06 April 2009

DVD: "Casablanca" Two-Disc Special Edition

Directed by Michael Curtiz
Screenplay by Julius J. & Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch
From a Play by Murray Burnett, Joan Alison
Starring: Humphrey Bogard, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid
DVD Release Date: 5 August 2003
MPAA Rating: PG
List Price: $26.99
Cinescopes Personality Types: Rebellious Lover, Passionate Maverick

The Film
As Hitler's Nazis take control over Europe, refugees flock to escape.  A key location along the trail is Casablanca in Morocco, ostensibly under the control of the unoccupied French government based out of Vichy (which, in reality, is just a puppet of the Nazis).  Victor Laszlo (Henreid) is a Czech rebel who has already survived and escaped from the Nazi concentration camps.  He arrives with his companion, Ilsa Lund (Bergman) just as a German courier has been slain and from him were taken two blank letters of transit, permitting the people whose names might be inscribed to leave freely.  Those letters fall into the hands of the cynical Rick Blaine (Bogart), who sticks his neck out for nobody.  But Ilsa isn't "nobody."  She and Rick had a passionate love affair in Paris before the Nazis marched into the City of Lights.

The bonus features on Disc Two include a lengthy documentary on Bogart's film career hosted by his widow, Lauren Bacall, that originally aired on TV in 1988.  There are several vintage pieces, including a radio show adaptation of the film featuring the three lead actors as the same characters, a 1955 TV adaptation featuring a new cast, scoring session outtakes, a few deleted scenes (subtitled, as the audio has been lost) and even a Looney Tunes parody, Carrotblanca, in which Bugs Bunny is Rick.

These are all entertaining, but the gems are actually on Disc One: two commentary tracks; the first by film critic Roger Ebert, the other by film historian Rudy Behlmer.  Each brings a different perspective to the film--Ebert's insights are largely informed by a book that was published about the making of the film, and a scene-by-scene session in which he was educated on the film by cinematographer Arthur Edeson; Behlmer reads excerpts from Warner studio documents.  The ultimate result of both commentaries is not only a great deal of insight into the film, but in several cases, it debunks the myths surrounding the making of the film that are perpetuated on the Disc Two features!

The Recommendation
It's always a bit intimidating to approach something that is considered a classic or a masterpiece, for various reasons.  There's the fear that you won't get what the fuss is all about, or that you'll discover the emperor has no clothes.  I am thrilled to say, though, that Casablanca delivers the goods.  The performances are all great (although I think Ebert is right when he says Henreid is too stoic to be likable), the music is beautiful, the story compelling and the dialogue is among the most quoted in film history.  I can honestly say, without seeing the competition, that Casablanca earned every spot it has claimed on the American Film Institute's "100 Years" lists:
  • #2 on "100 Years...100 Movies"
  • Humphrey Bogart #1 (male) and Ingrid Bergman #4 (female) on "100 Years...100 Stars"
  • #37 on "100 Years...100 Thrills"
  • #1 on "100 Years...100 Passions"
  • Rick Blaine #4 (Heroes) on "100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains"
  • "As Time Goes By" #2 on "100 Years...100 Songs"
  • #'s 5, 20, 28, 32, 43 and 67 on #100 Years...100 Movie Quotes"
  • #32 on "100 Years...100 Cheers"
  • #3 on "100 Years...100 Movies" - 10th Anniversary Edition
Only a rise in popularity of The Godfather caused it to slip to #3 in the tenth anniversary edition of "100 Years...100 Movies."  And, without stopping to count, I believe it has far more entries in the "100 Years...100 Movie Quotes" than any other film.  It's surprising how much of the dialogue has entered our popular lexicon, and when you actually hear these lines spoken in the film, you forget you've heard all the imitators.  It's as though, when Bogey says, "Here's looking at you, kid," you're hearing it for the first time.

Note, last year Warner Bros. issued a deluxe boxed set edition that comes with several physical goodies, but the only difference content-wise is that it includes a third disc containing a feature on Warner mogul Jack Warner absent here.

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