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Casablanca (1942)

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NOTE: These commentaries are only available on the 2-disc "Special Edition" Casablanca DVD release. A difference commentary was available on the Criterion laserdisc.

Commentaries on this disc:

Commentary 1: Film critic Roger Ebert Rating:8.3/10 (40 votes) [graph]Login to vote or review
Reviewed by Brian Thibodeau on June 30th, 2004:Find all reviews by Brian Thibodeau
Roger Ebert's track on Casablanca is fairly informative, but proves even respected critics are prone to narration, which increases as the film unfolds, though nowhere near as badly many such commentators. The split here is probably about 60% info and 40% interpretation, scene-setting and conjecture, as when he goes off at length about the "meanings" of shadows, hats, cigarettes, etc. He does address long held confusion about the infamous "letters of transit" in the film, but doesn't really offer any plausible explanation as to their importance as plot devices (indeed, there really isn't one). His dislike for Paul Henreid's performance is very much evident, and may even be shared by some viewers. Of interest, Ebert points out that many of the films extras, hired during wartime, were likely recent immigrants from Europe, thus lending much credibility to the "exterior" shots of Casablanca (which, of course, was entirely filmed in Hollywood). This fact is mentioned in both commentaries on this disc, and like that track, this track is only slightly above average, although Ebert comes off a little less rigid in his delivery, for obvious reasons. If you're looking for straight-up facts without the editorializing, however, stick to the other track.
Reviewed by Glenn Hopp on June 8th, 2007:Find all reviews by Glenn Hopp
I think the Roger Ebert commentary is very strong and extremely enjoyable. The big strength of his remarks is the consistent way he shows a closeness and intensity in viewing the film. And isn't that what a commentary on a familiar movie should do--point out things that make you feel that, however many times you've seen the movie, there are more cinematic riches to be gleaned? That's what Ebert does. Hearing the details he mentions and the larger purposes he ties to them really makes you want to watch all movies more attentively. He discusses Ingrid Bergman's facial expressiveness (often quoting Haskell Wexler, the cinematographer who co-taught the movie with Ebert in a film seminar), how her eyes "paint" the face of her male co-stars, searching the faces for support and responses. He points out intricate effects with lighting and shadow (on the back of Ingrid Bergman's head to give her a halo effect), and he relates these cinematic touches to the emotions and content of the film. He is refreshingly enthusiastic. Ebert is an ideal guide with whom to experience the movie.
Reviewed by zombking on January 20th, 2008:Find all reviews by zombking
Roger Ebert can do an excellent commentary. He knows his stuff, there's no doubt about that. Still, this isn't quite as good as his Citizen Kane commentary. He shares with us a lot of interpretive information regarding the film. Unfortunately, he also tries to explain the plot, which anyone over 18 should be able to get just by watching the film. This is what truly hurts his audio track.
Reviewed by criterion_hunter on March 27th, 2008:Find all reviews by criterion_hunter
Reviewed by Uniblab on December 14th, 2009:Find all reviews by Uniblab
Ebert's commentary is substantial indeed, but by no means devoid of weaknesses. He speaks annoyingly fast, like a sports narrator or radio host, which makes the transitions between his various subjects rather abrupt. After less than half the run time, he seems to run out of information and begins to narrate scenes and tell impressions about the movie.
More important, Ebert makes a gaffe: he quickly dismisses the political intrigue of Laszlo's presence in Casablanca as a historical mistake, saying that, since the Vichy Government that ruled Morocco collaborated with the Nazis, he would be arrested right on. However, a quick research reveals that not only the Vichy Government, despite its collaborator condition, was officially neutral in the war, but also that the political situation in the French colonies was more complex, to the point that the majority of them, including all the Vichy Governement forces in North Africa, eventually joined the Allied side.
Reviewed by Therealmrspock on February 14th, 2017:Find all reviews by Therealmrspock
