That is, until a weasel named Ugarte trusts Rick with priceless letters of transit, which, during WWII, would grant one’s final destination to America. Then, of all the gin joints in all the world, Rick’s former flame Ilsa walks in with her beau, Victor Laszlo, a Czech Resistance leader being hunted by the Nazis. Fate rests with Rick. Does he use the letters for his own selfish reasons, or stick his neck out and allow Ilsa, who he still loves, and Victor, to board the plane?
The film is best remembered for the love story between Rick and Ilsa. In flashbacks, we learn when they first met (the Germans wore gray, Ilsa wore blue) and began their no-questions romance in Paris. And we learn why it ended at a train station in a rain-soaked letter.
But above all else, Casablanca is about the sacrifice of love for doing the right thing. And at the center is Rick, played with sheer bitterness by Humphrey Bogart, and Ilsa, played by the saintly Ingrid Bergman. Other actors from the Warner Bros. rotation that round out the cast are Paul Henreid as Victor Laszlo, Oscar-nominated Claude Rains as Capt. Renault, whose mission is to see that Laszlo doesn’t make it to America, Conrad Veidt as his cohort Major Strasser, Peter Lorreas criminal Ugarte, and Dooley Wilson as piano player Sam.
And behind it all are director Michael Curtiz (The Adventures of Robin Hood) and screenwriters Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein (twins) and Howard Koch, all Oscar winners for their work. They’ve crafted one of the most human films we have, and maybe the most memorable.
Casablanca has been written about—praised 99.9% of the time—every year since its release in 1942. The seven decades that have followed thus far have allowed for an endless list of viewers, both professional and casual, to get their word out about the film. And, even though this is likely to be the definitive DVD release, I certainly won’t be the last one to write about Casablanca.
Introduction by Lauren Bacall (2:05): Humphrey Bogart’s widow gives a brief, “biased” background of Casablanca, paying tribute to Bogie, Bergman, and the film itself.
Commentary by Film Critic Roger Ebert: No one gives a better commentary than Ebert, and this track from the 2003 DVD is further evidence. He comes out blazing and never stops for the duration, giving extensive details on production, historical context, characters, the film’s legacy, and much, much more. One of the finest tracks you’ll ever hear.
Commentary by Film Historian Rudy Behlmer: In another recycled commentary, Behlmer reads from cards and discusses many of the same aspects that Ebert did. A good track, but nothing compared to the previous one.
A Great Cast is Worth Repeating is a text-only feature that makes note of the collaborations between Casablanca’s main players, including Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Claude Rains.
Rounding out Disc One are Trailers, Cast & Crew, and Awards.
The Children Remember (6:46): Bogart’s son Stephen and Bergman’s daughter Pia Lindström share memories of their parents and production stories of Casablanca.
The Additional Scenes (1:39) and Outtakes (4:59) both play without audio, though the former is accompanied by dialogue from the screenplay. Both are interesting to watch, considering such features are rarities with films this old.
Scoring Stage Sessions gives viewers the opportunity to listen to eight tracks, isolated from where they’re placed in the film.
Bacall on Bogart (1:23:23): In this 1988 documentary, Bacall and others—Peter Bogdanovich, Katharine Hepburn, John Huston, etc.—pay tribute to Humphrey Bogart, who made 75 films in little more than 25 years. Film clips and interviews are included.
You Must Remember This: A Tribute to Casablanca (34:37): This 1992 documentary gathers a number of contributors to discuss the classic film, from the original unproduced play and the Oscar-winning screenplay to “As Times Go By” and casting (if Reagan were cast, would Bogie have been president?) to production problems and the ending, with more in between.
The Screen Guild Theater Radio Show – 1943 features Bogart, Bergman, and Henreid reprising their roles.
Who Holds Tomorrow (18:37) is a Gig Young-hosted television adaptation of Casablanca from 1955, starring Charles McGraw (as Rick Blaine), Marcel Dalio (as Captain Renaud), and a pre-La Dolce Vita Anita Ekberg (as Katrina Jorgenson). Complete with ads for Chesterfield cigarettes and a General Electric steam & dry iron, this might be worth skimming through for fans of classic television.
Carrotblanca (8:03) is a parody of Casablanca starring Bugs Bunny as Rick, Daffy Duck as Sam, Tweety Bird as Ugarte, Pepé Le Pew as Captain Renault, Sylvester as Victor Laszlo, and Penelope Pussycat as Ilsa.
And Production Research offers a series of stills showing original documents related to the production of Casablanca.
Disc Three (Bonus Disc):
Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul (57:35): Directed by Gregory Orr, this 1993 documentary serves as a portrait of both the late Warner Bros. president, who was active from 1927-’72, and the studio itself, which was responsible for, amongst others, The Jazz Singer, Yankee Doodle Dandy, and countless gangster pictures.
Disc material aside, the Casablanca (Ultimate Collector’s Edition) comes with a 48-page photo book, reproductions of 10 one-sheets, 3 studio memos, and Victor Laszlo’s letter of transit. And lastly, there is a Passport Holder and Luggage Tag, for use on your next trip to Morocco.