Casablanca appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was the best-looking version of the film I’ve ever seen.
Sharpness was quite appealing. Any softness that occurred came from the source, usually due to some light soft focus used for Ingrid Bergman. These instances created no distractions, as overall definition was strong. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or moiré effects, and both edge haloes and digital noise reduction failed to mar the presentation.
Source flaws also were a non-factor here. The movie came with a nice, natural layer of grain but lacked specks, marks or other distractions. Blacks looked deep and dense, while shadows offered good clarity and smoothness. Contrast seemed solid, with a positive silver feel to the whole production. I could find nothing about which to complain from this excellent transfer.
While not up to the high quality of the picture, the monaural audio of Casablanca seemed good for the era. Dialogue occasionally betrayed a little brittleness but usually seemed nicely clear and fairly natural; the speech lacked some of the depth we'd hear in more modern recordings, but it appeared quite rich for its era. Effects and music also sounded a bit thin and tinny, but these faults seem typical for the day, and both elements appeared clean and relatively crisp.
On occasion, we even heard a little low end; an early scene in which a plane flies overhead was so vivid that I almost felt like the track included a surround element! No problems related to noise or hiss showed up during the movie; it seemed clean and smooth. The audio of Casablanca couldn’t totally overcome the restrictions of its era, but it seemed quite good for its age.
How did this 2012 70th Anniversary release compare to the 2008 Blu-ray? Audio remained virtually identical; although the 2012 Blu-ray came with lossless sound, there’s only so much that can be done with 70-year-old audio.
On the other hand, I preferred the visuals of the 2012 Blu-ray. While the 2008 disc looked quite good in most ways, I thought it used too much noise reduction and seemed a bit sterile and scrubbed. The 2012 release came across as more natural to me; it wasn’t a radical improvement, but I thought the new Blu-ray was the better representative of the film.
Note that 2008 also found a pricey “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” release of Casablanca. Because the site didn’t go Blu until early 2009, I reviewed the DVD version of this, which you can find right here. I believe the DVD and Blu-ray UCEs offered identical bonus materials and the 2008 Blu-ray I linked to above is the same as that UCE’s first disc. I believe the solo 2008 Blu-ray includes all the UCE’s added materials except for a documentary about Jack Warner and some non-disc-based components you can read about in the link above.
In this 70th Anniversary set, we get most of the UCE’s extras plus new ones. I’ll mark 2012 exclusives with special blue print.
On Disc One, we open with an introduction by Lauren Bacall. During this two-minute, three-second clip, she gives us a quick chat about the film’s timeless appeal. In a nice touch, if you select this option, it indeed functions as a true introduction, for the movie starts as soon as it ends.
Up next are two separate audio commentaries. The first one comes from film critic Roger Ebert, who provides a running, screen-specific affair. The veteran of a few other tracks for flicks like Citizen Kane, Ebert knows his way around an audio commentary, and he offers a generally interesting one here.
Ebert provides a mix of topics. He gives us a little history about the film and its participants, and he drops a fair amount of trivia facts into the discussion. He debunks myths like the alleged casting of Ronald Reagan as Rick and he tells us other tidbits as well. Ebert gets into some deconstruction of the flick as he relates notes about camera techniques and other elements. To his credit, Ebert even criticizes some aspects of the movie; he delves into some plot flaws and knocks the overly stiff character of Laszlo. At times Ebert simply tells us the story, though, and the commentary occasionally goes dull. Still, this seems like an above average chat for the most part.
Next we hear from film historian Rudy Behlmer, who also gives us a running, screen-specific track. A commentator for quite a few other older flicks, Behlmer comes prepared as always. He starts at the beginning as he traces the film’s origins and its path to the screen. Behlmer gets into casting, the many rewrites of the script, quick biographies of many participants, and scads of other production issues. Though he goes quiet a little too often, Behlmer seems efficient and thorough during this mostly lively and informative commentary.
A creative and fun addition to the set, Warner Night at the Movies attempts to replicate the cinematic experience circa 1942. This feature includes a preview for Now, Voyager - a flick from the same era as Casablanca - plus a period newsreel, three animated shorts (The Squawkin’ Hawk, The Bird Came COD and The Dover Boys at Pimento University), and a live-action musical short entitled Vaudeville Days.
