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In the history of cool, Humphrey Bogart ranks close second to Miles Davis. Not unlike the characters he portrayed, Bogie possessed razor-sharp wit, irresistible charm, rugged good looks and a penchant for the bottle. He was the man women wanted and who men wanted to be, a real man's man but with a heart. Being the wonderful folks they are Warner Home Video has collected four of Bogie's best here in this first Signature Collection. Nary a one is exclusive however, and because these are all available individually - I'll be slightly less long-winded as I might ordinarily be with a set of this magnitude.

Humphrey Bogart - The Signature Collection, Vol. 1
Casablanca (1943)
Quite easily the greatest film Bogie ever appeared in, Casablanca represents the best of the studio system days of Hollywood. There's something for everyone here, action, romance and comedy. You know the story (and if you don't, you really should), in Nazi-occupied Casablanca where life is cheap, a French resistance leader and his wife turn to Rick Blaine (Bogart) for assistance in escaping to America. Hard-boiled Rick sticks his neck out for no one however, especially the wives of French resistance leaders who abruptly walked out on him years earlier without so much as a goodbye. Now Rick must choose who to help; the resistance leader, his ex-flame, or himself and he must do it quickly for the noose of the Gestapo is tightening in on all sides of their love triangle. With a superb cast including Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Dooley Wilson and Ingrid Bergman, this is a marvelous tale of love lost, renewed and sacrificed.

Treasure Of The Sierra Madre (1948)
If Casablanca was the greatest film Bogie ever did, Treasure was certainly his finest performance, one that wasn't his typical tough guy role. Bogart stars as Fred C. Dobbs alongside Tim Holt as Bob Curtin, two down on their luck gents looking for a job or better yet; a get rich quick scheme which they find in the ramblings of an old prospector played by Walter Huston (father of director John Huston). After investing their every last penny in the dig operation, they set out to find their riches and eventually do. Little could they have suspected that their worst enemy wouldn't be Mother Nature or bandits, but themselves. Starting out as a fairly likable guy, Dobbs is slowly driven mad by his own greed and paranoia, a terrifying spectacle to watch unfold, especially for his two partners. Treasure is a magnificent psychological drama and a must-see for cinema connoisseurs.

High Sierra (1941)
Level-headed gangster Roy Earle (Bogie) is sprung from prison to aid a couple of young up-and-coming criminals who seriously botch up a jewel heist. Having seen Bogie in several villainous gangster roles, it's interesting to watch him here as a gangster with a heart, a sort of rebel against the system, someone we're supposed to root for, and like Treasure this was far from a typical role for him. The High Sierra experience is somewhat lessened by the inclusion of an awfully racist stereotype of a black man, Algernon (he was all but eating watermelon.) Even though it's not cut from the same masterpiece fabric that Casablanca and Treasure were, High Sierra is still highly entertaining cinema.

Humphrey Bogart - The Signature Collection, Vol. 1
They Drive By Night (1940)
Bogart co-stars here with George Raft as brothers who try to make a living as independent truckers. Raft crosses paths with a femme fatale (played by Ida Lupino of High Sierra) and is soon framed for homicide. The film feels somewhat Hitchcockian, especially during a masterfully directed murder scene where the audience gets to see the killer's mind at work, first realizing the opportunity of the crime and then justifying it with her hatred of the victim. Since Bogart is playing second fiddle here to George Raft, I personally wouldn't have chosen this film as one of Bogart's signature appearances. Still, I have to give credit to Warner for not double dipping any titles from other two Bogie Signature Collections or their Film Noir box sets.

All four films are presented in their original full frame aspect ratio. The transfer for Casablanca is drop-dead gorgeous, the best of the bunch. Dust and scratches are extremely rare and the contrast absolutely perfect. For an idea of just how well of a job Warner Brothers has done with this film, compare the quality of the feature to that of the theatrical trailer on disc two—it will amaze you. Treasure is slightly less impressive with occasional dust, although nothing to complain about, it's still a fine visual presentation.

