I got a first look at a new digital restoration of "Casablanca'' Friday night, and wow! I've seen one my favorite movies projected on the big screen maybe a dozen times since the 1960s, and I don't recall it ever looking anywhere near as stunning as the images shown as the inaugural presentation at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
There have been at least two previous "Casablanca'' restorations -- for the 50th and 60th anniversaries -- but Warners' $1 million restoration for the Oscar winning's film's 70th (it premiered on Nov. 26, 1942 in NYC) is truly spectacular, even better than the most recent one which was quite good. What struck me most was the dark, deep, gorgeous shadows -- the restorers have honored the original intentions of director Michael Curtiz and photographer Arthur Edeson (which producer Hal Wallis complained about in memos). For decades, these scenes were lightened for TV and theatrical showings, but now they're showcased in their full noir glory.
Particularly striking is the darkness in Bogie's "of all the gin joints'' scene. As with several digital restorations I've seen, you can notice details you were scarcely aware of before, like the beading on Yvonne's dress or the intricate production design of Rick's Cafe. Though the film's lovely grain structure does not appear to have been digitally manipulated -- the way Universal did for some scenes in "To Kill A Mockingbird'' -- you can more clearly discern the model and optical effects, especially in the scenes involving model aircraft.
It's now also very clear that Humphrey Bogart is wearing makeup to cover the never-more-prominent bags under his eyes in the flashback montage set in Paris.
During Sunday night's presentation, it seemed to me that the film was presented with a very light sepia wash, not unusual for old 35mm film prints. I don't know if this was built into the transfer -- and will be reflected in the March 27 Blu-ray release -- or whether it came from the new state-of-the-art projections system at the newly renamed Warner Bros. Theater, which the studio endowed for $5 million. As in Paramount's new restoration of "Wings,'' tinting helps make details pop out.
The museum will be presenting a series of Warner Bros. film festivals running through 2014, beginning with "The Maltese Falcon'' and "The Treasure of Sierra Madre'' on Saturday and "The Big Sleep'' on Sunday. At least one non-Warner film controlled by the studio -- "Singin' in the Rain,'' also an anniversary restoration, that will premiere at the TCM Classic Film Festival in April -- will be shown at the Smithsonian in July.http://www.nypost.com/p/blogs/movies...MIQzZf1R9IhlBM