These are the kinds of pieces that might have preceded a theatrical showing of Casablanca, so if you activate this feature, you get an attempt to duplicate a night at the cinema. With “Night” on, you go through all these components and then head straight into the movie. I like this program and think it’s quite clever.
Under “Behind the Story”, we open with Great Performances: Bacall on Bogart gives us a general look at the actor’s career. Created in the late Eighties, it runs 83 minutes and 20 seconds as the actress chats about the work of her late husband. We also find many film clips and other archival materials as well as statements from others. The show includes remarks from Alistair Cooke, writer/director Richard Brooks, screenwriter Julius Epstein, writer Budd Schulberg, director John Huston, actors Katharine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman and Van Johnson, and filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich. A few remarks from Bogart himself also pop up along the way.
A nice general overview of his career, “Bogart” traces the actor’s roots as a performer and watches as he starts with roles as nice, clean-cut young men before he transitions to gangster and then the romantic tough guy exemplified in Casablanca. Often I don’t like documentaries that pour on the movie snippets, but here they seem very appropriate and appreciated, especially since they demonstrate the evolution of his career. We also find cool contrasts such as the same scene from Bogart’s two different versions of The Petrified Forest and snippets of earlier non-Bogart takes on The Maltese Falcon. The show even tosses in items like an unused take from The Big Sleep alongside the final version as well as some great home movies created by Bacall and others.
“Bogart” doesn’t offer a tremendous amount of insight or detail, and most of the interviews and Bacall’s remarks seem more superficial than I’d like. The content does improve after she and Bogart meet and we get her personal remembrances. Overall, the program remains entertaining and it gives us an enjoyable look at Bogart’s work.
Something new appears with the 37-minute, 20-second Michael Curtiz: The Greatest Director You Never Heard Of. It features statements from Rudy Behlmer, directors Steven Spielberg and William Friedkin, editor/sound designer Ben Burtt, biographer/film historian Alan K.Rode, The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World author Kati Marton, producer Samuel Goldwyn, Jr., and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, editor Carol Littleton.
“Heard” offers some biographical information about Curtiz, but that’s not its emphasis. Instead, it concentrates on his career, so it largely acts as an appreciation of his work. We hear about his films and learn a little about his methods. Though the result can be a bit fluffy at times, it’s still a fun, educational piece; it’s particularly good to hear from notables like Friedkin and Spielberg about Curtiz’s influence and abilities.
Another new arrival comes with Casablanca: An Unlikely Classic. It fills 34 minutes, 59 seconds with info from Alan K. Rode, William Friedkin, Steven Spielberg, Kati Marton, Rudy Behlmer, Samuel Goldwyn, Jr., Caleb Deschanel, Carol Littleton, production designer Jeannine Oppewall, composer Don Davis, and costume designer Ruth Myers.
As you probably noticed, “Classic” uses essentially the same crew as “Heard”, and it follows a similar motif. We get a mix of production notes and appreciation here, as all involved talk about the film’s creation and greatness. This is less informative than “Heard” just because the Blu-ray’s other components already tell us so many of the same production details. Nonetheless, it’s still a good piece and it merits a look.
You Must Remember This: A Tribute to Casablanca, a 34-minute and 38-second documentary about the movie. Hosted by Lauren Bacall, this program features interviews with Bergman’s daughter Pia Lindstrom, Rudy Behlmer, screenwriters Julius Epstein and Howard Koch, story editor Irene Lee Diamond, film historian Ronald Haver, playwright Murray Burnett, actor Dan Seymour, composer Henry Mancini, soundman Francis Scheid, and first assistant director Lee Katz.
Overall, it's a nice piece that provides a good background for the making of the film. We hear a basic history of the project and also learn some of the controversies and problems that surrounded it. This is the only place we get remembrances from actual members of the production, which adds some insight. One other fun aspect comes from a discussion of spin-offs and rip-offs of Casablanca, a couple of which show up elsewhere on this disc. The program should have been longer and more detailed, but as it stands, it's a nice overview of the film.
