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Rick Blaine owns a nightclub in Casablanca during World War II. Ilsa, a woman Rick was once in love with when he lived in Paris and never quite got over, walks into his nightclub. She’s in town with her husband, Victor Laszlo, a resistance leader with Nazis hot on his trail.
For more about Casablanca and the Casablanca Blu-ray release, see the Casablanca Blu-ray Review
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Peter Lorre
Director: Michael Curtiz
» See full cast & crew
Casablanca Blu-ray Review
Here's looking at one of the best loved classics gorgeously produced in 1080p.
Reviewed by Greg Maltz, December 6, 2008
They don't make movies like Casablanca anymore. At the film's climax, the camera lingers on Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) for several moments after her realization that Rick Blaine's (Humphrey Bogart) plan has changed. Her perfect face fills the screen with a priceless expression of surprise and recognition. It is cinematic gold. Few movies in the past 60 years have had the talent, plot or magic to deliver anything so valuable. Yet there are many such moments in Casablanca. Warner's Ultimate Collector's edition brings them all to Blu-ray, along with packaging that includes memorabilia and collectables. The price of admission is a bit steep for any single title, let alone a 102-minute movie. But Warner did a good job transferring the film to 1080p. Depending on your love of Casablanca and use for the keepsakes, the cost is easily justifiable because it isn't just Bergman's performance that is priceless, but of course Bogart's and most of the other actors. Beyond that, the overall story, the music, the message of a greater cause than oneself and the way Casablanca was filmed by Michael Curtiz during World War II make this classic a must-have for any serious Blu-ray collection.
The opening of Casablanca shows a chaotic, wartime Morocco, where Europeans fleeing the horrors of German occupation try to acquire visa papers to America. Lisbon, Portugal was a better gateway to the New World, but many Europeans couldn't get there. Instead, they found themselves trapped in a corrupt and crime ridden city that was rapidly falling under Nazi influence. The Moroccan authorities took advantage of the crisis by demanding high sums of money for immigration papers. Pickpockets and opportunists roamed the city, preying on the foreigners. Travel out of Casablanca was very limited, and the immigrants tried to raise enough money to leave by selling jewelry or gambling.
It is against this backdrop of desperation that we are introduced to Rick's Cafe Americain and the proprietor, Rick Blaine. A seemingly unscrupulous character who at first glance appears motivated only by survival and money, Rick eventually shows there is more to him than meets the eye. At first, his life seems to consist of warding off a rival club owner, breaking girls' hearts and ensuring the cafe and its backroom casino are running smoothly, the patrons are behaving and the authorities have enough booze and payoffs to keep them happy…all so he can stay in business. One cafe fixture who keeps everyone happy is the piano player, Sam (Dooley Wilson). Though Wilson was a drummer in real life and was in fact banging away on a dead keyboard during the filming of Casablanca, his big voice and a real pianist playing nearby were recorded live and lend an element of authenticity to the soundtrack.
Rick seems insensitive to the plight of European resistance figures seeking help to avoid the Nazis. Rather than get involved, he prefers to stay out of trouble. This gets more difficult for him with the Nazis in town, who seem to be well aware of Rick's past record, which is never fully divulged but involves running guns into Ethiopia. His past fully catches up with him when the love of his life Ilsa walks through the cafe door with her husband, well-known resistance figure Victor Lazslo (Paul Henreid). Ilsa quickly finds a reason for Sam to play "As Time Goes By", striking up the main theme and the song's famous lines. Rick soon finds the wounds of his past ripped open again, and sulks behind a bottle after closing hours with Sam pleading for him to stop torturing himself.
Through a series of flashbacks, we learn of the love affair between Rick and Ilsa in Paris, the German occupation that interrupted their romance and how she abandoned him moments before he left Paris on a rainy day. At first, Rick is concerned only with filling the hole in his haunted heart. He lashes out at Ilsa and it turns out that she may have deep feelings for him, too. Bogart is masterful as always in playing the hurt but headstrong club owner. As the plot develops, Rick is presented with a choice about whether to take the final step in becoming an opportunist like those around him in Casablanca or to aspire to something greater. The ending is a triumph of complex romanticism, moral clarity and political willpower in which Rick rejects the demands of the Nazis and the Chief of Police in Casablanca rejects French Vichy authority. A more powerful and meaningful ending has probably never been scripted.
