Blu-ray - Casablanca

  As time goes by, there are few movies as enduring or beloved as Casablanca. Whether it’s the epic love story, the Academy Award-nominated performances or the thrilling adventure, the film is as well-known for its lines as its actors. This year, Casablanca has reached another milestone, celebrated by the Casablanca 70th Anniversary 3-Disc Blu-ray + DVD Combo Edition limited release (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group, MSRP: $64.99).

Most fans are familiar with the story of Rick (Humphrey Bogart), Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) and Laszlo (Paul Henreid)—in a nutshell, Ilsa and her husband, Laszlo, are on the run from the Nazis and seek the enigmatic Rick, expatriate owner of Rick’s Café Americain, for help getting out of Morocco. Rick and Ilsa, it turns out, share a romantic past, and her feelings for the nightclub owner are still evident. Rick, who “never sticks his neck out for nobody,” decides to make the ultimate sacrifice in the name of the greater good (bringing down the Nazis). Rick and Ilsa will always have Paris, and viewers will always be heartbroken at the end.

The package is impressive even before opening the double-wide gift box. Nothing says “collector’s item” like an all-white case—it practically screams “handle with care!”—and inside are a few other gems that were created specifically for this release: a reproduction of the original movie poster; a 60-page production art book with never-before-seen photos, personal memos and archival documents about the production; and, strangely, a set of collectible drink coasters from Rick’s Café Americain in their own keepsake box. Collectors should move quickly if they want to own this set, as only 81,000 copies were made.

Then there’s the actual disc package, itself a beautiful fold-over presentation, with the massive list of special features outlined right on the inside cover. The first Blu-ray should probably weigh a few pounds considering all that was packed onto it. Aside from a stunningly crisp copy of the original film (with the optional “Introduction by Lauren Bacall”), there are several short features. The first two, “Casablanca: An Unlikely Classic” and “Michael Curtiz: The Greatest Director You Never Heard Of,” aren’t included on any other Casablanca collection, and follow similar formats. In “An Unlikely Classic,” movie industry insiders such as Steven Spielberg and William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist) speculate on what made this film, which was merely one of hundreds churned out by the early studio system, such an enduring classic.

Even those who don’t follow film history have probably heard of Casablanca, White Christmas and Yankee Doodle Dandy. What isn’t so well-known is that the same director helmed all three—plus 170 others, a feat made even more astounding by the fact that the Hungarian immigrant didn’t start directing until he was 26. “Michael Curtiz: The Greatest Director You Never Heard Of” introduces viewers to an accomplished director whose work everyone knows, yet whose name is largely unremembered.

Two sets of commentary tracks are also included on the disc, one by film critic Roger Ebert, the other by film historian Rudy Behlmer. Both offer interesting tidbits about the actors, production and the film’s impact on cinematic history, but Ebert is definitely the more entertaining of the two. His seems more conversational, as if he were actually just sitting with the viewer, watching along, and offering perspective of a true fan. Behlmer’s commentary, while offering much more in-depth analysis, feels like a classroom lesson (and one likely to be napped through, at that).

Included on many classic offerings from Warner Bros., “Warner Night at the Movies” gives 21st century audiences the experience of watching a film in a 1940s movie theater. First, the trailer for Bette Davis’ Now, Voyager plays, followed by an authentic newsreel, a short documentary on the “Vaudeville Days,” then three Merrie Melodies cartoons (“The Bird Came C.O.D.,” “The Squawkin' Hawk” and “The Dover Boys at Pimento University or The Rivals of Roquefort Hall”) that should evoke a sense of nostalgia in those over 30 who recall waking up on a Saturday morning to their rousing orchestral theme. Finally, Casablanca begins.

Could anyone ever know the great Humphrey Bogart better than his family? In “Great Performances: Bacall on Bogart,” frequent costar (and widow) Bacall takes viewers on a tour of the softer side of the hard-boiled image (for instance, that his first brush with fame wasn’t onstage but in print, drawn by his mother, Maud Humphrey, a commercial illustrator, as the face of Mellins Baby Food). Son Stephen Bogart and Bergman’s daughter, Pia Lindström, then offer their perspectives in “As Time Goes By: The Children Remember.”

“You Must Remember This: A Tribute to Casablanca,” narrated by Bacall, was produced in 1992 and, essentially, is the CliffsNotes version of all the preceding special features. Illustrated with clips from the film and featuring interviews of scholarly types on high stools, the tribute seems more instructional than entertaining.

DVD releases typically include deleted scenes and outtakes, but these are special because, while the film exists, the audio tracks have been lost. The two deleted scenes feature subtitles drawn from the shooting script, where the outtakes are pretty much left to the viewer
s imagination.

Also included is Warner Bros. Television’s “Who Holds Tomorrow?,” a sort of prequel based on the characters in Casablanca, featuring Rick and Captain Renault (played by Charles McGraw and Marcel Dailo, respectively), and “Carrotblanca,” a vintage cartoon featuring Bugs Bunny and the WB constellation of characters (Tweety Bird does a great Peter Lorre).

Trailers for the original release and the re-release are also included.

If all the video proves exhausting, there are also a number of purely audio features, including the 1943 Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater and 1947 Vox Pop radio broadcasts (both shortened audio versions of the film) and the scoring sessions.

The second Blu-ray disc is composed of three feature-length documentaries. You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story, narrated by Clint Eastwood, gives a peek behind the screens of one of Hollywood’s most powerful film studios.

The 2008 documentary The Brothers Warner and 1993’s Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul both discuss the famous family behind the name. The Last Mogul is more revealing than The Brothers Warner, which has a more neutral tone, but both offer fascinating insights into some of Hollywood’s founding fathers.

The final disc is the DVD copy of the movie.

Serious collectors who already own the previous DVD and Blu-ray offerings will only find about 45 minutes of new material on this set, but the extra goodies in the box and the limited nature of the offering make this a must-own for those whose hearts will ever be left on that landing strip in Morocco.

The Casablanca 70th Anniversary 3-Disc Blu-ray + DVD Combo Edition is now available.

Published on LifeInLA.com

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