Quantcast

Casablanca: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray Review)

Many film fanatics and critics hail 1942’s Casablanca as one of the greatest movies ever made filled with infamous lines of dialog, robust characters, an iconic soundtrack and many memorable scenes.  But you want to know the real kicker here (not that staff writers Aaron Neuwirth and Gerard Iribe aren’t already making fun of me for it…they are mean in that way)?  It’s the fact that I have NEVER seen Casablanca before.  How does that happen?  How does a person who calls himself a heralded member of the press and glorified film critic (I’m kidding about the glorified and heralded part…I kid…I kid…) never seen what is considered one of America cinema’s finest?  How does that happen?  I’ll tell you.  It’s sheer ignorance.  The blame is all on me.  I’m usually too busy in life, especially in my current “situation,” to take the necessary time to view and appreciate the classics I have missed out on in my sheltered life. However, when Casablanca: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition showed up at our office the other day, instead of my usual unselfish and sacrificing action of spreading the wealth to my reviewers, I chose to take the much needed time out of life and see what all the buzz has been about these past 70 years.  My God!  This film is almost double my age.  Can I appreciate it for what it is?  “Here’s looking at you kid.”  Let’s find out!

Film  

Before we begin, I thought it to be important to pay homage to the American classic and talk about it factually for a few moments.  After all, it’s not every day that a modest Blu-ray, and pretty good-looking, reviewer from Ohio gets to gab about such a culturally significant film.  What say you?  Well then again, you have no choice in the matter.

Michael Curtiz directed the 1942 romantic drama.  It stars the legendary Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Peter Lorre, Dooley Wilson and Sydney Greenstreet.  Writers Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch all received credit for the screenplay.  The film went on to win not one, but three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and as I said before, it consistently ranks as one of the greatest films of all time.  I’m not sure how writer Gregg Senko feels about this “statement,” but it’s written everywhere so it has to be true, right?

Casablanca has seen it all; from tributes and parodies, sequel ideas (novels, screenplays, etc…) and even colorization to an HD DVD release in 2006 and two previous Blu-ray editions before Warner Bros. put the film in temporary moratorium in 2011.  Heck, there were even two very short-lived prequel television series that paid homage to the film.  The one even had my man Ray Liotta in it.  Very cool!  I love history lessons!

The film was actually based on an unproduced play called Everybody Comes to Rick’s.  Warner Bros. decided to buy the rights for $20,000.  That might not sound like a lot, but back in the day, well you get the picture.  My father once squabbled with the Ford dealer and refused delivery of his brand new 1965 Mustang just because the salesman wouldn’t lower the price $50.  It kind of puts things in perspective when you think of it.  Darn inflation!  I wish I could squabble over only $50 nowadays.  LOL.  That would be a good problem to have.

So with that history lesson now finally behind us all, it comes down to only this.  “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Warner Bros. bills Casablanca as “The most romantic movie of all time.”  I don’t know if I would go that far, but that’s just me.  I will agree with them when they say it’s “The most beautiful it’s ever been.”  I can’t argue that.  After all, we’re talking about the Blu-ray format, folks.  Stripped down to its barest structure, yes, Casablanca is very much a love story.  Set during World War II, Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is a man torn between two worlds (I can definitely understand and appreciate this), his selfish love for Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) and doing what’s right.  That’s called virtue.  I hate these kinds of decisions, don’t you?  Rick must choose between the love of his life, a woman he seemingly just can’t let go of despite the years and what she has done to him (rest assured that we learn this from nicely furnished flashbacks), and helping her and her Czech resistance leader husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), escape the city of Casablanca to continue his fight against the Nazis.  Indiana Jones can’t do everything himself, you know?

Ugh.  So where do I begin with my personal thoughts?  There’s so much to talk about, but I don’t want to bore you all.  First of all, having been the first time I have seen this classic, I was very much impressed by the film’s production quality.  The details that went into every scene were quite remarkable, not to mention the gorgeous cinematography of Arthur Edeson.   Rick’s upscale nightclub and gambling saloon, Rick’s Café Americain, reminded me of what Lucas later did to re-populate Mos Eisley in his Episode IV Special Edition digital touchups.  He should have taken cues from Casablanca in the very beginning.  Rick’s saloon was always buzzing with a mixed clientele of French, Italian and Nazi partygoers and a wretched hive of scum and villainy (of course I’m talking about the Nazi officials here).  Rick professes that he is neutral in all this, but viewers beware, Rick is more than meets the eye.  Humphrey Bogart portrays him after all.  You know he has an ace in the hole and director Michael Curtiz utilizes Bogart’s talents effectively well here as he exposes the fact that there’s a deeper confliction going on within Bogart’s character than he initially lets on when we are first introduced to him in Act 1.  Perhaps this was one of the greatest strengths of Casablanca to me.  I’m not going to go on record and say it’s the greatest film ever made or most romantic, but I will say the following.  As Gerard Iribe blurted out on the Why So Blu text chat line, it’s a masterpiece.  If you have never seen Casablanca before, as was the case with myself, you need to.  It will teach you structure.  It will allow you to craft deep characters.  It will also show you how to build sets.   Okay, it won’t show you, but you now have an intricate example of how someone did it right back in the 40’s.  And most importantly, it will instruct you on how to make everything cohesively work from the interaction of your main protagonist and antagonist to every single background character buzzing around the seemingly huge saloon environment that manages to blossom in every scene with a life of its own, like a beautiful tulip sprouting overnight in the perfect spring-like conditions.  It’s for these very reasons, that I rate Casablanca so high in the film score category.  It’s not going to topple my love and huge admiration for modern day flicks I love such as Fight Club or The Dark Knight, but I know when to take a bow and lay down a token of my appreciation.  This is one of those humble times.

