It's a classic. One of those acts of artistic alchemy that shouldn't work. Bogey, lost in love and drink and political confusion, while Ingrid Bergman haunts his life. Claude Rains, Peter Lorre and a supporting cast of "formidable hams," as one critic put it, act almost as if they're each in a different sort of film. It's a drama that feels like a romance while containing a healthy dose of thriller. It was improvised by the filmmakers as they went along. It is a heroic accumulation of clich & eacute;s that eventually achieves a sublime critical mass that can only be described as the human spirit. Casablanca is for all time. So let's leave that much alone.
Warner Brothers has finally issued a two-disc DVD set that pulls together some of the ephemera that has accumulated in our culture since the movie's initial release. Included in the set is an introduction by Lauren Bacall, and recollections from Humphrey Bogart's son and Ingrid Bergman's daughters. There are documentaries on the making of the film, not to mention a healthy dose of historical photographs and press materials. Ten invaluable minutes of lost footage and outtakes appear (not all that interesting - but then this is Casablanca we're talking about). There is the inspired inclusion of the Looney Tunes spoof/tribute Carrotblanca, and the surprising addition of the first episode from the thankfully failed television series Casablanca. Umberto Eco's seminal essay on the film isn't there -- I can't imagine why, as it's brilliantly funny -- but scholarly relics of Casablancolatry by Roger Ebert and Rudy Behlmer are included as commentary. Suffice it to say, the Casablana Special Edition is a veritable shopping list of everything a fan could want.
So how does it add up? Does it matter? The film's a legend. In fact, if you dig deep enough, you can even find a restored version of it in the set. And in the end, that's all that really matters. This isn't the type of classic that's a classic just because some earlier generation fell in love with the story and the stars. It's a classic because it's one of the best movies ever made; you can't improve Casablanca. You probably couldn't even create Casablanca again. It's too improbable -- and too improbably good. It's the gold that resulted from Hollywood years ago when movies still had the potential for magic.
Publication date: 08/14/03