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Casablanca is a 1942 American romantic drama film directed by Michael Curtiz, starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid, and featuring Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and Dooley Wilson. Set during World War II, it focuses on a man torn between, in the words of one character, love and virtue. He must choose between his love for a woman and helping her and her Czech Resistance leader husband escape from the Vichy-controlled Moroccan city of Casablanca to continue his fight against the Nazis. Although it was an A-list film, with established stars and first-rate writers—Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch received credit for the screenplay—no one involved with its production expected Casablanca to be anything out of the ordinary; it was just one of hundreds of pictures produced by Hollywood every year. The film was a solid, if unspectacular, success in its initial run, rushed into release to take advantage of the publicity from the Allied invasion of North Africa a few weeks earlier.
A new double-disc DVD of Casablanca enhances the film for novelists and cineastes alike. I rarely do this, but I listened to Roger Ebert's entire commentary track, which he uses to discuss the film's curious shortcomings (what good would letters of transit signed by Charles de Gaulle be in getting you out of Morocco?), Bogart's past and rise to fame (this being his first starring role), Bergman and her foibles, endless points about the film's dozen or so famous lines, and extended commentary on the lighting, special effects (if you can call them that), and camerawork.
But mostly Ebert talks about his love for the film itself, its story, its heart, and its stars. Casablanca has it all: love, adventure, action, intrigue, humor. Some of the film's classic moments -- like the police officer collecting his winnings before shutting down Rick's for gambling -- are still as hilarious as anything you'll see in any straight-out comedy.
For the uninitiated, the film was released in 1942 and dealt with issues contemporary to the day: Euro-refugees have escaped France for Morocco and are looking to get out of the war zone. Meanwhile, in Casablanca, all manner of ruffians, corrupt cops, Nazis, and local swindlers ply their trade against the hapless yokels. Ground zero for this is the semi-savory Rick's Cafe Americain, run by Bogart. And everything's fine until old flame Bergman shows up, bringing with her old memories and unwanted attention from the police.
There are no real bad guys and few real good guys in Casablanca, making it a bit of an oddity and an absolute joy in comparison to the white hat/black hat flicks of the day. Motives are ever obscured, and every line of dialogue is a keeper (Ebert points out the singular line in the film that isn't: 'It seems that destiny has taken a hand.'). Stealing the show are Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre as local talent, perfecting their usual characters with aplomb.
So anyway... much has been written about Casablanca over the last 60 years and I'm hardly going to make a new dent or add anything special to the commentary. See it, rent it, buy the DVD. It's a film that pays off the viewer again and again and again.
A new Ultimate Collector's Edition DVD and Blu-ray is packed with an obscene amount of extras: Three DVDs including commentary from Roger Ebert and intro from Lauren Bacall, two retrospective documentaries, a documentary about Jack L. Warner, deleted scenes and outtakes, and even ephemera like the Carrotblanca cartoon and the premiere episode of the Casablanca TV show. Non-digital extras include tons of photos from the film and correspondence about its creation, and even a Casablanca luggage tag and a passport holder.
Seems destiny has taken a hand.