Updated: Nov 5
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
(1) Humphrey Bogart plays American ex-patriot Rick Blaine, owner of Rick’s Café Americain, a popular Moroccan nightclub. (2) For a brief moment Rick rekindles his love affair with Ilsa played by Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman.
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“CASABLANCA: 80th ANNIVERSARY EDITION”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy; 1942; Not Rated; streaming via Amazon Prime (4K), Apple TV (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: A tossup between the commentary with film critic Roger Ebert, and the 2012 featurette “Casablanca: An Unlikely Classic”
HOW GOOD could the immortal “Casablanca” look in 4K UHD?
In a word, remarkable. It’s bound to land in our annual (highdefwatch.com) Top 10 TRUE 4K mastered discs of the year.
There isn’t a single scratch, blemish, pop or tear in the 80-year-old black and white masterpiece, voted by the American Film Institute as its No. 1 love story – and No. 3 film of all time. Also, its 4K clarity is so sharp you can pick out every single actor – along with the cast of hundreds in the opening street market scene.
This Warner Brothers 4K Ultra HD release took decades of effort and perseverance using the best surviving film elements. Warner states a new 2022 16-bit 4K scan of what seems to be the original black and white camera negative (1.37:1 aspect ratio) or a first-generation fine-grain master. This marks the fourth restoration, going back to the 50th and 60th anniversaries. Warner spent $1 million in 2012 for its 70th, but no dollar figure was announced for this go around. Still, with these results, it is most likely the final restoration.
The new master was then graded with high dynamic range (HDR10), providing a much richer grayscale with more depth to the mid-tones, while keeping highlights controlled and super bright, and a darker palette and detailed shadows from the stylized cinematography of Arthur Edeson (“All Quiet on the Western Front,” “Frankenstein” and “The Maltese Falcon”). Producer Hal B. Wallis pushed Edeson to make the scenes of Rick’s Café Americain, a popular Moroccan nightclub, to look more dramatic and darker after seeing the first round of dailies. The film grain is also natural, and never out of control because of the preservation of the original sources.
The original 2.0 mono soundtrack has been digitally restored giving a deeper bass response and a wider midrange for dialogue, while cleaning up any pops and noise.
(1) “Casablanca” premiered on November 25, 1942, in New York City. (2&3) French and Moroccan police begin their roundup of refugees, searching for two letters of transit signed by French General DeGaulle. (4) A young Romanian couple hope to leave Casablanca. (5) A man whose papers expired three weeks ago runs away and is shot by the police. He was carrying papers for the Free France underground. (6) A confidence man tries to steal the paper from a French couple.
The 4K disc includes two commentaries, one with the late film historian Rudy Behlmer, and the best with the late Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert. It’s considered one of the best commentaries ever recorded, right up there with John Frankenheimer’s track for “The Train” (1964) and “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962). Consider yourself a film school student sitting in on Ebert’s lecture as he reveals he’s seen the film over 50 times, never seeing or hearing a single negative review for “Casablanca.” He continues by saying, the movie came out at “exactly the right time” – released in 1942 as America entered World War II.
The enclosed Blu-ray houses the rest of the bonus features. The favorite is the 2012 featurette “Casablanca: An Unlikely Classic,” with a number of backstories and interviews, including film historian Alan K. Rode who says, “If most of the good things that happen in movies come about through luck, then ‘Casablanca’ really was an exercise in serendipity.”
The Hal B. Wallis production was one of 50 films being made by Warner Brothers in 1942. Hollywood was an entertainment factory then, “Making films like Detroit used to make automobiles,” Rode says. “No one thought it was anything special,” director William Friedkin (“The French Connection”) agrees.
Playwright/schoolteacher Murray Burnett was visiting a small French café overlooking the Mediterranean. He watched a black pianist playing to a crowd of Frenchmen, refugees, and Nazis, and a play, “Everybody Comes to Rick’s,” took shape.
(1&2) Refugees watch a German military plane land at the Casablanca airport. The Van Nuys airport subs for Casablanca. (3) German Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) is greeted by French Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains). (4&5) Nightclub owner Rick plays chess by himself until Ugarte (Peter Lorre), a shady dealer, asks Rick to hold some stolen letters.
