Ten years after the DVD made its nationwide debut, there are very few, if any, truly classic films that have not seen some time on the shelfs of your local WalMart or Best Buy. For this third major release of Casablanca on DVD, Warner Brothers has added very little in terms of bonus materials, but have given the term “value added” a whole new meaning for film fanatics.
Casablanca. Easy to enter but much harder to leave, especially if you’re wanted by the Nazis. Such a man is Resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), whose only hope is Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), a cynical American who sticks his neck out for no one – especially Victor’s wife Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), the ex-lover who broke his heart. Ilsa offers herself in exchange for Laszlo’s transport out of the country and bitter Rick must decide what counts more – personal happiness or countless lives hanging in the balance. Casablanca rightfully won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director (Michael Curtiz) and Best Screenplay (Julius J. Epstein &
Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch), and has remained one of the most beloved movies in history for almost seventy years.
Casablanca was first released on DVD in February of 2000, in a single disc edition with a digitally restored image and soundtrack, the theatrical trailers for the film, a short documentary about the making of the film and a very nice little introduction to the film by Lauren Bacall, as well as a limited collectors edition which also included eight miniature reproductions of posters and lobby cards for the movie, one 35mm frame from the film, six black and white stills from the production and a mail-in offer for a 27×40” reproduction of the theatrical poster. In August 2003, there was a two-disc special edition released, which offered the same transfer and lost the bonus collectables but added a wealth of new materials including two full length commentaries, including one from Roger Ebert, a Bacall on Bogart documentary, scoring session outtakes, the first episode of a 1955 television adaptation of Casablanca, a 1990s Looney Tunes parody called Carrotblanca, a 1943 radio broadcast of Casablanca featuring Bogart and Bergman and Henreid, and a wealth of other materials. Now, in 2008, we have a three disc Ultimate Collectors Edition, which retains all of the features from the 2003 release, on the same discs and in the same order, only adding one new item within the bonus features, a one-hour documentary about Warner Brothers co-founder Jack L. Warner, directed by Warner’s grandson Gregory Orr. “Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul” features archival footage of the youngest Warner brother, and interviews past and present with a number of Warner’s relatives. Fifty-eight minutes in length, “The Last Mogul” gives us a fair and even-handed glimpse of the film legend, but will only be of interest to those who are fanatical about cinema. Ironically, for a documentary included in an “ultimate” collectors edition of Casablanca, there is only a fleeting mention of the film which would bring Jack Warner’s company its second Academy Award for Best Picture.
And with this new release, some of the special supplements from the 2000 limited edition set make a return engagement, so there is very little that is honestly new. So what makes the Ultimate Collector’s Edition (retailing for $59.98) something worth getting, especially if you already owned one of the previously released editions? Well, it depends on how much of a fan you are of the movie. In addition to the returning mini-posters and lobby cards, there are three new mini-reproductions, two Warner Brothers Inter-Office communiques (one from producer Hal Wallis to Jack Warner extolling Bogart over George Raft for the part of Rick, and one from Wallis to all departments letting them know the title of the movie has been changed from Everybody Comes to Rick’s to Casablanca) and a copy of Victor Lazlo’s letter of transit (which is upsetting some Casablanca purists for being dated July 22nd of 1941 instead of early December of 1941, when the story takes place).
There is also a smallish, bound 48-page Casablanca photo book, with some truly beautiful shots of the production, as well as greatly informative text from film historian Rudy Behlmer. But even that’s not going to separate the wheat from the chaff.
For many who might be interested in this big box set, the sole reason to dole out three Jacksons to upgrade is for the Casablanca-branded luggage tag and passport holder. Sure, they are made of polyvinylchloride and polyurethane instead of leather, and they stink that fake plastic stink until you air them out, but every single friend this writer has shown this box set to has been “Wow!” and “That’s awesome!” when they see these two items. But how many of them are going to run out and buy this? They love movies, but they aren’t fanatics like this writer admittedly is.
There is one more purely cosmetic reason to get this new set: the outer cover, which features an intricate laser-cut Moroccan design with raised golden lettering and a silhouette of Bogie and Bergman. But for the rest of you, who can live without luggage tags and passport holders and lobby card reproductions and laser-cut boxes and documentaries on old-time movie moguls, the previously released two disc set is still worth owning. In the writer’s opinion, no home video library is complete without this masterpiece.
Archival Materials and Bonus Features: B+
New Jack L. Warner Documentary: C-
Luggage Tag and Passport Holder: A+
Overall Grade: A-Rating: A-