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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Casablanca
Casablanca
Warner Bros. // PG // February 15, 2000
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Gil Jawetz | posted August 14, 2001 | E-mail the Author
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THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
While today's film community tries to draw a line between big bad Hollywood executives and poor, struggling independent filmmakers (most of whom work for the big studios anyway), there was a time when the studios were the only game in town and they each cranked out a movie a week. Out of this Hollywood machine sprang some of the most memorable films ever created, although no other film seems to encompass this factory line construction like Casablanca (1942).

Worked over by numerous studio writers, filmed under conditions of total confusion, and released during World War II, Casablanca features bold characterizations of fictional war-time figures. It's fascinating for its mix of serious drama, political statement, and heart-breaking romance. Humphrey Bogart plays Rick Blaine, an American expatriate running a popular bar in North Africa where displaced citizens of the world drink and sing while begging and pleading for precious exit visas to escape the advance of the Nazis. Ingrid Bergman plays Ilsa, a stunning beauty who comes to Casablanca with her husband, famed resistance fighter Victor Laszlo (Paul Henried), looking for a way out. The drama that passes between these characters covers a broad range of emotions while still being specific enough to move any viewer. Rick, whose mysterious weariness has led him to remain neutral on the political injustices that take place in his bar ("I stick my neck out for nobody," he grunts after refusing to help someone who seems to be about as close to a friend as he has), struggles with tough decisions, the hardest of which leads to the finest ending of any film. The twists-and-turns that populate the film exist as much in the world of plot device as they do in the emotional interiors of these flawed, complex characters.

Casablanca also sets its story against a background of colorful characters that includes many of the most charismatic character actors of old Hollywood: Peter Lorre, Sidney Greenstreet, Conrad Veidt, and the incomparable Claude Rains, just to name a few. Each actor immediately creates a fascinating and unique character, many of whom have entered the popular consciousness. Lorre gives one of his most unhinged performances early in the film as a black-market visa dealer whose respect for Rick grows with Rick's distaste for him. Rains is amazing as French captain Louis Renault, a self-serving, corrupt official with a taste for gambling, women, and political submission. Whenever he's on-screen the entire film seems to give off a self-satisfied smirk.

Even the racial grey area that is the film's sole black character, Sam (Dooley Wilson), is not nearly as offensive as other of the film's contemporaries. Sam, Rick's faithful piano player, offers real friendship to his boss (even if he calls him Mr. Rick) and doesn't stoop or toady. The film reflects the time from which it comes without making a negative impact. Wilson's charisma (if not his fake piano playing) helps turn the role into more than a typical Stepin Fetchit.

I would propose that Casablanca is the most perfect film that Hollywood has ever turned out. Every line of dialog, ever performance, ever shot, every music cue, every plot twist is flawless. It has a toughness that none of the belly-aching in the Casablanca-worshipping When Harry Met Sally... hints at. All of the characters are truly desperate and the unseen horror (references to concentration camps and Nazi occupation) never let the viewer forget that the stakes couldn't be any higher. Despite the nearly sixty years that have passed, Casablanca doesn't feel dated in any way. From the opening moments through to the iconic ending, Casablanca proves that the film format is capable of creating drama, comedy, action, and romance to rival any classic piece of literature or art.

VIDEO:
The DVD release of Casablanca features a crisp, clean transfer of the black and white film that emphasizes every shadow and detail. It is truly a beautiful print. It is full-frame.

AUDIO:
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track perfectly recreates the sound of the film. It is obviously not flashy, but for a film that was made a decade after the introduction of sound it is subtle and sophisticated.

EXTRAS:
A documentary called You Must Remember This is included. It features interviews with surviving members of the crew, the author of the play on which it was based, as well as critics and others. It's a nice addition that explains the history of this fantastic film that was once just another movie on the slate of releases. It also features footage from pathetic attempts and sequels and remakes (plus one great Bugs Bunny spoof).

A selection of trailers for Casablanca and other films of the era is included. Strangely, the 50th anniversary trailer, which was included on the laserdisc, is omitted.

Production notes and an introduction by Lauren Bacall (Bogart's wife) are also included.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

No one should go without seeing Casablanca. It is one of the pillars of film history and stands as one of the greatest film achievements of all time. This DVD release is an inexpensive opportunity to introduce this masterpiece to a new generation.
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