“Casablanca” is showcased in a gorgeous new digital transfer in Warner Home Video’s 60th anniversary DVD release. The extras on this two-disc package are just fine, but they cannot match the quality of the film — what could? Still, they are respectful of the pic, and that’s all you can ask.
These days, when “Harry Potter” films offer 10 hours of DVD extras, the folk at Warner were faced with challenges: How do you add extras to a classic when virtually all of the principals are long gone, and time has erased the opportunity to dig up new material? And, in truth, this particular film needs no enhancements to help viewers enjoy it.
Among the four hours of added material are a pair of documentaries, including the 83-minute “Bacall on Bogart,” which debuted on PBS in 1988 and is making its DVD bow. The retrospective features generous film clips, home movies, archival interviews (with Katharine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman and John Huston, among others) and is narrated by Humphrey Bogart’s widow, Lauren Bacall.
The actress similarly serves as narrator for the 35-minute “As Time Goes By: A Tribute to ‘Casablanca,’ ” created for the pic’s homevid release in 1992 and updated six years later for DVD. In the docu, a slew of people pay tribute to key contributors like director Michael Curtiz, producer Hal Wallis, scripters Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein and d.p. Arthur Edeson.
As the keeper of the flame, Bacall (looking pretty terrific) also provides a new intro to “Casablanca” itself.
The best additions in the package are separate audio commentaries by critic Roger Ebert and film historian Rudy Behlmer. Ebert’s smart observations seem more spontaneous and personal. Behlmer uses extensive notes and records from the WB archives. Among other factoids, he points out that Joan Alison, who co-wrote the source play, “Everybody Comes to Rick’s” with Murray Burnett, invented the concept of “letters of transit,” which is crucial to the plot but has no basis in reality.
Many of the other extras are negligible. Deleted scenes: Two shots, without sound, each lasting less than a minute. Outtakes? A few seconds long.
However, there’s some twisted enjoyment in watching the pilot for a short-lived 1955 TV series “Casablanca” starring Charles McGraw, in which Rick deals with the Iron Curtain and romances a Scandinavian dame, Trina, who is more Anita Ekberg than Ingrid Bergman. The most entertaining part of this is an ad for the GE Steam & Dry Iron.
Other DVD extras include trailers for the original release and a radio broadcast of the story starring the film’s leads.
As time goes by, will this reissue become one of the most popular DVD packages of all time? If so, it won’t be due to the extras, but because of the film: People can play it and play it again, Sam.