Today, kids choose between vampires and werewolves. Back in the ’40s, it was between the love of your life and the fate of thousands caught up in the German occupation during World War II. Oh how far we’ve fallen.
Casablanca takes a war that would reach all continents and makes it personal, trapping it in human emotion, deception, and internal politics. Bogart’s heavy handed callousness, cool demeanor, and quick diffusion of conflict is brought down by merely by a song. Bombs are dropping, people are oppressed, and Bogart makes us forget it all just with his eyes.
Can you blame him? Staring down Ingrid Bergman, shot with a beautiful, romanticized haze, proves captivating. Even under the restrictive censorship of 1942 Hollywood, there’s a passionate back-and-forth adult dialogue, overloaded with infinitely re-quoted lines. The film is almost casual with its tension, those dire circumstances with German officers portrayed with ironic, oft-sarcastic quips or fast-talking manipulation.
It’s staggering to think Casablanca was an afterthought, forging ahead under a flood of other Warner productions. Everything feels too clean to be an accident. But, it was just another movie, now one of the de facto standards for snarky internet comments. If a dull movie wasn’t Citizen Kane, then surely it wasn’t Casablanca either.
Ask 10 people why Casablanca resonates with them and you’ll find yourself swarmed with 10 different answers. Warner’s early ’40s icon is too varied to connect with everyone on a single layer, enriched with its sense of comedic wit, patriotism, dramatic war time tensions, and of course, romance.
Romance can last forever on celluloid, but so do all of those other elements. Rick Blaine (Bogart) is the identification of a character arc, the reason to become involved and feel something before that boisterous final musical cue from Max Steiner. So full of energy and vigor, Rick turns towards the bottle, even under his own admission in one of Casablanca’s finest moments:
“What is your nationality?”
“I’m a drunkard.”
The pokey Germans never saw it coming. When the final reel kicks off, Rick realizes his faults, doing things no longer for his gruff self so much as he’s joined an effort he swore himself off of. By then, he’s as entranced with Bergman as the audience is -for him a second time- yet realizing the realities of their accidental affair. That’s as timeless as it gets, and unlike sparkling vampires, has no expiration date.
Warner issues a newly remastered 4K source to Blu-ray, along with a capable AVC encode (over the original’s VC-1) to handle the hearty grain structure. In comparison to ye old HD DVD, Casablanca’s whites look dimmer now, although there’s a reason for that. Mild contrast boosting took away the film’s rich, dense interiors. On the elder format, Casablanca appeared faded, that drunken conversation between Rick and Sam as the searchlight peers through the windows situated in a dim gray. Now, the shadows are respected and rich.
Elsewhere, differences are few. The refreshed scan doesn’t immediately spark new life into the vintage source. Problem areas, particularly those dissolves, will always remain regardless of what source resolution is used. Draped by thick smoke, and at times a purposeful haze, Casablanca will also remain softened by design. This re-release doesn’t present any noticeable increase in image fidelity at a glance, the bulk of the improvement coming from the better focused gray scale.
All of that said, the new encode does resolve the jumpy grain structure better than before. Difficult close-ups that present Bergman with a front lit bloom appear refined, certainly more natural than the previous, visibly compressed edition. While not completely out of the way of modern technology (breakdowns do still persist), any evidence of digital intrusions are less common.
The print itself is immaculate, given a restoration that few films command. Again, that’s no different than the prior hi-def release, although that doesn’t make the work any less impressive. Casablanca has more effects work than most people probably notice, making the multi-pass work a standout.
More than anything, the higher resolution scan puts Warner’s classic in a position for the future. While Wizard of Oz may be pushed higher (scanned at 8K) it’s hard to see what else Casablanca can offer. Photography here only has so much to give, and it would seem most of the fidelity has been exhausted. Still, if you’re reading this, the all mighty dollar must be speaking to you in the back of your mind, waiting to hear if said dollars should be spent on rather rapid turn-around for a catalog title. The answer can only be, “maybe,” dependent on your personal love affair with the film itself and penchant for extras. It is improved, but for most, it’s marginal.
Ditching the compression of standard Dolby Digital, that glorious Max Steiner score is finally guided by a DTS-HD mono affair. Presence plus fidelity are improved, with cleaner drums and brighter highs. Everything sounds cleaner, tighter, and aged naturally. There are no instances of crackling, noise, or static.
Whether for modern intent or original designed purpose, certain dialogue feels dimmer than before. There’s a drop as Laszlo discusses the ring at the bar. It’s not a matter of balance between elements but a legitimate means of making things quieter, mixing to make it appear as a whisper. Clearly however, that’s not the case. Even the drink order sounds quaint when it has no purpose to.
Casablanca is otherwise vintage spectacle. Dooley Wilson’s wonderful voice carries without an ounce of an appreciable degradation. It’s smooth and bright, captured with a clear flair for fidelity. From gunshots to plane engines, Warner has treated one of their finest hours right.
Warner has begun to stretch material thin, and you can’t blame them. How much is left to showcase? That does make this the definitive version of Casablanca though, carrying over the many (many) hours of bonus features from prior, and a few new inclusions. Spread over two Blu-rays (there’s a DVD inside the case too, but nothing new), the first disc hosts commentaries from Rudy Behlmer and Roger Ebert. They come after an introduction from Lauren Bacall.
Night at the Movies is one of those vastly underrated bonuses, replicating the classic theatrical experience with trailers, newsreels, and cartoons, becoming a transition into the main feature. Behind the Story plays host to five sections, with a runtime passing two and half hours. Great Performances squares in on Bogart’s role, 90-minutes on its own. The two new pieces are here as well, including a feature on director Michael Curtiz and An Unlikely Classic, the latter detailing the rise to prominence for this film.
Additional footage houses deleted scenes, outtakes, and the Looney Tune Carrotblanca. Three audio sections, including a scoring session and two radio broadcasts, fill even more time.
Disc two is around seven and a half hours, most of that coming from the five hour You Must Remember This, detailing the exhaustive history of Warner. Note the Casablanca section is included separately on the first disc. Three Brothers Warner is a superb look at the men who founded the company, and Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul provides an additional hour of historical perspective.
Note this doesn’t cover the in-box contents. Those will be reviewed at a later date.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.