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The Clay County Advocate - Press-Flora, IL
  • Movie Man: 'Casablanca' gets deluxe release it deserves

  • A few weeks ago in this column, I wondered why Warner Bros. gave an expensive, extras-packed DVD release to “The Town,” a movie that, while not bad, has yet to stand the test of time.

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  • A few weeks ago in this column, I wondered why Warner Bros. gave an expensive, extras-packed DVD release to “The Town,” a movie that, while not bad, has yet to stand the test of time.
    On Tuesday, Warner Bros. will release an even bigger boxed set, with even more extras — including a set of coasters! But I’ve got no complaints. After all, if any movie has stood the test of time, it’s “Casablanca.”
    Released to coincide with the 1942 film’s 70th anniversary (and its brief return to theaters), this anniversary edition of “Casablanca” comes loaded with documentaries, commentary tracks, special features and, like I said, a set of coasters. It’s all good stuff, but the centerpiece of this colossal boxed set remains the movie itself — one of the most entertaining films Hollywood ever made.
    The story is surprisingly simple: Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is a cynical American who moved to Casablanca to avoid the problems of a world at war (and to nurse a broken heart). One day, his former girlfriend Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) arrives with her husband, Laszlo (Paul Henried). He’s a freedom fighter who needs letters of transit to avoid the Nazis and continue his fight. Rick, who still loves Ilsa, finally sees a chance to win her back – or maybe, just maybe, get back into the fight himself.
    “Casablanca” is arguably the most romantic movie ever made even though — spoiler alert! — the hero doesn’t get the girl. Instead, Rick, Ilsa and Laszlo wind up on a runway outside the city, with Nazis speeding toward them and Rick’s policeman pal Louis (Claude Rains) trying to decide which side he’s on. As the documentary “Casablanca: An Unlikely Classic” explains, the ending was written and filmed on the fly, with Bogart storming off the set because no one could figure out who should end up with Ilsa. Of course, they did eventually sort it out, and the final minutes of “Casablanca” became a master’s class in movie screenwriting, with almost every line of dialogue becoming an unforgettable quote.
    A lot of cinema classics are either dull or dated. But “Casablanca” is still a thrill to watch 70 years later, full of great moments and packed with emotional power. If you can’t get excited by this movie, you’re even more cynical than Rick.
    The extras in the “Casablanca” set offer a crash course in Hollywood history. There are feature-length looks at Bogart and director Michael Curtiz; various tributes to the film; a “Night at the Movies” feature that includes a 1942 newsreel, cartoon and short subject; radio and TV versions of the movie; documentaries about Jack Warner and the Warner Brothers; and a three-part, five-hour miniseries about the studio. All that, plus a poster, a hardcover book of photos and clippings and, of course, those coasters. Until they invent holograms or time travel, this is the definitive version of “Casablanca.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Joan’s appeal endures
    If modern audiences remember Joan Blondell at all, it’s probably because she played Vi the waitress in 1978’s “Grease.” (She died a year later.) But Blondell was one of Hollywood’s busiest actresses, with a career that included such classics as “The Public Enemy,” “Gold Diggers of 1933” and “Nightmare Alley.” She had loads of sass and offbeat looks that made her more than just another movie dame.  
    Thankfully, Warner Archives (warnerarchive.com) is making some of Blondell’s more obscure movies available on DVD. The latest release is a pair of films from 1935 that team her with Glenda Farrell, another forgotten actress who deserves to be remembered. “Miss Pacific Fleet” has Joan competing for the coveted title in a bid to win enough money for the ladies to return to Broadway.
    “Traveling Saleslady” finds Joan reviving her father’s struggling toothpaste business by adding boozy flavors to the tubes. (Prohibition, remember, had just ended two years earlier.) Neither movie is a classic, but they’re both a lot of fun, offering the sort of hard-to-believe high jinks that Depression-era audiences craved.
    There is one thing about “Miss Pacific Fleet” that might strike a downbeat note with modern viewers, though: Studio stalwart Allen Jenkins co-stars as a sailor who befriends our heroines. What’s ominous is that Jenkins’ character is stationed on the U.S.S. Arizona — which was famously sunk in the attack on Pearl Harbor six years after the lighthearted “Miss Pacific Fleet” was released.
    Read Will Pfeifer’s Movie Man blog at rrstar.com/blogs/willpfeifer/ or email him at wpfeifer@rrstar.com.
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