The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.
“Casablanca” is a film which conjures up an immediate reaction from film fans whenever they hear the title. It’s right up there with “Citizen Kane” as one of those films which film buffs and historians consider one of the greatest movies ever made. There are many reasons for this, but the biggest reason is the love story between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. There is also the dialogue and the many quotable lines which come to mind when thinking of this film. I won’t be repetitive here and list all of them for you, but if you have seen “Casablanca,” you know the lines by heart. It’s one of those films which means a lot to a great deal of people and for good reason.
Set in 1941, the film introduces the audience to Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), the owner of the nightclub Rick’s Café Américain. He refuses to have drinks with any of the customers and mostly keeps to himself. The audience can tell he’s cynical, unhappy, and something has happened to him to cause him to lose a big part of himself. He tends to stay neutral on almost every topic. Even though he’s cynical, he’s still a good guy with a good heart. His world gets turned upside down when his old flame, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), shows up with her husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), as he’s seeking protection from German Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) who intends to arrest him.
Victor Laszlo is a fugitive Czech Resistance leader. Rick’s Café serves as a place for all sorts of types, good and bad, because of World War II. A lot of people there are looking to keep a low profile while others are looking to find someone to arrest. Rick has some war experience himself, but now he’s focused on his nightclub. He starts to become very focused on Ilsa when he catches up with her again, and it’s clear there are still strong feelings between the two. They were in love back in Paris, but when it was time to leave, she just left him hanging with a note that left him with more questions than answers.
Rick has letters of transit, which allow two individuals to get out of Casablanca safe and sound and start over without any consequences. Rick can give the letters to Ilsa, but that also means he will be giving her up as well. Again, even though he stays neutral on most topics, he can tell the good guys from the bad guys. He’s not afraid to lend a helping hand to someone in need. However, if he helps her and Victor out, he knows he will never see the love of his life ever again. That was the beauty of some of the old Hollywood films: the romance felt urgent and very important. It never felt frivolous or silly. You can tell that two people really loved each other, and it made a huge impact on their lives.
“Casablanca” is an old-fashioned Hollywood classic in every sense of the word. You have the black and white picture, the classic romance, and the big stars. You also have great supporting work from actors like Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, and Paul Henreid. It all feels vital and like it serves a purpose. It’s old-fashioned Hollywood craftsmanship at its finest. The story with the war can sometimes bog the film down a little bit, but it’s there to push the love story between the two leads. They are the heart and soul of this beautiful picture. Like fine wine, this is the kind of film which gets better with age. Even if you have seen it multiple times and know how it’s going to end, you still can’t help but get swept up in the story. “Casablanca” is the kind of movie Hollywood doesn’t make anymore, but I wish they did.
This is Bogart’s best performance in his storied career. He has a certain vulnerability to him we don’t often get to see on film. He’s also an everyman in this film, and it’s great to see him connecting with his black piano player, Sam (Dooley Wilson). He respects people and does the right thing, but it doesn’t feel forced. It’s a completely natural performance. It’s not a big or showy performance, and it doesn’t need to be as we see everything in his face: all of the pain and the agony. Bergman is sweet, tough and very, very smart. She’s the perfect actress to go toe-to-toe with Bogart in this film. She looks absolutely stunning and gorgeous on screen.
I was sucked into “Casablanca” from start-to-finish, like I am every single time I watch it. Even though I know how it’s going to end, I’m still on the edge of my seat when they get to the final scene. The last line of dialogue is iconic and the perfect note to end this film on as well. I’m a huge fan of old Hollywood when stars were stars, and they could light up the screen with their presence. It should also be noted that “Casablanca” won Best Picture in 1942 along with Best Director (Michael Curtiz) and Best Screenplay. This is Classic Hollywood at its finest!
* * * * out of * * * *
4K/Blu-ray Info: “Casablanca” is released on a two-disc 4K/Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It also comes with a digital copy of the film as well. It has a running time of 102 minutes and is rated PG for mild violence.
4K Video Info: “Casablanca” looks pretty good on 4K. The black and white and older films in particular play pretty well with light and darkness on HDR. It’s not a fantastic upgrade, but I don’t know how much more they could have done to really upgrade a film from the 40’s. It’s better than the Blu-ray, but it’s not a huge improvement.
Audio Info: The audio for the film comes on DTS-HD MA: English 1.0, and Dolby Digital: French and Spanish. It also comes with subtitles in English, French, and Spanish. There isn’t a huge upgrade on the audio here, but it still sounds pretty solid. I don’t really think this is the kind of film which needed a huge audio upgrade.
Commentary by Roger Ebert
Commentary by Rudy Behlmer
Introduction by Lauren Bacall
Warner Night at the Movies
Now, Voyager trailer
“Vaudeville Days” (1942 WB short)
“The Bird Came C.O.D.” (1942 WB cartoon)
“The Squawkin’ Hawk” (1942 WB cartoon)
“The Dover Boys at Pimento University” (1942 WB cartoon)
“Great Performances: Bacall on Bogart” (1988 PBS special)
Michael Curtiz: The Greatest Director You’ve Never Heard Of
Casablanca: An Unlikely Classic
You Must Remember This: A Tribute to “Casablanca” (1992 TEC documentary)
As Time Goes By: The Children Remember
“Who Holds Tomorrow?” (1955 “Casablanca” TV episode)
“Carrotblanca” (1955 WB Cartoon)
Scoring Stage Sessions (audio only)
Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater Radio Broadcast – 4/26/43 (audio only)
Vox Pop Radio Broadcast – 11/19/47 (audio only)
I can’t get too upset over the lack of updated special features, as they transported a ton of special features from previous releases. The fact you get two commentary tracks, especially one with Roger Ebert, is quite a treat. There are A LOT of special features here. This one is pretty simple for film buffs and physical media collectors out there—if you love classic Hollywood, you owe it to yourself to pick up this film on 4K and watch it in the best possible format. As mentioned previously, it’s an upgrade over the Blu-Ray, even if it’s not a massive upgrade. Nonetheless, this is a film you should add to your collection on day one with the slipcover. Personally speaking, I love a good slipcover on my favorite films, and if you want the slipcover, it’s always better to buy it sooner rather than later. This will make the film lover in your life very happy this holiday season!
**Disclaimer** I received a copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free. The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.