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Casablanca: SE

Warner Bros./Warner Home Video . R4 . B&W . 98 mins . PG . PAL


Casablanca features near the top of almost everybody's 'ten greatest' lists - of everybody who has seen it, that is. And how fantastic if you've come this far in life without seeing it... you have the cinema treat of treats in store.

This is, quite simply, the greatest American motion picture. Forget the over-praised Citizen Kane with its deliberately 'great' notions and ham acting. Put to one side (for the moment at least) the sublime American musicals such as Singin' in the Rain or Top Hat. Forget Star Wars - there's no contest.

Casablanca was an accidental masterpiece. The script wasn't even finished when shooting started. The cast was made up of second-choices. Humphrey Bogart instead of George Raft. Ingrid Bergman instead of Anne Sheridan. And the cast worked under huge difficulties - Ingrid Bergman for instance, not knowing how the film would end, didn't know whether she should act as if she really loved Humphrey Bogart or not. To the end of her days, this great actress regarded Casablanca as one of her least favourite movies. She simply could not understand why people loved it so.

People love it because it is romantic. It's also very cool and very hip. Very serious and stirring, and also very very funny, with some of the greatest dialogue ever written for the screen, care of the Epstein brothers, Julius and Philip.

It has one of the great scores, courtesy of Max Steiner. And it boasts one of cinema's classic songs, As Time Goes By, which in fact had been written for a film made ten years earlier, 1931's Everybody's Welcome.

Above all, it has a wondrous cast whose special appeal grows with every passing year. There is of course the immaculately perfect casting of Humphrey Bogart as the seemingly cynical bar proprietor Rick, and Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa, his romantic foil.

Throw in such great character-actors as the suave Englishman Claude Rains as the opportunist Vichy police chief, Peter Lorre (long one of my very favourite actors) as the shady Ugarte, and add the quintessential fat-man Sydney Greenstreet and the sinister Conrad Veidt (whose recording of The Lighthouse Shines Across the Bay eclipses all others), and we have a series of cameo roles we can nowadays only marvel at. Paul Heinreid plays the Resistance hero who has been staying one step ahead of the Gestapo since his escape from a concentration camp - his is a thankless role. He is there just to move the plot along, while the spotlight falls on just about everyone else.

I've forgotten to mention Dooley Wilson, the Black American who plays Rick's friend and confidante Sam. In one of the most memorable sequences in the movie, he performs (and later reprises) As Time Goes By, giving us the only version of this song which matters, eclipsing even the later versions by Billie Holiday and, much later, Bryan Ferry.

Casablanca just gets better and better with every viewing. I guess I've seen it at least a score of times by now. It's a movie which demands being seen once a year, every year. The accidental artistry of the piece, its magical mix of romance and humour and drama, just grows apace.

It's not even as if this is the best work by the actors. Humphrey Bogart's greatest role, I think, was as the dissolute riverboat captain in The African Queen. And I think the archetypal Ingrid Bergman can be seen in the two Hitchcock movies, Spellbound and Notorious. But what incredible synergy between Bogart and Bergman. And how wonderful the interplay between them and the other actors.

Director Michael Curtiz works unobtrusively, in a way that suggests the film is directing itself. No auteur-at-work here. And the camerawork and the immaculate lighting - the atmosphere generated by the music and the script, which alternates from snappy wit to in-your-face sincerity - the whole thing is sheer magic.


This is my third edition of Casablanca. I thought the first Region 1 edition was pretty good - as good, if not a tad better, than the best video I'd seen.

The second edition was as good as the big-screen revivals I'd seen. The same density of tones, the velvety blacks, the clarity.

But this new transfer is noticeably better than that high achievement. This is equal to the very best transfer Warners has done to date, of any material, and that includes their Citizen Kane and Three Little Words. There is luscious beauty in the tones and subtle lighting of this black-and-white movie, and this crystal-clear transfer brings out every glistening, luminuous detail. There isn't the absolute contrast of earlier editions; this transfer possesses subtle gradations of tone the other editions could only hint at.

There is no film-grain evident, which disturbs some absolute cineastes - but this is perfection, in a class of its own. It is sheer perfection.


The original mono soundtrack is presented with a strength, detail and clarity which is free of any defect or background noise. There is no need in this movie to pretend it was recorded in today's DD 5.1 or DTS - you don't always get what you want, but Warners have given us what we need.


The first disc presents us with a short (just two minutes) introduction by Bogie's widow, Lauren Bacall, which in fact has been excerpted from a longer doco on disc two.

We also get the choice of two optional audio commentaries, one by American film critic Roger Ebert, the other by film historian Rudy Behlmer. Both are interesting. Strangely, Roger Ebert's commentary is the more engaging of the two - strangely, given Ebert's very quirky, if not downright unreliable, track-record as a critic. Yet his commentary is folksy and chatty and very anecdotal, and worth at least one listen.

This disc also boasts three trailers for other Warners classic releases - The Treasure of Sierra Madre, Yankee Doodle Dandy, and the totally sublime Errol Flynn masterpiece, The Adventures of Robin Hood. This four-minute trailer boasts a three-colour Technicolor transfer of amazing detail and brilliance, which augurs well for the movie's long-awaited Region 1 DVD release.

Disc two gives us as its centre-piece the reasonably interesting though gushy documentary You Must Remember This: A Tribute to Casablanca - nothing new here; this was on the previous DVD issue. There is also Bacall's own tribute to her husband Humpie and his career, Bacall on Bogart, and The Children Remember, in which Stephen Bogart and Pia Lindstrom reminisce about how the Casablanca movie helped define the world's view of their parents. It is Pia who remarks how amazed Ingrid was that anyone really thought much of this movie.

There is a very brief sequence of recently-discovered outtakes and deleted sequences; nothing remarkable here. The audio is missing and this is of passing interest only.

There is a soundstage recording presentation, giving us a couple of Dooley Wilson's numbers before orchestral augmentation, and a deleted number which makes it clear why it was deleted.

Then there's Carrotblanca, a Looney Tunes tribute to the movie. This is a relatively modern version of Looney Tunes; it lacks the spark and zap of the really vintage cartoons.

The specials go on and on. There's a short excerpt (about 20 minutes) from a Warner Television attempt in the 1950s to turn Casablanca into a television property, by substituting the Communist menace for Nazis. It's disjointed, but is quite intriguing - especially the vintage cigarette commercial at the start. And there's a Screen Guild Players 1940s radio production, featuring the two stars, Humphrey and Ingrid.

It's an impressive spread of specials. For my money, though, the most impressive special of all is the trailer for The Adventures of Robin Hood - now, that too promises to be one of the great releases of the year.


Buy it. Keep it. And hustle Warners to make sure that the Region 4 release of The Adventures of Robin Hood follows in short order.

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