Burnett’s storyline was simple. During WWII, Rick, an expatriate American bar owner played by Humphrey Bogart, is taken by surprise when “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world,” in walks Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), an old flame he hasn’t seen since the Germans marched into Paris. Her husband, Czech resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), is at her side. It leaves Rick with a painful choice: Help or betray the woman he still loves; help or betray the Nazis.
On December 8, the day after the Pearl Harbor attack, a studio reader at Warner suggested Burnett’s play would make a good movie for one of Hollywood’s patriotic films. The title was changed to “Casablanca.”
A handful of writers were recruited to make the adaptation, including twins Julius and Philip Epstein, who penned most of the witty dialogue. “There’s never been another movie with dialogue like that,” says Steven Spielberg. Quips between Rick and police chief Louis Renault, played by Claude Rains, are classic! “What in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca?” Renault demands. “My health. I came for the waters,” Rick replies. “The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert,” Renault bounces back. “I was misinformed,” Rick concludes.
“It’s one of the best-told narratives I’ve ever witnessed as an audience and as a fan,” Spielberg says. Writers Howard Koch and Casey Robinson, blacklisted by Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare politics and uncredited, helped create the essential theme of sacrifice and the love story.
“Casablanca” is filled with so many memorable lines that choosing the best is impossible. “Play it once, Sam. For old times’ sake.” “Here’s looking at you, kid.” And, “Louis, I think this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.”
With the ending still in question, director Michael Curtiz closed the movie set. Bogart sulked in his trailer, while Wallis tried to calm the waters. “It’s a miracle [‘Casablanca’] became one of our best-loved and most enduring films,” says author Kati Marton.
It features one of the best tear-jerker finales in Hollywood history.
(1) Rick’s new girlfriend Yvonne (French actress Madeleine Lebeau) and Sascha the bartender (Russian actor Leonid Kinskey). (2) Senor Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet) the self-claimed leader of all illegal activities in Casablanca. (3) The main lights dim as Sam (Dooley Wilson) sings “Knock on Wood.” (4&5) Capt. Renault and Rick watch an airplane take off for Lisbon, Portugal. And, he tells Rick that Major Strasser will be making an appearance at the club tonight. (6) “Rick, Rick, help me,” shouts Ugarte after firing two gunshots while trying to escape.
An additional documentary, “Michael Curtiz: The Greatest Director You Never Heard Of,” highlights the career of the Hungarian director who won an Oscar for “Casablanca.” His filmography includes more than 170 motion pictures including Warner masterworks “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” “The Sea Hawk,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” and the melodrama, “Mildred Pierce.” Spielberg called Curtiz’s work on “Casablanca,” “A seamless choreography of a moving camera … creating a dolly shot almost like a dance, while the characters (are) also moving like a dance inside the frame.”
Several documentaries are carried over including the 1988 PBS Great Performances documentary hosted by Bogart’s widow, Lauren Bacall. It pinpoints every step of Bogart’s career and his life before Hollywood as the son of a wealthy Manhattan surgeon, who started acting on Broadway. There’s also “Carrotblanca,” a cartoon starring Bugs Bunny; 1943 and 1947 radio versions; outtakes, deleted scenes, scoring sessions, and a 1955 “Who Holds Tomorrow” TV episode based on “Casablanca.”
After this 4K viewing, maybe you’ll want to challenge Ebert’s record. “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
(1-3) Rick races toward Sam as he sings “As Time Goes By.” He had ordered Sam never to play the song again, then Rick spots Ilsa. (4) Flashback to Paris when Rick and Ilsa were in love, as the Nazis approached the city. (5) Rick and Ilsa were to leave together, but she leaves Rick a farewell note. (6) Flash forward to the present, as Ilsa explains her actions.
The Dueling Anthems
In the emotional scene, the German officers start to sing “Die Wacht am Rhein,” and then Ilsa’s husband Czech resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) leads the nightclub band with La Marseillaise as the French refugees join in.
“Here’s looking at you, kid”
(1-3) Rick and Ilsa say their goodbyes. (4) Major Strasser calls the airport tower to stop the plane. (5) “Louis, I think this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.”