Casablanca appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite the film’s age, this new transfer looked absolutely terrific.
Sharpness always remained tight and distinctive. The movie consistently presented an accurate and detailed image that lacked any noticeable problems. To be sure, no signs of softness or fuzziness marred the picture. Jagged edges and moiré effects seemed absent, and I also noticed no examples of edge enhancement.
Contrast looked terrifically vibrant and smooth. Black levels came across as deep and tight, and low-light shots were natural and detailed. Print flaws caused virtually no concerns. The movie showed grain that fit the film’s natural structure and exhibited no other concerns. It seemed very clean and fresh. This new transfer of Casablanca ranked up there with the best images for older films.
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 the picture and audio quality of this new DVD release compare to the original version? Both areas improved noticeably. The audio presented the smaller strides. For the most part, the two DVDs sounded very similar, though the new one lost the light hiss heard on the previous release.
As for the picture, the old disc looked pretty good, but this one strongly improved upon it. It seemed clearer in low-light shots and cleaned up the moderate dirt and other defects. This wasn’t a day-and-night difference ala the original and Fox Studio Classics releases of All About Eve, but the new Casablanca definitely offered the stronger presentation.
The two-disc version of Casablanca definitely expands on the extras from the old release. On DVD One, we open with an introduction by Lauren Bacall. During this two-minute 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 well 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 few minor bits round out the first disc. A Great Cast Is Worth Repeating offers a fairly interesting text discussion of other times that Casablanca cast members worked together. Other Legendary Titles Available From Warner Home Video provides previews for a few movies coming soon to DVD: The Adventures of Robin Hood, Yankee Doodle Dandy, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Cast and Crew simply lists a mix of participants; no biographical data or filmographies appear. Awards notes a few honors earned by the film over the years. Finally, we get two trailers: one for the movie’s original theatrical release, and another for its 1992 reissue.
As we move to DVD Two, we get a bunch of additional components. We open with Casablanca: You Must Remember This, a 36-minute and 40-second documentary about the movie. Hosted by Lauren Bacall, this program features a mixture of film clips, some cool behind the scenes shots, and interviews. The latter category includes statements from 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. Additional 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 96 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 DVD>
The DVD’s longest show, 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.
Briefly glimpsed during “You Must Remember This”, the full-length version of the 1995 Bugs Bunny cartoon Carrotblanca appears. It lasts eight minutes and provides a decent spoof of Casablanca. I wouldn’t call it a classic, but it seems entertaining at times.
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 38 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.
In the Production Research domain, we get stillframe materials related to the movie. These open with many documents from the production and then show photos of sets, other pictures, and publicity pieces. The paperwork provides the most interesting elements, as we see some fascinating memos and other bits. Overall this is a very cool little section.
Lastly, 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.
A 1943 production of the Screen Guild Radio Show gives us a roughly half an hour 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.
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 new DVD presents excellent visuals with sound that seems quite good for its era plus a fine set of supplements.
Without question, anyone who doesn’t already own Casablanca on DVD will want to grab this release. As for those who have a prior version, they also should snag this edition. It provides improvements in all categories. This may well be the definitive release of Casablanca, and it’s an absolutely terrific set.