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Warner Brothers had sent me The Best of Bogart collection only a few days before the release date, which forced me to squeeze review time between some other discs that I probably should’ve had finished reviewing already. I also notice that all of the discs in this set have been available on single-movie Blu-rays for some time and am going to assume most readers are already aware of the glorious quality of each of the films included. With all of this in mind, I will be keeping my thoughts and critiques brief throughout this review.

Best of Bogart Collection

The Maltese Falcon

(1941)
Despite the objective perfection of many other films (some appearing in this very review), The Maltese Falcon is my personal favourite John Huston production, Dashiell Hammett adaptation, and Humphrey Bogart performance (subject to change, of course). If it wasn’t for Carol Reed’s The Third Man, it might be my favourite film noir, though that is a much more difficultly-defined category of movie, thanks to a number of subgenres and international influences. It’s also a good standby when arguing the validity of motion picture remakes/re-adaptations (it was the third adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s story). Above my opinion, however, is an undeniably wonderful movie that stands the test of time as a template for the hundreds of films that followed in its wake.

This Blu-ray, which was first released (with slightly different disc art) in October of 2010, features a beautiful 1080p, 1.37:1 black & white transfer. It doesn’t hurt that The Maltese Falcon is already a stunning study of tonal expressionism, but the DVD versions always looked a bit too bright to me. While the uptake in overall detail is somewhat negligible (due largely to the shallow depth of field and softer overall focus), the depth of the black levels and the crispness of the harder edges marks a definite improvement. Tonally, the greys appear a hair sepia, while the harsher white highlights remain relatively clean and white. Grain levels appear natural with only a couple of significant increases in some of the fuzzier backgrounds and the SD release’s compression effects (including low level noise and posterization) have been cleaned up, alongside a handful of print damage artefacts. The closest thing I can find to a ‘problem’ here is a bit of edge enhancement in the darkest scenes and a couple of missing frames/awkward splices. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 soundtrack is, of course, limited, but has been thoroughly cleaned of crackles and pops. The dialogue is consistent and the basic sound quality is pretty natural. The simple mix doesn’t include a lot of ambience, but Adolph Deutsch’s music has quite a bit of instrumental depth and a decent bass push.

The extras have been carried over from the three-disc DVD special edition and include:
  • Commentary by Bogart biographer Eric Lax
  • The Maltese Falcon: One Magnificent Bird (32:10, SD)
  • Breakdowns of 1941: Studio blooper reel makeup tests (12:50, SD)
  • Becoming Attractions: The Trailers of Humphrey Bogart (44:50, SD)
  • Make-up tests (1:40, SD)
  • Warner Night at the Movies:
    • 1941 newsreel (1:30, SD)
    • The Gay Parisian musical short (20:00, SD)
    • Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt animated short (7:50, SD)
    • Meet John Doughboy animated short(7:00, SD)
    • Sergeant York and Satan Met a Lady trailers
  • Audio Vault:
    • 2/8/1943 – Lux Radio broadcast (57:40, audio only)
    • 9/20/1943 – Screen Guild Theater (28:50, audio only)
    • 7/3/1946 – Academy Award Theater (27:30, audio only)


 Best of Bogart Collection

 Best of Bogart Collection

 Best of Bogart Collection

 Best of Bogart Collection

 Best of Bogart Collection


Best of Bogart Collection

Casablanca


Probably the major choice as best overall film and most iconic Bogart performance in this collection, Michael Curtiz’ Casablanca (the only one not directed by John Huston) is one of the most enduringly popular movie of all time. Its pop culture awareness hovers above even Citizen Kane and Gone with the Wind. Only The Wizard of Oz enjoys a longer, more consistent place in the hearts of generations of film lovers, though I suppose Star Wars and The Godfather could eventually overtake them both. Of course, it’s easy to forget that there’s a reason movies like Casablanca sustain their popularity – they speak to our most basic, shared humanity and their themes can be applied and reapplied to different hardships in different eras. Curtiz and his screenwriters (specifically original playwrights Murray Burnett and Joan Alison) were wise to not overstate the film’s inherent patriotism like many other WWII era Hollywood releases. This left it open to additional interpretations throughout generations and nationalities.