I was surprised that two of Bogie's lesser known titles High Sierra and They Drive By Night were each given re-mastering treatment every bit as great as the first two landmark films in the set. The image in all four films is wonderfully detailed; Warner has clearly shown them love. For a set of films sixty years old, the video quality is first-rate, so I give it an 8/10.

All four films have their original mono soundtracks accompanying them. Just as one would expect, these are far from impressive but certainly get the job one. Dialogue, music and effects are all very clear. I don't have much more to say about these mixes, so I'll give this set a collective 6/10, a gracious rating for mono tracks.

Humphrey Bogart - The Signature Collection, Vol. 1
Sierra is given a fifteen-minute featurette 'Curtains for Roy Earle: The Story of High Sierra', which looks at the production and it's star within the context of the time period. It has interviews with film historians Leonard Maltin and Robert Osbourne, Bogart biographer Eric Lax, actress Joan Leslie and legendary producer David Brown. For its running time, it's a nice retrospective on the movie. The disc also includes the theatrical trailer and anamorphic menus.

Drive is home to a ten-minute featurette 'Divided Highway: The Story of They Drive By Night', which covers much ground in it's brisk running time, touching on the careers of several performers involved making it a short but enjoyable feature. Also included is a nineteen-minute vintage musical short, ‘Swingtime in the Movies’, which is actually a pretty funny look behind the scenes at Warner Brothers. It has what must be the shortest cameo in the history of cameos by Bogart himself, making it a somewhat relevant inclusion. Rounding out the disc is the original theatrical trailer and anamorphic menus.

On the first disc for Treasure, you can watch the film as part of 'Warner Night At The Movies 1948', which essentially re-creates what a cinematic experience was once like. After an introduction by Leonard Maltin, you're treated to a trailer for the upcoming Bogie and Bacall thriller Key Largo, a vintage newsreel, a comedy short 'So You Want to Be a Detective?' and lastly a Merrie Melodies cartoon, 'Hot Cross Bunny', then your feature film begins. I think it's a delightful way to watch the movie and a creative and entertaining feature. Also on disc one is a Bogie trailer gallery, featuring thirteen trailers. Lastly, Eric Lax, expert on all things Bogart, provides a first-rate commentary on the film. To sum it up, the disc holds non-stop production stories and factoids, all of them entertaining.

Humphrey Bogart - The Signature Collection, Vol. 1
Robert Mitchum (another fine performer) hosts a mammoth two hour plus documentary on director John Huston on disc two. This has to be one of the finest documentaries on a filmmaker I've ever seen; it has a wealth of home video footage from Hustin's rich life and interviews with Paul Newman, Lauren Bacall, Angelica Houston, Michael Kaine and the big man himself, Houston. Another fine documentary on the second disc is the fifty-minute 'Discovering Treasure: The Story of...' which is similar to the other documentaries in this collection, only much longer and more comprehensive. It exhaustively examines the film's larger-than-life cast and director, chronicling their life up until, during and after the production.

Rounding out the extras on disc two are a Merrie Melodies cartoon '8 Ball Bunny' which features a spoof appearance of Bogie, a 1949 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast of Treasure, and an extensive 'Treasure Trove' photo gallery covering storyboards, set stills, cast/crew and publicity.

To save myself a great deal of time, I'll point you to Paul Cooke's review of Casablanca for a look at that film's special features. Simply put, it's a loaded special edition and worth every penny.

I'd like to say a thing or two about the packaging of this set—it’s miserably bad, and once again Warner Brother screws up. Treasure and Casablanca are housed in their standard digipacks, same as their retail versions. Sierra and Drive are given slimpack cases. Imagine these four titles sitting upon your shelf, digipacks and slimcases. The latter casing has such small spines that it's a great strain on the eye to make out the title, while the former is easy to read from a comfortable distance away.

Humphrey Bogart - The Signature Collection, Vol. 1
This first Signature Collection has been incredibly well produced by Warner Home Video. As a starter set, the films couldn't have been better selected as each shows the performer in a different role—cynical nightclub owner, gangster, treasure-seeker and the working-class male. Sporting a polished technical presentation and an overwhelming abundance of supplements, this is top-notch set. Great job, Warner Brothers, you rarely disappoint.