on full display. The shadow-laden, lushly lit interiors regain their original luster and lend the black & white photography a richness and depth seldom seen on DVD.

Details once shrouded in murky backgrounds now spring to life, facial expressions display more nuances, and Rick's café brims with newfound vitality and sophistication. Lines are sharp but smooth, resulting in well-defined but naturally soft profiles and silhouettes. While close-ups (especially those of the radiant Bergman) beg to be freeze-framed, the proof of this transfer lies in its stable, highly detailed long shots. Even dense stripes and busy patterns resist shimmering, and edge enhancement is altogether absent. Contrast—so critical in black & white films—is stark and severe, and brings out a noir element in Casablanca that's rarely discussed.

Differences between this release and the previous MGM DVD are revelatory. Once considered a perfectly viable transfer, the MGM disc will now litter landfills nationwide. Gone are the print defects, distracting video noise, and flat gray pallor that plagued the previous transfer and made Casablanca show its age. One of the most pleasant results of this restoration is how it gives Casablanca a more contemporary look, erasing such familiar classic movie defects like scratches, grit, fading, and image instability that tend to alienate modern viewers.

On the downside, such clarity shines an unfortunate beacon on the film's limitations—cut-rate special effects, painted backdrops and rear projection work—but thankfully these devices are sparingly employed and easy to dismiss. Some have griped that the absence of grain gives Casablanca an overly processed look, but I disagree. The transfer both retains and enhances the film's cinematic feel, and makes it impossible to imagine watching Casablanca any other way. Warner Home Video deserves tremendous kudos for this superior effort.

Image Transfer Grade: A+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: Warner has wisely chosen to stick with Casablanca's original mono track rather than offend film purists (and risk mucking up the works) with a multi-channel remastering. While the film's source elements can't compete with today's powerful and highly sensitive home theater equipment, the DD 1.0 track produces a satisfying fullness of sound. A faint amount of hiss can be detected, but never enough to distract, and the more noticeable offenders, such as pops, crackles and upper level distortion, have been completely erased. Levels are a bit uneven at times and certain scenes suffer from a flatness of tone, but Max Steiner's memorable score (which creatively incorporates As Time Goes By whenever possible) possesses good presence and surprising lower register depth, while Dooley Wilson's crooning benefits from a slight volume increase. Of course, in Casablanca, dialogue's the thing, and I'm pleased to report that conversations are crystal clear, so you won't miss a single quotable line.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 8 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Adventures of Robin Hood, Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
2 Deleted Scenes
Production Notes
2 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by film critic Roger Ebert and film historian Rudy Behlmer
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Cardboard Tri-Fold
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:54m:03s

Extra Extras:
  1. Introduction by Lauren Bacall
  2. A Great Cast Is Worth Repeating essay
  3. Awards listing
    Cast and crew listing
  4. Outtakes
  5. Screen Guild Theater radio show (1943)
    Television adaptation, Who Holds Tomorrow? (1955)
    Carrotblanca cartoon (1995)
Extras Review: The mark of a true special edition lies not in the quantity of extras but in the quality of extras, and Warner honors both Casablanca and film history aficionados with a top-notch array of rare and fascinating material. Almost every option on both discs is well worth exploring, and while the bulk of special features appear on Disc 2, the initial disc hosts its fair share of supplements.

Plenty of legends and myths surround the production of Casablanca (such as the original casting of Ronald Reagan as Rick), and two audio commentaries help to set the record straight. Both film critic Roger Ebert and historian Rudy Behlmer provide a constant string of interesting facts, trivia and perspective with surprisingly little overlap. Of the two tracks, Ebert's is more compelling. His animated scene-specific discussion analyzes both on-screen elements—the carefully constructed lighting, intricate shadow placement, positioning of actors, and finer points of cinematography—and the day-to-day production process. Along the way, he tosses in such tidbits as Bergman's height advantage over Bogart and how the film disguises it, the significance of several throwaway lines, the origin of "Here's looking at you, kid," and the historical inaccuracy of the letters of transit. He dissects various sequences, touches upon censorship issues and notes the very early anti-Nazi leanings of the Warner Bros studio. He also points out a glaring continuity error that I never noticed (and won't divulge) and calls the competitive singing of Watch on the Rhine and La Marseillaise "one of the great dramatic, emotional scenes in motion picture history." He concludes his comments with his personal definition of a classic film—a wonderful viewpoint I intend to adopt.

Behlmer, long regarded as the classic era's foremost Warner Bros authority, takes us inside the studio and into the production's many nooks and crannies. Mostly non-scene-specific and delivered in a nuts-and-bolts, just-the-facts-m'am style, the track offers extensive background on Everybody Comes to Rick's, the original play upon which Casablanca was based, as well as more thorough examinations of cast and crew careers. Behlmer quotes extensively from interoffice studio memos (a commentary highlight), discusses how a parade of uncredited writers beefed up and refined the screenplay, and mentions how various war restrictions affected shooting. A bit dry at times and featuring a few annoying gaps, the track still relays a wealth of information that only enhances our appreciation for this legendary film.