The original press release and removable back cover art for this release incorrectly lists the specs from Warner’s original 2008 ‘Ultimate Edition’ Blu-ray, which featured an inferior transfer, a lossy Dolby Digital soundtrack, and a limited number of extras. I can assure you that this is, in fact, the same disc you will find in the 2012 70th Anniversary Edition re-release. The 2008 disc looked just fine, but was a bit over-processed and over-brightened. It’s no match for the more film-like and more dynamic 4K restoration, presented here in 1.37:1, 1080p HD video. The higher bitrate ensures sharper details and these are most impressive during the busier wide-angle shots of Rick’s Café’s interiors. Grain levels are consistent, even during the more dimly-lit sequences, and don’t cause unusual harm to the gradations. There aren’t any major compression artefacts, nor are there signs of overt DNR production. Contrast levels are dynamic without edge enhancement side effects. The 70th Anniversary Editions DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 soundtrack isn’t an outrageous improvement over the Ultimate Edition’s Dolby Digital 1.0 (192 kbps) soundtrack, but is still the superior choice. The older track wasn’t muddy or distorted, but this uncompressed track features higher overall volume levels and a stronger depth of field. Max Steiner’s score and the film’s various musical sequences are also cleaner here.

This disc includes all of the :
  • Commentary by critic Roger Ebert
  • Commentary by author/historian Rudy Behlmer
  • Introduction by Lauren Bacall (2:00, SD)
  • Great Performances: Bacall On Bogart (1:23:30, SD)
  • Casablanca: An Unlikely Classic (35:00, HD)
  • Michael Curtiz: The Greatest Director You Never Heard Of (HD, 37:20)
  • Warner Night at the Movies:
    • Now Voyager trailer
    • 1942 newsreel highlighting World War II (4:40, SD)
    • Vaudeville Days short (20:20, SD)
    • The Bird Came C.O.D. animated short  (7:40, SD)
    • The Squawkin' Hawk animated short (6:40, SD)
    • The Dover Boys at Pimento University animated short (9:00, the only cartoon in HD)
  • You Must Remember This: A Tribute to Casablanca TV special (34:40, SD)
  • As Time Goes By: The Children Remember (6:50, SD)
  • Deleted scenes and outtakes (6:40, SD)
  • Who Holds Tomorrow? TV excerpt (18:40, SD)
  • Carrotblanca animated short (8:00, HD)
  • Eight scoring stage sessions (15:22, audio only)
  • Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater radio broadcast version of the film from April 26, 1943 (29:40, audio only)
  • Streamlined for 1947! – November 19, 1927 Vox Pop radio broadcast (29:40, audio only)
  • Theatrical trailers


 Best of Bogart Collection

 Best of Bogart Collection

 Best of Bogart Collection

 Best of Bogart Collection

 Best of Bogart Collection


Best of Bogart Collection

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre


Maltese Falcon is my favourite Bogart/Huston collaboration (and one I couldn’t believe I didn’t already own a copy of), but The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was the one I was most looking forward to revisiting – years of catching it in pieces on Turner Classic Movies simply do not count. The thing that really strikes me on this rewatch is how far ahead of its time the film is. It isn’t particularly unique on a narrative or thematic level, though it clearly influenced a number of similar treasure/gold-hunting movies that followed. Its more novel contribution is the way Huston and cinematographer Ted D. McCord chose to shoot the film – often more like a noir than a western. Despite the powerful visuals their photographic choices produced, similar images were surprisingly rare, even in other black & white westerns of the ‘40s and ‘50s. However, the subversive spirit of these stylistic choices, coupled with the Bogart’s anti-hero/anti-villain status and the bleaker moments, designates The Treasure of the Sierra Madre as an early revisionist western, predating the likes of Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon, George Stevens’ Shane, and John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Having not seen the film in some time, I’m not really equipped to compare this 1080p, 1.33:1 transfer (originally released in 2010) to older DVD versions. I can say, however, that it is every bit as gorgeous as the other two black & white films in this set. It might even be the most impressive of the three – it doesn’t have the complete clarity of Casablanca’s 4K restoration or the constantly rich blacks of the Maltese Falcon disc, but the sheer quantity of elements held in Huston and McCord’s compositions makes for the more complex visual experience. Contrast levels are tight, especially during the darkest scenes, punching highlights through the grain and producing only minor edge enhancement effects. The details are plenty complex during the sun-baked daylight shots as are the finer gradations. A lossy soundtrack is the ideal arena for Max Steiner’s brassy, in-your-face musical score, especially when it’s crammed into a single channel. This DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 soundtrack gives the music almost as much depth as a stereo track and features no high-end buzz. Most of the incidental and ambient effects are purposefully dried out to create a stark, unromantic aural environment. The lower volume levels during fist fights, for example, may seem a bit off compared to the louder, more consistent dialogue tracks, but these differentiations are part of the original mix.