Some modern reminiscences appear in As Time Goes By: The Children Remember. This six-minute and 45-second program includes comment from Bogart’s son Stephen and Bergman’s daughter Pia Lindstrom. As with “You Must Remember This”, some of the memories contradict what we learn in the commentaries. A few good notes pop up, but overall this seems like a somewhat bland walk down memory lane that mostly just tells us what a great movie Casablanca is.
Some long-lost cut material shows up in the next two areas. Deleted Scenes provides two unused clips. With the original audio gone, we get subtitles from the script to accompany them. One shows Rick as he meets with Laszlo in jail, and the other gives us a comic glimpse of a German officer who drinks before he thinks. The pair total a mere one minute, 40 seconds, but they offer a fun look at some cut material.
Outtakes falls in a similar vein. This gives us four minutes and 58 seconds of unused footage. Nothing here seems as interesting as the “Additional Scenes”, especially since these clips also come without sound. Still, they’re an intriguing addition to the disc.
A production related to the film shows up next. Who Holds Tomorrow? comes from a 1955 TV series adaptation of Casablanca. Starring a badly miscast Charles McGraw as Rick, this program runs 18 minutes and 37 seconds. It reminds me of the Barry Nelson adaptation of Casino Royale in that it bears some vague resemblance to the best-known work but it seems thin and flat.
While not entertaining on its own, “Who Holds Tomorrow?” still earns a spot on this disc as a historical curiosity. In a nice touch, the piece includes many of the original host portions with Gig Young along with some commercials that accompanied the broadcast. These seem more entertaining than the limp show itself.
Briefly glimpsed during “You Must Remember This”, the full-length version of the 1995 Bugs Bunny cartoon Carrotblanca appears. It lasts eight minutes, two seconds and provides a decent spoof of Casablanca. I wouldn’t call it a classic, but it seems entertaining at times.
Some audio features appear. The Scoring Stage Sessions include various musical cues. We get some different takes of songs performed by Dooley Wilson along with a couple of instrumental medleys. None of these seem all that compelling to me, but I’m sure more dedicated fans of the movie will enjoy the chance to hear some discarded audio. The “Sessions” take up a total of 15 minutes, 22 seconds.
A 1943 production of the Screen Guild Radio Show gives us a 24-minute, 38-second adaptation of Casablanca. Interestingly, this features Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid as they reprise their movie roles. Unfortunately, that’s about the only interesting aspect of the radio show. It reduces the story to its bare bones and it doesn’t tell the tale very well. Still, it’s fun to get as a historical memento.
The audio area ends with a radio show entitled Vox Pop. Aired 11/19/47, this 29-minute, 35-second broadcast takes us behind the scenes at Warner Bros. and introduces us to a mix of personnel as part of a discussion of Michael Curtiz. This is a pretty superficial program – and one packed with as many references to a certain brand of traveler’s checks as humanly possible – but it’s still pretty entertaining as an archival piece.
Finally, we get two trailers: one for the movie’s original theatrical release, and another for its 1992 reissue.
Disc Two houses three documentaries. These launch with the massive 2009 documentary You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story. Narrated by Clint Eastwood, it fills a whopping four hours, 49 minutes, and 21 seconds and splits into five chapters. To keep this discussion from becoming too unwieldy, I’ll cover participants per section. Note that while most of the comments come from modern interviews, a fair number emanate from archival sources.
“A Rising Power (1923-1937)”: film historian Rudy Behlmer, Rin Tin Tin biographer Susan Orlean, producers Richard D. Zanuck and Jack Warner, Jr., An Empire of Their Own author Neal Gabler, authors/film critics Molly Haskell, Andrew Sarris and Gary Giddins, cinematographer Stanley Cortez, Time film critic Richard Corliss, directors Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, Busby Berkeley, Stanley Donen, Vincent Sherman, Robert Towne, Raoul Walsh, Mervyn LeRoy, Andrew Bergman, William A. Wellman, and Martin Scorsese, film critic/historian Leonard Maltin, film professors Jeanine Basinger and Richard Koszarski, Bette Davis biographer Charlotte Chandler, production executive Hal Wallis, screenwriter Julius Epstein, and actors Pat O’Brien, Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney, and Ronald Reagan.
