It’s hard to really say anything at all about this film that hasn’t already been said before. No doubt the most beloved film in America, perhaps even the world, Casablanca is one of those timeless classics that would have you hard pressed to find people who don’t enjoy it.
The funny thing is, none of the cast or crew really had any idea that they were making such a remarkable film. In fact, a lot of people thought the film would flop as it had a lot of things going against it.
It was adapted from an unproduced play for starters. There was also a six week delay in production and the movie ended up going over budget. To make things worse, not only was star Ingrid Bergman two inches taller than her co-star Humphrey Bogart (which was an issue) but the film also had to be shot in sequence because the screenplay wasn’t done when they started to film. Despite all this, it has become one of the most loved films of all time and seventy years later, the film has appeared near the top of every major ‘best of all time’ films list.
Casablanca is set during World War II, just after Germany invaded France. It tells the story of a man named Rick (Humphrey Bogart), who’s an expatriate American owner of a nightclub called Casablanca. One night, refugee freedom fighters Victor (Paul Heinreid) and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) show up at Rick’s club, on the run from the Nazis. What’s soon revealed is that Rick and Ilsa used to be lovers. Of course, a love triangle erupts and plays out against a number of subplots, one of which involves elusive transport papers (which some may argue are a Hitchcockian Macguffin) that Victor desperately needs to help himself and Ilsa escape.
At play here is a classic love story that centers on a man torn between love and virtue. Despite this, it’s not strictly a romance film. Casablanca has something for everyone. Action, drama, thrills, comedy and political espionage, the film has it all. It even dabbles in the film noir genre as cinematographer Arthur Edeson (who also shot The Maltese Falcon) uses lighting and shadows very effectively. It transcends the typical staples of the romance genre and that’s one of the reasons it has such a broad appeal.
I’m not going to bother diving into a full out analysis of why this film is so great, mostly because I don’t want to bore you as I’m sure you’ve read the countless other love letters out there that people have written for this film. That being said, I do want to share a few quick thoughts.
Firstly, I NEED to mention Mr. Humphrey Bogart. The actor really made a name for himself the year before with The Maltese Falcon but he was instantly thrust into stardom after Casablanca. After the film, he became the biggest and highest paid movie star in the world. His character Rick Blaine is one of cinema’s best and his on screen chemistry with co-star Ingrid Bergman is fantastic, it feels so human and so real.
While the entire cast is impeccable, it is Bogart’s movie and he nails every scene he’s in. He’s suave, sophisticated and immensely watchable. He proved himself as a supporting actor in the 30’s and after High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon he really started to put himself on the map. It was Casablanca though that made him the legend he is today. He’s just so damn good in the film and his character is perfectly crafted. This is one of cinema’s greatest roles and no matter how many times I watch the film, I never get tired of watching Bogart portray Rick Blaine.
It’s not that Casablanca particularly innovated in any way, it didn’t. It just does everything so well. The acting, script, direction, everything, it’s all perfect. The reason the film appears on so many ‘best of all time’ lists is simply because the appeal is universal.
People may argue Citizen Kane is a better film but it is also a film that appeals more to people who study cinema and filmmaking. Casablanca however, can be loved and appreciated by just about anyone. Citizen Kane may be more impressive on a technical front, but Casablanca just touches people in a way that Citizen Kane doesn’t. Citizen Kane is a bit cold and distant and while its technical feats can’t be ignored, it doesn’t have that warm and good-hearted feeling that Casablanca does.
Everything in Casablanca just hits that level of perfection and as the film progresses, you can feel that you’re watching something special. It embodies so many timeless values and the ebb and flow in its dialogue is immensely pleasing to the ears. Really, this is just a perfect example of what can be created when everything aligns in a flawless way. The directing, editing, music, writing, acting, story etc, nothing can be faulted. Casablanca may be a clichéd choice for best film of all time but there’s a reason that so many people bestow that honour upon it, it’s because it deserves it.
No matter how many crummy movies come out, never forget, we’ll always have Casablanca. Here’s looking at you kid!
To go along with their perfect film, Warner Bros. has provided a perfect Blu-Ray package too. Being a catalog title, it’d be fair for some minor issues to be present with the audio/video. But that’s not the case here. Casablanca looks and sounds absolutely stunning. The beautiful 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer is a pleasure to watch.