Casablanca Blu-ray, Video Quality
The black-and-white video presentation is in the original Academy aspect ratio of 1.37:1, featuring Warner's VC-1 encode. While it is miraculously noise-free, with only the smallest traces of grain, the signs of processing and noise reduction do not seem to inhibit the vibrancy or dynamics of the picture. This Blu-ray is not meant to make viewers feel like they are watching film from 65 years ago--that was not Warner's intention. Rather, it is intended as more of a museum piece that has been carefully excavated, cleaned up and restored to a relatively asceptic state. In some cases, film is DNR'ed to death, but Warner seems to have taken great pains to remove the noise, grunge and grain without losing too much detail in the process. The effect is disarming. For the first time, Bogart's facial expressions have a clarity and resolution that seems to bridge the past and present.
The only feature that suffers is depth. Watch the beginning of the film. The opening shot over Casablanca shows a minaret and palm tree in the foreground with buildings behind them, breaking off where the ocean stretches back to the horizon. While the landscape shot is detailed and convincing and the sky shows organic qualities, the picture appears two-dimensional. Less noise reduction would have resulted in a dirtier picture, but may have yielded better feel for front- to-back depth and shadow detail. But these amount to six-of-one, half-dozen-of-the-other arguments and minor quibbles. The bottom line is that Warner took pains to clean up the picture as much as possible, and it pays off in every frame of Casablanca.
Casablanca Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The audio, too, is clean but without the resolution apparent in the video. The prevailing view at Warner and among many HT fanatics is that older movies do not deserve a high definition, lossless audio track. This fallacy needs to end. There is tremendous detail to mine in old analog recordings, and Casablanca certainly qualifies as a worthy candidate. But just as the Ultimate Edition DVD version got the same packaging as this Ultimate Edition Blu-ray release, the audio also got the same packaging: a Dolby Digital monaural track. While it does sound phenomenal in many ways, and probably undeserving of criticism, two things about this track bother me. First, it ignores the capabilities of the format and does not even attempt to deliver superior audio resolution to Blu-ray adopters shelling out significantly more money for Warner's BD titles. Secondly, the mono isn't assigned to the center channel but to the front L/R as if the audio engineers are still targeting stereo systems of the 20th century. Warner needs to understand that its target audience now has a center channel speaker.
That said, it's to Warner's credit that Casablanca's sound was not overprocessed by the development of a multichannel track. And in fact the sonic merits of the Dolby Digital track are good, considering the aging source material. Dialog and gunshots have good presence and Wilson's voice, clearly inspired by Louis Armstrong (what singer at that time wasn't?) appears open and vibrant. Again, the depth was lacking, as the soundstage was not just narrow, due to the lack of stereophonics, but also shallow. I don't think any but the most critical audiophiles will find fault with this track, but I am such a listener and believe that there is more detail in that content than what Warner provided in DD.
Casablanca Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Warner's "Ultimate Edition" Blu-ray package is indeed the ultimate edition, with more content than any other version--even the HD DVD. But before describing the bonus features, let's get the issue of the packaging and memorabilia out of the way. The box and keepsakes are exactly the same as the DVD Ultimate Edition. This artwork includes a cutout slipcase recreating an ornate, arched doorway. In fact, the only way to distinguish the DVD and Blu-ray boxes is a disposable card that wraps around the back of the case and is gummied to the top and bottom. Unfortunately, the gum was glued so strongly to the cardboard, there was no way to remove it without causing light damage to the top and bottom of the case. What a hassle! Once the back card is removed, the ornate slipcase slides off. Then you can open the box, revealing a treasure trove of collectibles.
I can't see myself replacing my luggage tag with the exclusive Casablanca Ultimate Edition luggage tag, nor do I plan to put my passport in the exclusive Casablanca passport holder. Of greater interest are the 10 reproduction cards showing dated artwork of the film's promotional material. It is interesting how marketing graphics have changed over the years. Of greater interest still is the slick 48-page photo book, with nice glossy pictures of interest to fans of the movie. And of the greatest interest of all is the BD case itself, a cardboard DVD-size case that folds out to reveal two BDs--one of which includes the movie and the other being packed with extras. While a far cry from a Blu-ray case, this packaging at least has a Blu-ray logo on the spine. It is this smaller case that I keep on my shelf, being a reviewer who just cares about the movie and not all the knick-knacks. As for the contents of the two BDs--the overwhelming majority of which is standard definition featurettes ported over from the Ultimate Edition DVD and HD DVD--all are detailed below.
