CASABLANCA SE (60th anniversary): DVD
In World War II Casablanca, Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), exiled American and former freedom fighter, runs the most popular nightspot in town. The cynical lone wolf Blaine comes into the possession of two valuable letters of transit. When Nazi Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) arrives in Casablanca, the sycophantic police Captain Renault (Claude Rains) does what he can to please him, including detaining Czech underground leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). Much to Rick's surprise, Laszlo arrives with Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), Rick's one time love. Rick is bitter towards Ilsa, who ran out on him in Paris, but when he learns she had good reason to, they plan to run off together again using the letters of transit. Well, that was their original plan....
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It was all an accident, this Casablanca, an accidental masterpiece. It was hobbled together, patched up and recast (jettisoning Ronald Reagan … gulp!) and made with a sort of stumbling care. And the final two-shot of Bogey walking off with Claude Rains at the airport, came from the executive producer, Hal B. Wallis. So what. So what does it matter how it was made, except as a curio? The documentaries on this DVD reveal all that, but what they don't – can’t - address is why the film pings our souls, to use a computerism. Well, in this case, writers and filmmakers have stumbled onto the intangible truths about the human condition and represented them without even knowing how.
Of course, that evocative, hauntingly melancholy signature tune, As Time Goes By, has something to do with it…but it’s impossible to single out any one element or any one performance that lifts this romantic drama to such heights as an eternal classic that can be seen repeatedly. Yet, it’s a simple story, a bitter sweet love story set in the midst of war when conditions call for people to show their best and worst sides, exercise their strengths and sometimes make difficult choices, and maybe choices they don’t like.
The film’s humanity, its heart, comes from a combination of the characters and their responses to the circumstances – but they are all admirably multi-faceted, with contradictions and weaknesses overshadowed – in most cases – by their strengths. Bogey is a splendid Rick, world weary yet far from insensitive nor as cynical as he pretends; Ingrid Bergman creates a wonderfully modern woman, at once strong, intelligent and individual, as well as feminine. Claude Rains is a triumph as the policeman who finds inner moral fibre just when it’s needed. In Senor Ferrari, Sydney Greenstreet personifies the wheeler-dealer with more to him than simple greed and Peter Lorre’s hangdog Ugarte is funny and pathetic in equal measure.
You can dissect it as much as you like, but its great success lies in its endless, timeless appeal in a region of the body that Claude Reins describes as his least vulnerable spot. But of course, like Rick, Capt Renault is a closet sentimentalist - and a decent human being. We like decent human beings, even (perhaps especially) if they are flawed.
We also like DVD packages that do justice to the film; the film’s first DVD release (in 2000) already included The Children Remember piece, with Bergman's critic daughter Pia Lindstrom talking about the relationship between her mother and Bogie. This anniversary Special Edition goes much further.
Like the two different commentaries. If you’re familiar with Roger Ebert, you’ll recognise his fairly rapid, smooth delivery on the commentary. Well informed, incisive and detailed, his comments are a mixture of ‘now you see …’ and backgrounding. It’s not exactly scripted but it flows with almost unnatural energy and eloquence. So much so, you may need to listen twice to get a handle on even half of what he delivers.
Film historian Rudy Behlmer, sounding more like a film critic, gets inside the film and the making of the film with terrific amounts of research. He deconstructs it all and it’s both comprehensive and interesting. The historic backgrounding, detailing the birth of the play on which the film is based, confirms the authenticity of the subject matter. Not that this is a major factor in appreciating the film. But it helps for the deeper understanding.
He goes into the details of the changes to the script, and to the cast.
The combination of these two commentaries provides lovers of cinema and this film in particular, with a permanent entry to cinema history, with considerable detail.
On disc two, The Making of Casablanca, a good half hour, carries Lauren Bacall’s narration (as does the feature length Bacall on Bogart). It also has a pivotal interview with writer Howard Koch, who points out the most important element in the film: that some values are worth making sacrifices for. This comes pretty close to the pinging I mention earlier, but it is still not the full ping, if you know what I mean.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of this shorter doco is the revelation of a major slanging match between director Michael Curtiz and one of the crew over the unexpected buzzing of a spotlight, four lines into a major scene. Curtiz blew a fuse and yelled expletives at the guy, who yelled them back. The set died. Unlike most films, Casablanca was to have no post-synching; all dialogue was recorded live on the set. It made things very hard – and as we discover, the set was tense anyway, with major re-writes a daily hassle.
And the greatest movie ending eluded the filmmakers right until the very end.
Bacall on Bogart is a full length delight, a nostalgic yet unsentimental look at Bogart’s life, through Bacall’s eyes. Informative and entertaining, it is also intimate. We also get to see the first version of a scene from The Big Sleep that hasn’t been seen before, between Bogey and Bacall, where she invites him for a drink. It was rewritten and reshot with a great deal more chemistry. Between shooting the two versions, they were married.
It’s a great package, this disc, and will delight the aficionados as well as illuminate the newcomers to this legendary film. I recommend seeing the film first, though. As for Carrotblanca, the Looney Tunes cartoon spoof of the film, you can see that anytime, with Sylvester as Laszlo, Bugs Bunny as Rick and Tweetie as Ugarte, with Daffy Duck on piano as Sam.
Eight audio tracks from the scoring session – four of them devoted to Dooley Wilson’s recording sections of As Time Goes By – are marginal, but good to have.
But the two short deleted scenes, subtitled due to missing audio, and a similarly audio-less collection of uninteresting outtakes are mere fillers.
Throughout the bonus materials, the mood of the film filters through.
Published November 12, 2003