The film’s original source is brought to life marvellously, film preservationists everywhere will be pleased. Devoid of any blemishes, the picture is impeccable. Deep blacks and excellent detail standout and the strong contrast is clear in every scene. All the film’s elements scream pristine and crisp. The whole thing just feels very authentic and for a black and white picture from the 1940’s, it looks absolutely incredible.
Sound-wise, the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 works wonders. Dialogue is reproduced with astounding clarity and though there isn’t much range, what we do have here can not be faulted. Max Steiner’s orchestral score sounds fantastic and effects come through strong. Being a 1940’s film, this isn’t the most exhaustive or robust audio track but for what it is, it’s perfect.
Now for the best part of this package, the extras. Aside from the special features on the discs (which total roughly 14 hours), we get collectible packaging, a 60-page book that offers a fantastic look at the film and its production, a 1942 French theatrical mini-poster and 4 drink coasters in a keepsake box.
As for the discs themselves, here’s what they house.
- Michael Curtiz: The Greatest Director You Never Heard Of – This is a roughly 40 minute documentary that feautres various filmmakers discussing the life and work of director Michael Curtiz. Being not too familiar with Curtiz, I found this feature very interesting it really opened my eyes to the director’s body of work.
- Casablanca: An Unlikely Classic – This half hour documentary looks at the legacy of Casablanca and examines how it went onto become one of the greatest films of all time.
- Introduction by Lauren Bacall – A very brief introduction to the film which doesn’t add much value.
- 2 Separate Commentaries: Roger Ebert and Film Historian Rudy Behlmer – Two thoroughly enjoyable and very informative commentaries that features commentators who really know what they’re talking about. They offer up a lot of insight and opinion, all of which is appreciated.
- Warner Night at the Movies – This is a neat feature that runs roughly an hour. It’s a newsreel that features six pre-show pieces that would have shown had you seen the film theatrically in the 40’s. Amongst these pieces are short films, a trailer, a cartoon, a newsreel and more.
- Great Performances: Bacall on Bogart – An hour and a half documentary on the great Humphrey Bogart, one of cinema’s best actors. Being a huge Bogart fan, I loved this feature and like with most of the documentaries here, it taught me a lot of things that I never knew.
- You Must Remember This: A Tribute to Casablanca – A half hour documentary on the film which is like the title says, a tribute.
- As Time Goes By: The Children Remember – Stephen Bogart and Pia Lindstrom discuss their parents’ fame.
- Deleted Scenes
- Who Holds Tomorrow? – A TV remake of the film
- Cartoon – A Looney Tunes parody of the film
- Audio Scoring Staging Sessions
- 11/19/47 Vox Pop Radio Broadcast
- Theatrical Trailers
- You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story – An epic five hour documentary that looks at the one and only Warner Bros. studio. This is a must watch for any film fan and despite its incredibly long runtime, it’s a superb documentary that I thoroughly enjoyed. Very informative and interesting and anyone with any interest in Hollywood or the film business in general should check this one out.
- The Brothers Warner – An hour and a half documentary focusing on the men who built Warner Bros. Like the documentary above, and the one below, this is a fascinating look at Warner Bros. and how it was shaped and built.
- Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul Documentary – A one hour look at Mr. Jack L. Warner, who of course is one of the founding members of Warner Bros. and was instrumental in the studio’s success. Once again, a great watch for any film fan.
So, where does this all leave us? Well, to be quite frank, it leaves us with one of the best Blu-Rays of, well, all time. The 70th Anniversary Blu-Ray of Casablanca is, like the movie itself, perfect. This is a Blu-Ray that needs to be in your collection, whether you’ve already seen the film or not. Seriously, if you can only buy one Blu-Ray this year, make it this one. Casablanca is just such a damn good film and now that it has this fantastic Blu-Ray package to support it, I can’t see why anyone would hesitate to pick it up. Do yourself a favor and add this one to your collection immediately, you won’t regret it.
The acting, script, direction, everything, it's all perfect. Casablanca is a truly remarkable film that is timeless and will forever be hailed as one of cinema's greats.