Blu-ray Review: Casablanca – Ulitmate Collector’s edition.

Warner Home Video
Release date: December 2, 2008
MSRP: $64.98

Director: Michael Curtis
Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, S Z Sakall, Madeleine Lebeau, Dooley Wilson

Ugarte: You despise me, don’t you?
Rick: If I gave you any thought I probably would.

This is going to be a hard review for me to write without going completely ga-ga. I should state up front that I do consider Casablanca to be one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, film of all time. I could sit here and write a valentine, but I am going to try to show some restraint.

Rick is a saloon owner that chooses not to take sides. He watches, with indifference, the struggles of those around him. There is clearly more to Rick than meets the eye, as is evidenced by the loyalty his staff shows him.

Captain Renault: How extravagant you are, throwing away women like that. Someday they may be scarce. You know, now I think I shall pay a call on Yvonne.
Maybe get her on the rebound. Hmm?
Rick: When it comes to women, you’rea true democrat.

Rick’s cool, calm world is disrupted by the arrival of two parties: The Nazis, who know of Rick’s past actions as a mercenary (One that often aided the underdog), and a renowned resistance leader named Victor Laslo. At first, Rick’s only concern with Laslo is a sporting one, as he has a wager that Laslo will escape to the West. But Rick is stunned when Victor’s wife turns out to be Ilsa, the very woman that has made Rick the cold man he is today.

We are offered a flashback scene of Paris right before the Germans marched in. Ilsa is there with Rick, a very different Rick…one with a smile and warmth. They are in love and have agreed not to talk about each other’s past. When the occupation occurs, Ilsa disappears, leaving a heartbroken Rick at the train station.

Rick: How long was it we had, honey?
Ilsa: I didn’t count the days.
Rick: Well, I did. Every one of them. Mostly, I remember the last one, the wild finish. A guy standing on a station platform in the rain, with a comical look on his face, because his insides have been kicked out.

Fate has left Rick with the only means for Victor and Ilsa to escape. Rick’s broken heart, and jaded personality, has left him unwilling to help. Can Ilsa mend that heart? And will she stay with Rick? Or will she continue to help and support her husband, whom she respects and admires, but does not love?

It is not simply the screenplay that makes the relationships so good, it is how the actors bring those lines to life. Renault and Rick’s conversations are a joy to listen to. (Honestly, Rick and Renault’s friendship is one of the greats of cinema.) Each and everyone of the actors seems to understand their character and bring them to life when they are on the screen (In some cases only a matter of minutes).

Casablanca was not intended to be an epic film, it was one of many war flicks being churned out. The source material, a play entitled Everybody dines at Ricks, was not considered great and the script was still being written while filming was underway.

But everything fell into place and one of the greatest films of all time simply happened. The acting, the direction, the screenplay…all are stellar. The result is nothing short of magic.

I want to take a minute to comment on something: There are some that say that Bogie simply played Bogie and that Casablanca was no exception. To those I would suggest a viewing of Sabrina, The African Queen, The Caine Mutiny and The Treasure of the Seirra Madre. Bogart may not have been a method actor that disappeared into roles, but over the course of his career, he delivered a wide variety of performances and showed a depth that he is not generally given credit for.

Video: The picture is fantastic. Casablanca was given an extensive restoration for the 2003 DVD release. This looks a little better, but not obviously so. I can’t imagine the film looking any better than it does here. There are no telltale signs of clean-up, but there are also very little damage to the print. There is a fine line between cleaning up a print and going overboard. They have done a very nice job here.

There seems to be an argument as to whether or not these older films should be delivered with a lossless audio track. Some feel that there are things that could still be brought forth with LL that are lacking with the current mix. I am not a big enough audiophile (despite collecting concerts in lossless formats) to weigh in on this. I think the sound is nice and the mix is excellent. There are French and Spanish tracks available (I checked out the French one and was a little disturbed at hearing Rick speaking with a different voice).

All of the extras from the 2003 special edition are here, along with one notable addition: An additional DVD (?) with a documentary on Warner Brothers legendary head Jack Warner. It runs about an hour and is quite good. It contains some home video footage along with comments from film stars that knew him, as well as family members. An enjoyable piece.

The packaging rocks. We get a very stylish box that looks like something out of the movie. It contains a very cool book filled with photos and little factoids, a passport holder and luggage tag, a replica of miniature posters and production letters. The collection of one-sheets are very nice. While I have seen some of them (and have two as posters, some I had never seen before. What a treat! And who would not want a Casablanca passport holder or Luggage tag?

This is a very nice edition of perhaps the greatest film in the history of cinema. I can accept that somebody may have one or two films above it. If you don’t like Casablanca, you are clearly a mutant alien freak with a hatred of cinema.
The price tag here is a little steep, but you get very nice packaging and some nifty extras. Casual fans might not see this as being worth it, but to a film buff, it is an amazing set. This would make an excellent gift.

Order Casablanca: Ultimate Collector’s Edition Blu-ray from Amazon.

For more reviews from myself, and the rest of the Crimespree crew, check out the index of reviews.