'Casablanca' - Big Screen and Small(er)

Elsewhere on our site today, you can read John Timpane's appreciation of "Casablanca" sparked by its one day theater showings today. But if you can wait until next Tuesday, you can bring home this classic film romance in a super-sized 3 disc Blu-ray + DVD box  loaded with extras.

Occasioned by the 70th anniversary of the film's debut (actually Thanksgiving Day, 1942,  pushed up by a few months because  the allies had just landed at Casablanca), both the theatrical and home video versions are built on a pristine new 4K digital restoration.

 On a high definition TV set with good contrast, the play of light and shading in this new black and white rendering (no colorization!)  is gorgeous. There isn't a speck of dust or scratch to behold, not like the well-worn 16 mm film print I used to screen in my college gig at a campus coffeehouse at Penn. ("Casablanca" and Marx Brothers classics always packed the house.)

 And on the new Blu-ray edition,  some  of the scenes are so razor sharp you'll sense you could jump in and pinch Humphrey Bogart's chin, plant a big one on Ingrid Bergman's lips or virtually  sit down on the piano bench with  Dooley Wilson as he serves up "It Had To Be You," "Knock on Wood" and the signature "As Time Goes By."

I wish I could say the soundtrack is now equally sharp and bright. It's not. But at least the studio wizards have  rid  the soundtrack of the  optical hash noise of film prints which drove me mad in my student projectionist days.

Truth is, today's special NCM Fathom/TCM Presents  theater screenings  (on tap at both 2 and 7 p.m. at the UA  Riverview and King of Prussia Stadium, Rave Nation Pictures in University City and Vorhees, among other locations) are really touts for Tuesday's home video re-release.

It's easy to sense how big and important this project is for Warner Brothers on an international scale. The new home video version features spoken language soundtracks in English, Francais, Italiano, Castellano, Espanol  and Portugues, with subtitles in all those languages plus Dansk,  Suomi, Norsk and Svenska.     

The box set also features 14 hours of bonus material - including three  documentaries, some  excised scene clips, audio scoring stage sessions and  a "Casablanca" radio broadcast from 1947.  A 60 page hard-back book boasts great photos, movie posters and memos from studio execs - announcing the change of the picture's name from "Everybody Comes To Rick's" and promoting  Humphrey Bogart's strategic move from a movie "heavy" to a romantic star. A small movie poster and set of Casablanca drink coasters in "keepsake" leather-like box also will fill a collector's passion in the package, which Warner Home Video will sell in a numbered, limited edition for $64.99.

There aren't many movies I like to watch repeatedly like "Casablanca" with its timeless themes of war-sparked sacrifice,  heroism, ruthlessness and romance and wonderful integration of music.   So play it, Sam. And then, play it again.