So with that rant above finally over, there’s no doubt that Casablanca is a cinematic masterpiece, a blast from the past so to speak, we can’t argue that.  We could go on and on and pick it apart, but this isn’t a film class or even an Out Now with Aaron and Abe podcast .  This is a Blu-ray review.  I think I was one of the last people alive who have never seen this gem, so let’s skip the formalities and get down to why we are really all here.  What does it look and sound like on the Blu-ray format?  And what the heck is in that big box it comes in?  You’re in luck.  I have those and answers and more below.  Read on!

“The most romantic movie of all time” bows on Blu-ray the third time around with over 13 hours of Special Features and nearly one-hour of never-before-seen content and collectible memorabilia.  The bonus materials are spread across three discs, two Blu-rays and one DVD.   We all know how valuable these are to movie aficionados so let’s waste little time with the chitchat here in this paragraph and start dissecting these disc-by-disc.  What say you?  Come on!

Video  

If you look on the packaging here, you will notice something really special.  Did you find it?  I will give you a hint?  It begins with the number 4.  You see it?  It says this is an all-new 4K scan and remaster.  Hell yeah!  Now that excites me!  Does it do anything for you?  I hope so.  The image looks glorious.  I can’t believe I’m even saying this, but I wouldn’t even want to see the bastardized attempt at the colorization here.  This is breathtaking as is with the black and white 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode transfer framed in a 1.37:1 aspect ratio.  The contrast range is out of the world here.  The black levels are inky, just like watching my favorite old Sin City and the shadow delineations are spot on.  Watching this makes me feel like I built a time machine out of a Delorean and I have been transported back to the 1940’s, minus Einstein the dog, and watched this on the silver screen.  This is how I imagined it would have looked.  How can I rate this anything but a score of a 5?  Rhetorically…I can’t!  Kudos Warner!

Audio  

For the first time EVER…Casablanca receives a lossless soundtrack, albeit only a DTS-HD MA 1.0.  Although with a flick as old as this, what can you really do with the audio?  More importantly…what more can you conceivably ask for?  It’s not like its King Kong or Godzilla.  Right?  I’m fine with what I heard.  I never once sneered at the screen in disgust for lack of surround.  The dialog was always crisp, clear and intelligible and the music always sounded triumphant.  Again, I ask you.  What more can you ask for from a movie made in the 40’s?  And the sound effects…they aren’t bad either.  I said it before and I will say it again…I was extremely impressed and overall satisfied with the production quality of this Blu-ray release.  I was so dreading that I would hate this film because of its “oldness” (I know I’m ignorant…sorry), but I was gravely mistaken.  And I’m so happy I was.  I appreciated this even more!

Extras  

Before I begin, I have to go on record and say that it’s very rare for me to give high marks to supplemental packages, but when you have a huge set like this, it’s hard to not take notice.  In addition to everything I’m about to drop on you and list below, the box set boasts collectible packaging, a 60-page book with production notes, rare set drawings (these are the most fascinating part of the book, in my opinion) and behind-the-scenes photos; a 1942 French theatrical mini-poster and 4 drink coasters (not DVDs) in a keepsake box (perhaps my favorite items in this collection).  You always need drink coasters, right?  Now we’re talking!