“War and Peace (1937-1949)”: Gabler, Bergman, Walsh, Scorsese, Sarris, Epstein, Basinger, Hawks, Haskell, Sherman, Cagney, Professor of History Steven J. Ross, Professor of English Leo Braudy, Humphrey Bogart biographer Eric Lax, film historian David Thomson, screenwriter Howard Koch, directors Richard Brooks and Curtis Hanson, film critic Kenneth Turan and actor Claire Trevor.
“Age of Anxiety (1950-1969)”: Basinger, Haskell, Gabler, Zanuck, Corliss, Scorsese, Turan, Hawks, Thomson, Hitchcock, Towne, writer/actor/director Warren Beatty, directors Elia Kazan, Arthur Penn and Steven Spielberg, studio archivist Leith Adams, former Warner Bros. TV president William T. Orr, Jack Warner’s daughter Barbara Howard and grandson Gregory Orr, WB President of Production (1968-1981) John Calley, editor Rudi Fehr, author Ray Bradbury, producer George Stevens, Jr., film critic Peter Rainer, Professor of Film Studies Stephen Tropiano, screenwriter Frank Pierson, and actors Kim Hunter and Carroll Baker.
“Starting Over (1970-1990)”: Scorsese, Calley, Eastwood, Rainer, Beatty, Thomson, Tropiano, Turan, Bergman, Pierson, Spielberg, Zanuck, Warner Communications Chairman/CEO Steve Ross, film critic AO Scott, producer/actor/director Robert Redford, actor/director George Clooney, actor Jack Nicholson, WB Chairman/COO (1981-1999) Terry Semel, WB Chairman/CEO (1980-1999) Robert Daly, WB Publicity VP Joe Hyams, screenwriter Michael Herr, actor Margot Kidder, and directors Sidney Lumet and Richard Donner.
“A Living Tradition (1988-2008)”: Daly, Eastwood, Semel, Giddins, Scorsese, Turan, Hanson, Thomson, Spielberg, Scott, Clooney, Donner, WB Chairman/CEO Barry Meyer, and WB COO/President Alan Horn,
Across all of these, we take a look at the origins, leadership and dynamics of Warner Bros. itself, but we mostly examine the movies created by the studio over an 85-year span. This framework works best during the first few chapters, largely because they’re more objective. The closer we get to the present day, the fluffier “Remember” becomes; “Living Tradition” usually feels like little more than a love letter to the studio.
That’s not true of the first few chapters, though, and they work pretty well. Of course, “Remember” rips through the studio’s notable offerings and moments with alacrity; even with nearly five hours at its disposal, it can’t take much time to include many details. Nonetheless, it gives us a fun overview of WB and their films and comes with admirable ambition. I wish the last couple of chapters were more substantive, but this remains an enjoyable and usually involving documentary.
Next comes the one-hour, 34-minute, 19-second The Brothers Warner. Narrated by Harry Warner’s granddaughter Cass Warner Sperling, it features notes from Braudy, Steven Ross, Goldwyn, Pierson, author/professor Nancy Snow, producer Norman Lear, Harry Warner’s daughter Betty Warner Sheinbaum, historian Dr. Michael Birdwell, Albert Warner’s grandson John Steel, filmmakers Robert Greenwald and Haskell Wexler, Jack Warner, Jr., Sam Warner’s wife Lina Basquette, film historian/author Stephen Farber, Norman Lear Center entertainment researcher Johanna Blakey, Sam Warner’s daughter Lita Heller, former Disney senior executive Roy E. Disney, former Paramount Pictures president Sherry Lansing, long-time WB employee Eddie Bockser, Harry Warner’s former secretary Lois McGrew, and actors Debbie Reynolds, Dennis Hopper, Tab Hunter, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Angie Dickinson, and George Segal. Harry and Jack Warner also pop up briefly via archival elements.
