Director Michael Curtiz
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains
Strange to think that one of the greatest movies of all time started life on the studio assembly line. Casablanca barely scraped A-list status when Warner Bros cobbled it together from a stage play that hadn't been performed (Everybody Comes To Rick's), about the seedy Moroccan waystation where desperate World War Two refugees tried to secure passage to America. They even cast an actor (Humphrey Bogart) who was mostly confined to gruff supporting parts, and had to borrow their leading lady (Ingrid Bergman) from a rival studio.
Who would have had any inkling that this unassuming duo would strike cinema's brightest romantic sparks, or that this “sophisticated hokum” (as its own producer labelled it) would come to define the word `timeless'? Certainly not the director Michael Curtiz, whose brusque manner exasperated his stars; nor the actors, who were subjected to almost daily script revisions and routinely kept in the dark (like, was Ilsa meant to be more in love with her ex-flame Rick or resistance-leader husband Victor?).
As the hardbitten American nightclub owner who sticks his neck out for nobody, Bogart's Rick is casual and offhand, but never loses our sympathy - look at the anguish on his face when he realises Ilsa's abandoned him in Paris - while every emotion flows like liquid across Bergman's gorgeous (and gorgeously lit) face. Around them swirl one of the most memorable supporting casts ever assembled, an appetisingly shady line-up of crooks, schemers and Nazi nasties played by the talented likes of Peter Lorre, Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet and Conrad Veidt.
One of those rare films where every shot and every quotable line of dialogue counts, there's not a dead patch in Casablanca. But it's been enshrined in cinema's pantheon of greatness for so long that, like Citizen Kane, people forget why it deserves to be there. If you're part of the post-Spielberg generation wondering what all the fuss is about, then don't wait any longer to find out. It could be the start of a beautiful friendship...
Getting things off to a flying start on Disc One is a commentary by US film critic supremo Roger Ebert, who offers an accessible rundown of the movie's production and cultural impact, all infused by his fulsome passion. Film historian Rudy Behlmer's track, meanwhile, covers much of the same ground, with a more scholarly slant. But they're great companion pieces, and must-listens for all Casablanca-lovers. Also featured are the original and re-release trailers, plus more promos for Warner Bros classics.
Disc Two is dominated by a pair of robust documentaries: an insightful, comprehensive Making Of and an acclaimed 1988 retrospective of Bogey's life and career, presented by his real-life leading lady, Lauren Bacall. The latter is a real delight, packed with anecdotes and behind-the-scenes footage. A gushing seven-minute featurette in which Bogart's son and one of Bergman's daughters reminisce is skippable, while the outtakes are mostly snippets before the director barked “Action!”. Like the two deleted scenes, they're silent since the audio tracks have been lost (although the edit-room casualties are subtitled).
More fun are the quirky side treats: a 1943 radio adaptation performed by the three stars; scoring session outtakes; Looney Tunes' superb cartoon homage Carrotblanca; and the wooden pilot episode for a '50s Casablanca TV spin-off, containing a talking parrot and cringeworthy direlogue (“They've been rough on you, baby. They've taught you there's a little cyanide in milk and honey”). And don't skip over the deceptively titled Production Research - it sounds dull but in fact is a revealing treasure chest of studio memos, shooting schedules and casting notes. All this and the movie's been lovingly remastered to look like it was shot last year. Rest assured: you won't be left wanting more from this superlative package.