Blu-ray Disc #1

  • Michael Curtiz: The Greatest Director You Never Heard Of (HD, 37 min.) – Doesn’t the title just say it all?  LOL.  But seriously…Here we have a documentary by Gary Leva which features Steven Spielgberg and other notable filmmakers talking about the life and work of Curtiz.
  • Casablanca: An Unlikely Classic (NEVER BEFORE AVAILABLE, HD, 35 min.) – Film historians and filmmakers like Steven Spielberg for example discuss how Casablanca became one of the greatest movies of all time.  This one was of particular interest to me because it’s always interesting to hear how one, or many in this case, can explain how a film like Casablanca can be held in such high regards in American cinema history, while at the same time, speaking for the masses.
  • Introduction by Lauren Bacall (SD, 2 min.) – She really just speaks about the appeal of the film.  Skip it!
  • 2 Separate Commentaries: Roger Ebert and Film Historian Rudy Behlmer – Does this one really need an explanation?  Both men talk about the cinematic history and legacy of the film we are all here reading about.  Being an Ebert fan, I particularly enjoyed this.
  • Warner Night at the Movies (NEVER BEFORE AVAILABLE, SD, 51 min.) – This newsreel-like featurette spawns a total of six pre-show entertainment pieces just like it would have been shown had you seen this theatrically in the 40’s.  This makes me feel very old.  The six pieces include the Now Voyager theatrical trailer, a 1942 newsreel about the threat of World War II, the short film Vaudeville Days, Merrie Melodies cartoon The Bird Came C.O.D., The Squawkin’ Hawk and The Dover Boys at Pimento University.  As a side note, each of these segments can be viewed individually too.
  • Great Performances: Bacall on Bogart (SD, 83 min.) – This is a documentary on Humphrey Bogart.  If you don’t know much about the man, there’s not a better place to learn from then here.  Get going!
  • You Must Remember This: A Tribute to Casablanca (SD, 35 min.) – This is a short doc that examines different views and takes on the legendary film.  I could have lived without this one, but perhaps you may find it interesting.
  • As Time Goes By: The Children Remember (SD, 12 min.) – Stephen Bogart and Pia Lindstrom recall their childhood and parent’s fame.
  • Deleted Scenes (SD) – There are a total of two deleted scenes here.  If these are your cup of coffee in the morning, then by all means, have at them!
  • Outtakes (SD) – Again, not much to see here, but there’s a short montage of outtakes if you want to sit through them.  Your choice!
  • Who Holds Tomorrow? (SD, 18 min.) –
  • Cartoon (SD, 8 min.) – There’s a vintage Looney Tunes cartoon parody of the film found here called Carrotblanca.  With a 5.1 soundtrack and Rick as Bugs Bunny…what’s not to love?!
  • Audio Scoring Staging Sessions (NEVER BEFORE AVAILABLE) – We kind of have two for the price of one here, so to speak.  The “Scoring Stage Sessions” audio (an alternate version of “Knock on Wood,” an alternate takes of “As Time Goes By, Parts One and Two,” a “Dat’s What Noah Done” outtake, and performances of “Rick Sees Isla” and “At La Belle Aurore”) can be found here as well as the April 26, 1943 “Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater Radio Broadcast” version of the film.  Wow!  That was a moutful!
  • 11/19/47 Vox Pop Radio Broadcast (NEVER BEFORE AVAILABLE) – This audio transmission is titled Streamlined for 1947.   It includes the November 19, 1947 broadcast as well as a behind-the-scenes listen with a Jack Warner interview.
  • Theatrical Trailers (SD) – The film’s original and re-release theatrical trailers can be found here.

Blu-ray Disc #2

  • You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story (SD, 289 mins.) – Now here’s why this section gets a score of a 5.  Did you see that?  289 mamoth minutes!  Wow!  This five-hour long documentary is brought to us by director Richard Schickel and narrator Clint Eastwood.  They talk about the rise and records of yours truly…Warner Bros.
  • The Brothers Warner (HD, 94 min.) – This one is more of a documentary that takes a look at the motion pictures studios and how far they have come.
  • Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul Documentary (SD, 58 min.) – This one is a celebration of all things Jack, a man who many hail as the one responsible for bringing Warner Bros. into the future.  Who are you to argue with that assertion?

DVD Disc #3

  • The Movie (SD) – It’s just what the title implies.  It’s the newly restored classic brilliantly downgraded for those long trips in the mini-van or if you look at it a different way, it provides yet another commercially viable drink coaster.

Summary  

Remember when I used that “start of a beautiful friendship” quote above?  Well, I truly think it’s applicable here.  If you have never seen this before, you need to.  You call yourself a movie aficionado?  Hah!  You’re nothing unless you have seen and can intelligently speak about Casablanca (I’m kidding of course…or am I?).  And Warner’s 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition of Casablanca gives you ample ammunition to call yourself a true movie connoisseur.  It has a brand new 4K scan, lossless audio and a slew of special features that will keep you busy and drooling for hours on end.  Can you think of a reason why this should not be in your Blu-ray collection?  I cannot.  Do yourself a favor and look beyond that price tag.  You NEED drink coasters to protect your precious furniture when watching movies, don’t you?   You know you want them!  Well then…what are you waiting for?!  Casablanca: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition hits retail shelves on March 27th, but you can pre-order yours today here.  Do it!

 

Share

Owner/Writer/Reviewer/Editor, Dreamer, Producer, Agent of Love, Film Lover, Writer of Screenplays and a Devoted Apostle to all things Ford Mustangs (the real ones with V8's!). Some of my favorite films include FIGHT CLUB, MOULIN ROUGE, THE DARK KNIGHT, STAR WARS alongside television shows such as SEINFELD, 24, SANFORD & SON and even the often loathed in the geek community BIG BANG THEORY. Outside of my three lives I live I also enjoy spending time with my girlfriend and our three girls (of the furry kind).

2 Responses to “Casablanca: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray Review)”


  1. Aaron Neuwirth

    Well written Brian. I especially liked this part – We could go on and on and pick it apart, but this isn’t a film class or even an Out Now with Aaron and Abe podcast. 🙂

  2. Gregg

    Great movie, great review! I’m glad to see it’s made not only the transition to Blu-ray, but a successful one at that.