"Casablanca"

Rick and Ilsa look better than ever, but why are the DVD extras so skimpy?

By Andrew O'Hehir
July 10, 2000 11:00PM (UTC)
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"Casablanca"
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid and Claude Rains
Warner Bros.; full screen, 1.33:1 aspect ratio
Extras: Making-of documentary, more

Bringing the best loved of all Hollywood romances to DVD, the format invented for midnight obsessives -- well, it should have been the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Insatiable "Casablanca" fans like me will still need to own it, of course, and the film itself looks better than ever. The transfer is immaculate, capturing all the opulent nuances of Michael Curtiz's compositions, from the brilliant ivory of Ingrid Bergman's astonishing face to the darkest recesses of Rick's Cafi Amiricain. By what miracle does the intensity of the love story and the integrity of Humphrey Bogart's archetypal American male, wounded yet fundamentally honorable, remain undiluted across the decades and countless viewings?

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The total package presented on this DVD is distinctly underwhelming, however, and given the status of the film in question, that's a grave disappointment. "You Must Remember This," the documentary narrated by Lauren Bacall (no, she's not in the film, is she?), is worth seeing, but was actually made in 1992 for an earlier video release. Its best moments feature surviving screenwriters Julius J. Epstein and Howard Koch, along with some technical staffers, discussing the chaotic, uncertain atmosphere of wartime film production and the making of "Casablanca" in particular. (For most of the shoot, neither Bogart, Bergman, the writers nor anybody else knew whether Rick and Ilsa would end up together, which perhaps heightened the tension of the performances.) No one involved understood the magnitude of the movie they were making at the time, since Warner Bros., like other major studios, cranked out around 50 films a year. In retrospect, Koch surmises that "Casablanca" fulfilled an almost mystical function in the America of 1943 by offering a highly romantic example of the idea that some values are worth enormous personal sacrifice.

Otherwise, the disc includes an assortment of theatrical trailers from other Bogart pictures. They're fun but essentially irrelevant. Personally, I am shocked, shocked at the idea that Time Warner rushed out this quick and dirty version of a classic (even the physical packaging is ungainly) to cash in on the DVD craze among cinephiles. Most likely, a "collector's edition" with outtakes (they do exist), commentary and other trimmings will appear in due course. Until then, your only choice is, um, you know. Play it again, Sam (a phrase Bogart's Rick never says, of course). If she can stand it, I can too.


Andrew O'Hehir

Andrew O'Hehir is executive editor of Salon.

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