Casablanca: Ultimate Collector's Edition
Directed By: Michael Curtiz
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre
The latest in Warner's recent wave of "Ultimate Collector's Editions" is Casablanca, arguably the jewel in their cinematic catalog's crown. The heart of this collection is derived from the "Two-Disc Special Edition" that was released in 2003 to commemorate the film's 60th anniversary. The first two discs in this collection are bit identical to that release, and for an assessment of the film, its presentation, and the extras, I will refer you to Herb Kane's enthusiastic review in which he highly recommended it:
I didn't do anything I've never done before, but when the camera moves in on that Bergman face, and she's saying she loves you, it would make anybody feel romantic. – Humphrey Bogart
I fully concur with Herb's glowing assessment of the film and its DVD presentation in what I believe was his inaugural review for the "Home Theater Forum". Casablanca is easily one of my favorite two or three films of all time, and most days when asked, I would say it is number one on the list (feel free to discuss my mood swings in the "After Hours Lounge" forum). It is illustrative of the noblest of human impulses in a way that transcends its origins as a first rate World War II propaganda film to become a timeless classic.
The behind the scenes turmoil of Casablanca's production, documented thoroughly on the commentaries and extras, is a fascinating story in its own right which only enhances the film's status as an improbable classic. It is also perhaps the perfect example of the Hollywood studio system at its zenith, in many ways defying the auteurist notion that has come to dominate modern film criticism by demonstrating that a highly skilled collection of studio craftsmen inclusive of creative, strong-willed producers, directors, writers, and performers, can generate a piece of lasting cinematic art that bears all of their imprints.
For this "Ultimate Collector's Edition" of Casablanca, Warner has added a third disc that includes the 1993 Documentary Jack Warner: The Last Mogul (57:36). It is presented on disc in its original 4:3 aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound. It is directed by Warner's grandson, Gregory Orr, with narration from Efram Zimbalist, Jr. tying together interviews and archival footage. It tells the history of the enigmatic Warner Bros. studio head beginning with his origins as the son of turn of the century Polish-Jewish immigrants.
It continues roughly chronologically to touch on key professional and personal events in his life including how he and his brothers, Sam, Harry, and Albert went from purchasing a used Kinetoscope in Ohio to founding the Warner Bros. studio less than a decade later. Subsequent topics include Sam Warner's untimely death, the sound breakthrough of The Jazz Singer, the studio's uniquely populist perspective, Warner's passionate anti-Nazi views and the studio's contribution to the War effort, controversy over Mission to Moscow and Warner's subsequent staunch anti-Communist stance inclusive of cooperation with the House Un-American Activities Committee, Warner's conflicts with his brothers which resulted in his wresting complete control of the company from them, a near-fatal car accident shortly after the death of his estranged brother Harry, and the late career business machinations that resulted in his termination of several relatives that play like the stuff of classical dramas of royal succession. Key cinematic highlights from the studio's history are touched upon along the way as well.
Considering that the documentary is directed by the subject's own grandson, one might expect it to paint an overly rosy picture. That proves not to be the case, and while there is a certain amount of affection towards Warner and pride in his accomplishments that comes through, there is also an honest but by no means sensationalistic acknowledgement of his shortcomings and odd quirks. These include his frequently cruel acerbic wit, his ruthless scorched Earth business dealings, and his numerous marital infidelities.
The documentary is interesting in that it affords the viewer a chance to hear first hand accounts of Warner's life and work from family members such as son Jack Warner, Jr. and son-in-law William T. Orr, historians such as Rudy Behlmer and Neal Gabler, and filmmakers who worked for him such as Vincent Sherman and Debbie Reynolds. On the other hand, its less than one hour running time is not really enough to encompass a complex man whose professional career tracked fairly directly with the first six or seven decades of American cinema. This lack of comprehensiveness will probably keep viewers from revisiting this documentary frequently after an initial screening.
As a bit of triva, the title "The Last Mogul" has subsequently been appropriated for documentaries about both Dino DeLaurentis and Lew Wasserman. Feel free to argue about to whom the appelation best applies, but there is little doubt that out of the first generation of Hollywood studio bigshots, Warner was the "Last Mogul Standing" by the time he stepped down in the mid-late 60s.
In addition to the Jack Warner: The Last Mogul documentary, what sets this "Ultimate Collector's Edition" apart from the "Two-Disc Special Edition" that preceded it is its deluxe packaging including numerous physical extras.
The contents of the "Ultimate Collector's Edition" are enclosed in sturdy blue-green cardboard box which opens by sliding the top half off of the bottom. The box itself is enclosed in a thinner cardboard slipcover with an intricately patterned Moroccan arch laser-cut into the front. Both the box and the slipcover are adorned with gold foil representations of the movie's logo, images of Bogart and Bacall, and other text. Inside the box, are the following:
- A tri-fold digipack containing the three discs
- A cardboard box containing a Casablanca logoed Passport holder and luggage tag.
- A Hardcover 48 page photo book with several publicity and production images from the film and an extensive essay about the film's production and legacy by Rudy Behlmer.
- A cardboard folder with seven replicas of Casablanca movie posters, three replicas of vintage lobby cards, and three replica documents including
- A July 17, 1940 letter from Warner Bros. Advertising and Publicity Director S. Charles Einfeld to one of his employees directing him to sell Bogart as a romantic star to overcome his typecasting as a "gangster character".
- A December 31, 1941 inter-office memo from Hal Wallis to all Warner Bros. departments indicating that the film's title was changing from "Everybody Comes to Rick's" to "Casablanca".
- An April 3, 1942 inter-office memo from Hal Wallis to Jack Warner strongly discouraging the casting of George Raft in favor of Humphrey Bogart.
- A paper insert that can be used to order a 27" x 40" Casablanca movie poster if the coupon is mailed in with a sales receipt for the Casablanca UCE, a proof of purchase tab from the promotional paper sticky-tacked to the DVD Box, and $3.25 in shipping and handling.
- A promotional insert for Warner Blu-Ray discs.
As much as I love the film Casablanca I cannot recommend this set for those who already own the excellent two-disc special edition DVD from 2003, which remains the heart of this re-issue. The additional Jack Warner: The Last Mogul documentary is interesting, but not essential for fans of the film. The physical extras are fun and of high quality, but again, probably not worth the price of this set, which carries an MSRP of US$65, to any but the hardest of hardcore Casablanca-philes. That being said, this "Ultimate Collector's Edition" would likely make a fine birthday or holiday gift for any of the legions of fans of this classic film.