A very, very good audio commentary by the legendary Roger Ebert, though I agree with Uniblab's review above, since after about half the run time, he seems to run out of ideas, which then leads to a few moments of "empty talk". Still, he gives a lot of valuable information, and I am glad he is honest about the film: while he supports "Casablanca" as one of his favorite films, he admits that there is no such thing as a "perfect film", and thus even points out a few flaws in here, for instance how Henreid's character Laszlo is such a bland and uninteresting good guy, or how the letters-of-transit make no sense (the Vichy government could have stopped Laszlo from boarding a plane one way or the other, letters or no letters) and thus act more as a "MacCguffin". Ebert also has a few delightful observations (when Bogart reads the note at the train station, while it is raining, it seems as if the "letter is crying") and speculates how the ending leaves the heroine in a "Catch 22" - whom ever of the two men she chooses as her lover, she is bound to regret it. Not quite as strong as I hoped it to be, but again, a very, very good audio commentary. 8/10
Commentary 2: Film historian Rudy Behlmer Rating:7.4/10 (27 votes) [graph]Login to vote or review
Reviewed by Brian Thibodeau on June 8th, 2004:Find all reviews by Brian Thibodeau
Working from records and correspondence available from the Warner archives, historian Behlmer provides a reasonably insightful track, though he falls victim to several moments of dead air in the second hour. Other historians might have done this better, but in all likelihood, Behlmer is the best candidate with relation to the film. Nonetheless, with a voice well suited to the presentation of TV documentaries, Behlmer's tracks are usually easy on the ears, if a bit light in pace. Here, he discusses the stage play origins of the piece as well as the complicated history of its screenplay. Behlmer also provides interesting background on legendary composer Max Steiner, who initially hated the inclusion of "As Time Goes By" as a major part of the film's soundtrack, but came to appreciate it in later years. Overall, an average historian track, with a decent amount of production information, a bit too much dead space and at least one opportunity for Behlmer to fawn over the film's "magic" still working all these years later, which is rather obvious.
Reviewed by Glenn Hopp on June 8th, 2007:Find all reviews by Glenn Hopp
This commentary, unlike Ebert's, is not very often (if at all) related to what is on the screen at a given moment. It is essentially the story of how the movie came to be (taken from the chapter on the film in Behlmer's book AMERICA'S FAVORITE FILMS). But all this historical information is interesting and balances the more interpretive, appreciative commentary that Roger Ebert provides. That commentary is better for those who want to savor what makes the movie powerful at the human level (Ebert's best comments may be about the power of movies to lift our spirits when characters act on their idealism) while this commentary informs us about casting choices, rewrites to the source material and the script, and so on. It is never boring, but Ebert's remarks truly renew one's enthusiasm for the film.
Reviewed by zombking on January 20th, 2008:Find all reviews by zombking
For those of you interested in the historical importance of Casablanca as well as the back story behind the making of the film, look no further. Much different from Ebert's commentary, he gives us a new look into the Hollywood golden age that many people will enjoy immensely. It's not my favorite subject (as a film student I'm more interested in style than why this song was picked over the other) but for those of you who like it, I suggest you go for it.
Reviewed by Uniblab on December 15th, 2009:Find all reviews by Uniblab
Much better than the Ebert's one, this commentary is a comprehensive and detailed look at the movie from almost every possible point-of-view. It has some of the same defects of the other one; Behlmer also speaks on a frantic pace and at times seems to overload the listener with information that is mostly interesting, but sometimes isn't.
Reviewed by Therealmrspock on February 15th, 2017:Find all reviews by Therealmrspock
I agree with the comments by Brian and Glenn Hopp above. Mr. Behlmer gives a good audio commentary, but basically just narrates the "making of" of the movie, completely ignoring what is going on the screen at any given moment. Alas, I felt this was an commentary on auto-pilot. Still, his production notes are interesting and give a lot of information (for instance, he ironically mentions how the movie was screened in the White House - since "Casa-Blanca" means "White House" in Spanish) and problems surrounding the principal photography (the movie began shooting without a finished script, and thus the screenwriters at one point had to write the scene on the day of the shooting, which confused Bergman who did not know whom of the two men her character is in love with; various alternate ending were suggested, such as that Bogart and Bergman would escape together; after the Allies took control over Morocco in November 1942, some of the producers wanted to re-shoot the ending, announcing the arrival of the Allied troops, but luckily, it was decided to screen the film as it is) as well that a sequel was suggested. Good, though I wanted to hear more about the magic of the movie and the story - and less about the official "making of". 6/10