As expected, “Brothers” looks at the various Warner men who founded the studio. It takes on their lives and careers, and it also tells us about some of the studio’s releases up through the 1960s. The show does okay for itself when it deals with the different movies, but it fares best when it looks at the title subjects. Actually, it starts somewhat slowly, but eventually it digs into family dynamics pretty well and gives us a reasonable number of useful insights about the men behind the entertainment giant.
We finish Disc Two with 1993 documentary called Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul. In this 57-minute and 41-second program, we hear from Sperling, Behlmer, Gabler, Basquette, Reynolds, Sherman, Warner’s grandson/documentary producer Gregory Orr, son Jack Warner, Jr., son-in-law William Orr, film historian Aljean Harmetz stuntman Gil Perkins, executive secretary Bill Schaefer, producer Owen Crump, and actors Shirley Jones and Pat Buttram. We get a general look at the life and career of the Warner Bros. chief.
On the negative side, “Mogul” occasionally seems a little too in love with dull musical montages. However, it certainly paints a darker portrait of its subject than we normally get from these “we love legends!” programs. How often do you hear a Hollywood pioneer described with a phrase like “he could be a dreadful person”? This is a pretty entertaining warts and all documentary.
Disc Three provides a DVD Copy of Casablanca. This comes with a number of bonus features: it includes both commentaries, the intro from Bacall, the two trailers, and “Casablanca: An Unlikely Classic”. I can’t say I’m wild about these “bonus DVDs”, but at least this one gives us a high-quality version.
The 70th Anniversary Edition also adds some non-disc-based elements that launch with a 60-Page Photo Book. It mixes shots from the set, ads, production materials and publicity/movie images along with some production notes. When compared with the UCE’s 48-page book, the 2012 package is much larger – about twice the size – and more interesting, primarily via the design art and production correspondence found here. While the book doesn’t deliver a thorough “making of” text, it’s a classy addition to the set.
Next we get a 1942 French theatrical mini-poster. This reproduces the advertising used in the era, and it’s not all that “mini”; though not as big as the real thing would’ve been, it’s still about 16X22, so it’s reasonably large. It provides another nice bonus.
Finally, we get four drink coasters. One simply says “Casablanca” while the others spotlight businesses featured in the film. I can’t imagine I’ll ever use them, and they seem like a weird addition.
To my surprise, the 70th Anniversary set drops a few disc-based extras from the 2008 UCE. We lose some text components, some previews, listings of cast/crew and awards, and a good stillframe collection of production research. The latter comes as the most disappointing omission. (The 70th Anniversary package also drops or changes the non-disc-based materials; as noted, it improves on the UCE’s book and it axes a branded passport holder and luggage tag, 10 one-sheet reproduction cards, and “archival correspondence”. Some of the latter components end up in the new set’s picture book, but the rest are MIA.)
Nothing I could say would even remotely dislodge Casablanca from its perch as a classic, and I wouldn’t want to try. I don’t think it totally lives up to its reputation, but I find it to offer a very well-crafted and engaging film. This Blu-ray presents excellent visuals with sound that seems quite good for its era plus a stellar set of supplements.
While I feel quite pleased with virtually all aspects of this Casablanca 70th Anniversary Edition, I can’t give it a whole-hearted recommendation. On one hand, it provides the best home video representation of the film to date, mainly due to its strong visuals. On the other hand, it’s not a radical improvement on the prior Blu-ray; while it looks more natural, it’s not a night and day step up in quality.
The 70th Anniversary set also throws in a mix of extras not found on prior versions of Casablanca. Some are totally new, while others got released on their own; they simply get bundled with Casablanca for the first time.
So what’s a Casablanca fan to do? Probably wait and hope that WB puts out this set’s first disc on its own in the not-too-distant future. While I like the documentaries on Disc Two as well as the book and poster, they’re just not worth the package’s nearly $65 list price. If you don’t care about the cost, the 70th Anniversary release will make you happy, but I suspect most folks will want to hold off until they can get the package’s main attraction – the new transfer of Casablanca - for a much lower price.
To rate this film, visit the Special Edition review of CASABLANCA