The extras include:
  • Commentary by Bogart biographer Eric Lax
  • Leonard Maltin introduction (3:50, SD)
  • Discovering Treasure: The Story of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (50:00, SD)
  • Documentary profile of director John Huston (2:08:10, SD)
  • Outtakes
  • 8 Ball Bunny animated short (7:10, SD)
  • Warner Night At The Movies:
    • Key Largo and Treasure of the Sierra Madre trailers
    • Vintage newsreel (4:50, SD)
    • So You Want To Be A Detective short film (10:50, SD)
    • Hot Cross Bunny animated short (7:10, SD)
  • Radio show adaptation featuring Humphrey Bogart and Walter Houston (audio only)


 Best of Bogart Collection

 Best of Bogart Collection

 Best of Bogart Collection

 Best of Bogart Collection

 Best of Bogart Collection


Best of Bogart Collection

The African Queen


Bogart was among the most unlikely romantic leads in motion picture history and The African Queen’s Charlie Allnut ranks very high on this list of improbable love interests. His scruffy, filthy, full-colour appearance is miles apart from the black & white icon that swept the likes of Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, and Audrey Hepburn off of their feet. Yet, despite his greasy hands and unshaven face, Charlie might be Bogey’s sweetest role. It is, at the very least, his most emotionally venerable one. Director John Huston’s technical prowess, the epic scope of the jungle backdrop, and the breathless action sequences all flavour the film, but the abiding emotional charm of Bogart and Katherine Hepburn’s budding relationship. The African Queen was beloved upon release and ranks number 17 on the AFI’s list, but I think fans of Bogart’s tough-guy persona often overlook it. I’m very happy that it has been coupled with these other films, though its inclusion does make me wish that his other outstanding sweetheart performance, Linus Larrabee in Billy Wilder’s Sabrina, had also made the cut (it is, fortunately, scheduled to be released on Blu-ray on April 8th)

The African Queen is the only colour film included in the set and, despite being an older transfer (Paramount’s Blu-ray was first released in 2010), is probably the set’s crown jewel. At least as far as picture quality is concerned. This transfer was scanned in 4K from the original negative and restored with notes from original cinematographer Jack Cardiff. The final product ranks highly among the best three-strip Technicolor restorations to hit the HD format. The detail levels are so sharp and so complex that one could almost mistake it for a brand new movie. The gritty textures are deep and crisp, limited only by Cardiff’s focal choices and the inherent grain, which, thankfully, has not been eradicated by unnecessary DNR (some of the bluescreen composite edges have been cleaned up). The colours skew slightly yellowish, but appear about as natural as expected from a Technicolor print. The almost surrealistic hues are very well-separated and wonderfully supported by the rich black levels. Unfortunately, Paramount apparently didn’t see fit to include lossless audio with their original Blu-ray, so this disc features only a lossy Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack. This is a particular bummer, because The African Queen is an action/adventure movie and, as such, features many more layered sound effects than the comparatively low-key mixes of the other films in the collection. The compression doesn’t cause any notable distortion, outside of the stuff that is already a bit fuzzy, like the loudest rushing water, but is definitely softer than the other film’s DTS-HD MA mixes. The dialogue is clean and Allan Gray’s music is plenty warm, so I guess the damage done is minimal. The only extra is a well-produced behind-the-scenes documentary, Embracing Chaos: Making The African Queen (59:20, HD).

 Best of Bogart Collection

 Best of Bogart Collection

 Best of Bogart Collection

 Best of Bogart Collection

 Best of Bogart Collection

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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