An informative essay for film history novices, A Great Cast is Worth Repeating examines how the stars of Casablanca were frequently teamed in previous and subsequent films in a variety of combinations, thanks to their long-term Warner contracts. Only Ingrid Bergman, who appeared in Casablanca via loan-out from producer David O. Selznick, managed to escape the recombinant pairings.

A cast and crew listing (but strangely no bios), an awards listing, and trailers for both Casablanca and three other Warner classics comprise the remaining extras on Disc 1.

Kicking off Disc 2, The Children Remember is a brand new seven-minute featurette in which Stephen Bogart and Bergman's oldest daughter Pia Lindstrom discuss the film's mystique and how their parents reacted to Casablanca's tremendous audience response. Both relate a few production stories and marvel at how a "throwaway" melodrama became a timeless classic.

Of special note to Casablanca fans is the inclusion of two additional scenes, both restored to the same lustrous vibrancy as the film itself. Sadly, the accompanying audio no longer exists, but subtitles taken from the screenplay run beneath the images instead—a clever substitution. The first scene shows Rick visiting Laszlo in jail and offering to sell him the letters of transit for 100,000 francs. In the second, a German officer gulps a kamikaze cocktail mixed by bartender Sascha (Leonid Kinskey) and passes out on the spot.

Six minutes of silent outtakes are more difficult to follow, and interesting only from a production standpoint. Seeing the material is a treat, but the lack of audio hampers our understanding of the flubs and technical gaffes that ruined the various shots. Scoring Sessions features eight audio tracks of both alternate and final takes of such Dooley Wilson numbers as Knock On Wood, As Time Goes By and the recently discovered Dat's What Noah Done, as well as Max Steiner instrumentals.

Bacall on Bogart, a 1988 PBS tribute, is the best kind of Hollywood documentary—heavy on the film clips, with a sharp focus on Bogart's acting and professional contributions. Hosted with charming wit and sincerity by Lauren Bacall, this substantive 83-minute film chronicles Bogie's quarter century in Hollywood and inspires renewed appreciation for his immense talent. Featuring extensive sequences on The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, The Big Sleep and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, among many other classics, this worthwhile film is also enhanced by family home movies and a brief look at Bogart's resistance to McCarthyism.

A holdover from MGM's original Casablanca DVD, You Must Remember This—A Tribute to Casablanca is a 35-minute 1992 documentary narrated by Lauren Bacall that chronicles every aspect of the film's production—the evolution of the screenplay, the use of As Time Goes By, casting, censorship issues and the eleventh hour creation of the film's ending. Screenwriters Julius Epstein and Howard Koch, original playwright Murray Burnett, historians Rudy Behlmer and Ronald Haver, composer Henry Mancini and Bergman's daughter Pia Lindstrom, among others, offer wonderful insights and anecdotes. Also of note, the Casablanca clips used in the documentary show the night-and-day difference in image quality between the film's previous prints and the current digital restoration.

Rarely did all of a film's stars re-create their roles for a radio rehash, but Bogart, Bergman and Henreid nevertheless joined forces for an April 26, 1943 broadcast reunion. The Screen Guild Players version of Casablanca trims the story down to a lean 22 minutes (!), but the trio of actors tries their best to weave a romantic, emotional mood despite the truncated story. Intermittent coughing from the studio audience lends the broadcast an interesting theatrical feel.

Who Holds Tomorrow? is an 18-minute excerpt from the premiere episode of a 10-week Casablanca television series aired by ABC-TV in 1955. A wooden Charles McGraw stars as Rick in a new, updated story transpiring in the familiar Café Americain. Acting across the board is stilted and stiff, with Gig Young's introduction to the episode and a dated GE iron commercial offering more entertainment value than the show itself. A few incidents of dropout and distortion mar the audio presentation, but the video quality is surprisingly crisp and clean.

On the lighter side, the 1995 Warner cartoon Carrotblanca mercilessly spoofs the film with a gallery of Looney Tunes characters. Daffy Duck, as Sam, sings a hilariously violent Knock on Wood, Bugs Bunny makes an appropriately suave Rick, but Tweety Bird steals the show with his dead-on impersonation of Peter Lorre's Ugarte. Bright, vivid colors and a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track really light up this fun diversion.

Finally, hardcore film and Casablanca buffs will devour the Production Research section, which offers tremendous insight into the film's production and the inner workings of the studio system during Hollywood's Golden Age. Through the duplication of 40 documents (most inter-office memos), we learn about the film's shooting schedule and production delays, see original cutting notes and press releases (including one transitioning Bogart from tough-guy villain to romantic lead), and absorb several fascinating tidbits, such as the brief consideration of both Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne for the role of a female "Sam." Memo highlights include studio chief Jack Warner grousing about excessive takes and film waste, and producer Hal Wallis chiding the crew for various mistakes and prodding director Michael Curtiz to adhere to a firmer schedule. Fifty black & white production stills, including shots of sets and exteriors, publicity photos and poster art, enhance the documentation.

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

As time goes by, Casablanca only gets better. At last, this beloved classic has received the opulent special edition treatment it so richly deserves, and Warner has pulled out all the stops to make this deluxe two-disc release definitive. The exceptional digitally restored transfer and treasure chest of absorbing extras give the term "movie heaven" new meaning. Without question, this superior DVD package demands a spot in every film fan's personal library and earns the highest possible recommendation.

 


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