Casablanca (1943)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Peter Lorre, Paul Henreidt
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Deleted Scenes, Outtakes, Documentary, Featurettes, Short Films, Radioplay and much more

Although "Casablanca" had been released previously on DVD, it somehow failed to make the sort of impact in the market that one would have hoped for, for such a highly regarded movie. Now, Warner Home Video has decided to celebrate the movie’s 60th Anniversary in style with a 2-disc Special Edition. And what a celebration it is.

Although the story may be familiar to everyone already, here’s a brief recap of one of Hollywood’s most beloved movies. During World War II the Moroccon town of Casablanca was a safe haven for many fugitives trying to escape the grasp of the Germans. Under French protection here, they could prepare for their hopeful escape to America, and as such Casablanca was virtually a bazaar for papers and new identities.
One day two German couriers are murdered in the desert. They were carrying important travel papers that gave the possessor absolute immunity and security during a passage. These sort of papers were, of course, priceless during this period of time and Mr. Ugarte (Peter Lorre) has made these papers his own in order to help get the German revolutionary Laszlo out of Europe. He hands the to the American bar owner Rick (Humphrey Bogart) for safe-keeping but before long, Ugarte is apprehended by the policy and killed. Soon, Laszlo (Paul Henreid) shows up in Casablanca and by his side is his wife Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) – a woman Rick had fallen in love a long time ago. Soon he is torn between winning back Ilsa, saving the rebel, saving himself or just staying out of everyone’s business. Rick is loosing his cool as he decides what to do with the priceless papers that are still in his possession.

"Casablanca" is a perfect movie – flawless, beautiful, atmospheric, engaging, entertaining, touching and riveting. There is a reason why this film is on so many critic’s lists as one of the best movies ever made and even 60 years after its premiere, "Casablanca" manages to captivate like few films can.

For this release, Warner Home Video has once again pulled out the big guns and restored the entire film meticulously. More than once while viewing the picture I thought to myself, how can this movie look so good. The restoration is miraculous and presents us with a picture transfer that is virtually flawless. There are no registration errors, no speckles or blemishes anywhere in the print – with the exception of the original newsreel footage of course. The contrast of the presentation is staggering, creating blacks that are absolutely deep and highlights that are bright yet never blooming. The gradients in-between are running the entire gamut, making sure every little detail of the production is clearly brought out. Every wrinkly, every sweat pearl on people’s skin and every grain of sand is visible here, making "Casablanca" a marvelous showing. Once again, Warner and Ned Price and his restoration team have clearly outdone themselves with this release and I am only too eager to see other gems they will bring forth in the future from the Warner vaults.

The DVD contains the original monaural language track of the film but it, too, has undergone some restorative work. As such, the audio is entirely free if background noise and hiss, and no pops or crackles can be found anywhere. The frequency response seems to have opened up a bit, given the track a natural quality that ever sounds overly dated or limited. Max Steiner’s beautiful score is also coming across nicely without notable distortion, although the technical limitations of the production are somewhat evident in his orchestral crescendi – nothing to worry about though.

Warner has packed this release with buns materials, starting out with an introduction by Lauren Bacall. Bacall, of course, was Bogart’s last wife and worked side-by-side with him on a number of occasions.

The absolute highlight on this release for me personally however is a <$commentary,commentary track> by film critic Roger Ebert. Like on his track for "Citizen Kane" Ebert is enthusiastic and never scholarly in his commentary, covering the entire 102 minutes of the film with anecdotes, details and information, always blending in his own experiences and memories. In many instances you wonder where he got all the information from, and more importantly how he managed to relay all the information so leisurely in a conversational manner. In the end, the <$commentary,commentary track> will give viewers a much deeper understanding and appreciation for the film itself, as well as its undisputed rank in the Hollywood Olympus. I truly hope Ebert’s commentaries will become a regular staple in Warner’s classic releases since it is evident that his eloquence and knowledge have a way of extending the experience far beyond the scope of the movie.

The second <$commentary,commentary track> on the disk is by film historian Rudy Behlmer, who has appeared on a number of other classic releases. Highly informative, Behlmer’s commentary is also full of information but once again I found his commentary to be a tad too dry and scholarly to be engaging – especially when compared to Ebert’s energetic take.

On the second disc of the set we find a series of featurettes, such as "The Children Remember," in which Bogart’s son Stephen and Bergman’s daughter Pia reminisce about their parents and their relationship to this cornerstone movie.

Two deleted scenes are also included, as well as a selection of outtakes, running for almost 5 minutes. "Scoring Stage Sessions" are audio recordings of the sessions during which the music from the film has been recorded. Featuring a number of tracks, this is a very nice addition that breathes life into the DVD.

The heart of this second DVD is, of course, "Bacall on Bogart," a 90-minute documentary in which Lauren Bacall remembers Humphrey Bogart, the man, the actor and the myth. Featuring interviews with many stars of the time who worked with Bogart, the documentary is a testimony of Bogey’s talent and tells us more about his life and career. Complete with home movies and backstage footage, Bacall manages to complete the picture have of Bogart. She shows us that there was much more to him than the macho image his pictures portrayed.

"A Tribute To Casablanca" is a 30-minute featurette that takes a look at the impact the movie has had on Hollywood. Many times filmmakers tried to re-capture the magic of the movie with remakes and this featurette takes a look at them as well as other films that paid tribute to this undying classic.

The Screen Guild Theater Radio Show from 1943 is also included on the DVD, a radioplay-version of "Casablanca" also featuring the principal stars of the movie.

"Who Holds Tomorrow" is a 1955 TV adaptation of the material that is also included on the DVD in its entirety, as well as "Carrotblanca" the Looney Toons version of the movie that is incredible funny and somehow manages magnificently to capture the essence of the film in its own spirit.

Some Warner Studios memos and information is also included on the DVD to round out the release.

Warner did a phenomenal job here. Not only did they restore the movie to its full glory, making it look better than it ever looked, but they also went all the way to include spectacular extras on this 2-disc set. This is one of the best DVD releases of recent memory and you owe it to yourself to check this out! Thank you, Warner Brothers.