Audio Commentary--Since many of the principals were no longer alive after the advent of DVD, Warner had to go to other sources for the commentary. Those other sources are Roger Ebert and historian Rudy Behlmer, both of whom make important observations and put the film in its proper place in history and discuss its influence on cinema.
Introduction--One bonus you can probably skip is the introduction by Bogart's one-time wife, actress Lauren Bacall, as everything she needs to say materializes in the subsequent documentary.
Bacall on Bogart--at an hour and a half running time, this must-see documentary follows Bogart's rise to stardom through the eyes of his coworker and former spouse, who herself made movie magic with him.
A Tribute to Casablanca--clocking in at half an hour, this documentary takes a different slant on the film's place in history, as one of the most influential and mythological movies ever made.
The Children Remember--a relatively bite-sized 12 minutes, this documentary features interviews with Stephen Bogart and Pia Lindstrom, who discuss their impressions of Casablanca but cannot provide meaningful anecdotes about their parents, who made the movie so magical.
Rounding out the Disc One content is 12 minutes worth of deleted scenes in standard definition (obviously zero effort was made to upgrade the bonus content for Blu-ray); an 18-minute treatment of a remake of Casablanca (not a great idea) set decades later and produced by Warner for television; a blast-from-the-past radio show (no video here) featuring an audio treatment of Casablanca starring Bogart, Bergman and Henreid; a total of eight recording sessions that resulted in the film's score; a fascinating archive that includes studio memos, production documents, still photos and publicity materials; and finally the original trailer as well as its ad for the re-release.
Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul--Clocking in at 104 minutes, and billed as "The Epic Story of the Man Behind the Movies", this documentary is the only content that separates the Blu-ray and HD DVD versions. It was produced by Warner's grandson, Gregory Orr, in 1993 and has been previously released on home video (proving once again that Warner Home Video is still unwilling to go out of its way to develop content specifically for Blu-ray release). The story of Jack Warner has little to do with Casablanca. It is the story of the studio's rise to prominence beginning during the silent era and lasting into the 1950s, as television became ingrained in America. when the popularity of television would see movie attendance erode precariously. Frankly, the inclusion of this documentary on its own separate disc seems more like Warner saying "see, BD adopters, we do give you additional content" than to deliver any meaningful upgrade for its Blu-ray releases. It's a very interesting documentary, but does it really improve the overall package or even warrant a two-disc release? I don't think so.
Casablanca Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Casablanca has it all: romance, danger, suspense, phenomenal acting, brilliant camera work and entertaining musical performances. Few of us have been to Casablanca and none can travel back in time to see what it was like at that time, but even viewers who can't relate to the place and time of the film can relate to its timeless elements--especially the themes of trying to exorcise the demons in one's heart and the love for others that sometimes goes unfulfilled. Above all, the story of Casablanca is the story of a man who digs deep inside to overcome his own weakness and pain to make the world a better place. While it's nice to have the bonus content and memorabilia, the real treasure of this set are the timeless element of the film and its 1080p video. The price may be high and Warner's ability to fully capitalize on Blu-ray's advantages may be suspect, but there is no way to justify anything less than the highest rating and recommendation for this Ultimate Collector's edition. Undoubtedly, there will be a stripped-down release of Casablanca without the frills and priced more reasonably, but no such thing has been announced. To get the Blu-ray version, this wonderful set is your only option.
Casablanca: Other Editions
Casablanca Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Casablanca: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray - January 17, 2012
In March, Warner Home Entertainment will release a 70th Anniversary Casablanca Blu-ray edition. This drama follows Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre), an American expatriate tested when his old flame Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman, Spellbound) ...
• Lightning Deal: Casablanca Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray f... - September 7, 2009
Amazon has an interesting BD-related "lightning deal" going on now: for a very limited time, you can buy 'Casablanca (Ultimate Collector's Edition)' for only $28.99 (55% off MSRP). This offer expires today at 2 p.m. PDT, or when stock runs out. Update: the ...
• Casablanca Regular Blu-ray Edition Coming Up - July 10, 2009
An early announcement to retailers indicates that Warner Home Video is set to re-release 'Casablanca' on a regular edition Blu-ray on September 15. So far this great classic had only been available in the US as part of a two-disc Ultimate Collector's Edition (with ...
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