There are some films, some stories, which continue to find new audiences, year after year, generation after generation. They’re passed down, some as traditions, some as markers for reaching a certain age. Looking backward, there’s a notion that there’s nary a film without issue when viewed through a modern lens. One such film whose resonance has only grown stronger is director Michael Curtiz’s Oscar-winning film, Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman and released in 1942. It hit theaters during World War II, when America had only recently cast aside their “America First” mentality and entered the fray, seeking to help the Allied Forces in their battle against the Axis Powers. Even now, as some of those Axis Powers rear their heads up in America, seeking to take control as shouts of “America First” grow louder once more, a film like Casablanca can remind audiences of what happens when even the most jaded of us take up arms once more. In honor of its 80th anniversary, this cinematic classic is given a brand-new 4K UHD with High-Dynamic Range (HDR) edition, pulling together all the legacy features previously released.
December, 1941: Casablanca, Morocco, is the place those fleeing from the Axis Powers hope to find passage, a place that would take refugees to the uninvolved United States of America. People come here from all over Europe and wait, some for years, for the right papers to allow them to board a flight out of Casablanca. For all those trying to get to America, there’s one American with no interest in leaving: Rick Blaine (Bogart), a man whose prior freedom fighting days have left him cynical. But when a couple comes through with ties to his past, their fate on the line, Rick will have to decide if he can remain out of the fight anymore.
First, an admission: I didn’t watch Casablanca until December 2021 for an episode of The Cine-Men. While I knew of Casablanca academically, my studies had never made the film required viewing and it was not a film either of my parents made sure I watched. Nonetheless, I discovered, upon my viewing just how much of an influence this film had on me as it was referenced by the other television and film projects I watched up to that moment. Additionally, for a film lauded for its dramatic and romantic elements, I didn’t realize how exceptionally funny the film is, the delivery of the actors never inciting each other to laughter, but expressing themselves in a manner and with such specificity that one can’t help but laugh. Casablanca is, like Rick’s Café Américain, not just any one thing, it’s all things and it does them all so well, where films of just one genre struggle to nail their one thing in an average way.
Unsure of what I mean? Consider the following.
We come to learn that Rick is a former freedom fighter well into the film, but, before that, we already know the measure of him before meeting him on-screen. The way his staff speak about him the way they treat their guests, the way the guests speak to each other, the audience knows that Rick is a man of principle, his conscious, and, despite his statements otherwise, a man of valor. Then, when we do meet Rick, we see how he treats every person who comes through his doors equally, affording them the respect they deserve, unless they are the sort of which respect is not only undeserved but unwarranted, in which case he shows them the door. The scene with the black market entrepreneur who asks first to buy the Américain and then, when rebuffed, to buy Sam (Dooley Wilson), both responses from Rick denote a man who has seen the world and understands the value of all things, money being the least of them. To paint with a wide brush, Rick is someone that Americans at that time understood regarding a sense of reason and care, but perhaps too worried about what pitfalls might occur if he were to engage in another war. Meanwhile, all the people around him (Claude Rains’s Captain Louis Renault, Bergman’s Ilsa Lund, Peter Loore’s Ugarte, and all the others) represent other aspects of the world of 1942, each one complex and yet fully-formed. It’s certainly easy to identify who the bad guys are in Casablanca, even without the Nazi salute, by the way in which their dialogue and physical performances convey how they feel as to who among them is worthy to be in their presence or not and, it’s because of this, I think, that the film as a whole continues to flourish. Rick and Renault aren’t just friends trying to make their way, to survive, in Casablanca, they are emblematic of two countries trying to come together to fight the Axis. In this case, the pro-war movement of the U.S. being represented by Paul Henreid’s Victor Laszlo, the man whom Ilsa is traveling with and loves. Each of the main players are more than just their individual roles; they are different facets of the world in 1941 (the time of the film before New Year’s Day comes itself a representation of changing times and the new to change with them). Through humor and heartbreak, constant peril for each person in the Américain, the film as a whole conveys the entire human experience without once looking down upon it. People are allowed to find joy in moments of hardship, are allowed to experience levity in sorrow, but that doesn’t mean that what’s happening isn’t any less true or real. Lacking falsehood, Casablanca manages to create harmony within each of its genre beats, telling a story that remains as powerful today as it did upon release.
So, let’s talk the 80th anniversary edition.
There’s good news and bad news, depending on your outlook. The bad news is that there are no new bonus features and the audio track is not a new mix. For those who have owned prior versions of the film, that there is neither any new on-disc materials to commemorate the anniversary nor a new audio track to account for improved home theaters. The bad may be enough not to keep potential buyers from picking up this edition. The good news is that the video is brand-new, restored into a 4K UHD presentation with HDR. According to the press release, this edition is restored and remastered from a 2022 4K 16bit film scan of the best-surviving nitrate film elements. There’s no mention of who supervised or approved of it, but it’s stated that the new digital scans went through extensive restoration process in order to get what audiences see on-disc. My original experience with the film is the HD version currently available on HBO Max and this version is certainly more impressive, not just because the quality differs due to the lack of data compression physical formats allow, but because the HDR allows the already greyscale picture more depth of image. There appears to be less of a haze, the images are a little sharper, and the grain is more reduced. It’s not as remarkable as other 4K UHD releases, but, when compared against other editions, it’s certainly an improvement worth recommending.
The stories we tell matter. The stories we pass down matter. The stories we restore and preserve matter. As America is struggling to figure out what kind of country it wants to be, burdened with a past it hesitates to reconcile and threats to democracy borne out of fear are on the rise, stories can help us see what we have forgotten or refuse to acknowledge. Stories like Casablanca entertain, to be sure, but they also offer a microcosm of what the world could be like if we looked after one another, rather than sought only what we could take. When we put humanity first over one country or another. Is that reason enough to pick up an anniversary edition with restored video? Maybe not if that message is already with you. But it may be worth picking up to give someone who could use a different perspective.
Casablanca Ultra HD Blu-ray disc, Blu-ray disc and Digital contain the following previously released special features:
- Commentary by Roger Ebert
- Commentary by Rudy Behlmer
- Introduction by Lauren Bacall
Casablanca Blu-ray disc and Digital contain the following previously released special features:
- 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
- Deleted Scenes
- 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)
Available on 4K UHD Blu-ray and digital November 8th, 2022.
For more information, head to Warner Bros. Pictures’s official Casablanca webpage.
Categories: Films To Watch, Home Release, Home Video, Recommendation, Reviews, streaming
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