Case Number 27187: Small Claims Court

THE BEST OF BOGART COLLECTION (BLU-RAY)

The Maltese Falcon
Warner Bros. // 1941 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Casablanca
Warner Bros. // 1942 // 102 Minutes // Rated PG
The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre
Warner Bros. // 1948 // 126 Minutes // Not Rated
The African Queen
Warner Bros. // 1951 // 105 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // April 7th, 2014

The Charge

Four iconic films from the larger-than-life star!

Opening Statement

French film critic Andre Bazin perhaps said it best: "Who does not mourn this month for Humphrey Bogart, who died at fifty-five of stomach cancer and half a million whiskeys?" Who, indeed, does not still mourn for Humphrey Bogart, who died too young? I, for one, still do. Unlike others in his era -- Clark Gable, Cary Grant, even Jimmy Stewart -- there was an aura of the everyman about Bogart. From the first time they were in front of a camera, those other guys were destined to be stars, loved by millions. Bogart's first few times in front of the camera were to play heavies in Warner gangster pictures, and he might have lived and died an obscure character actor. Or at least that's the sense I get -- but a series of fortuitous friendships got him progressively larger roles until it turned out he was a star and found himself involved in some of the greatest pictures of his, or any other, era. The Best of Bogart Collection (Blu-ray) gathers up previous releases of four of his best into one convenient package.

Facts of the Case

* The Maltese Falcon -- Adapted from Dashiell Hammett's famous novel, Bogart plays Sam Spade, a private detective who gets mired in a search for a famous artifact.

* Casablanca -- During World War II, Bogart plays Rick, the owner of a bar in Casablanca as he navigates the politics of a former flame, a wanted man, and an occupying government.

* The Treasure of the Sierra Madre -- Along with some new friends, Bogart goes into the mountains in search of gold, but the long process of getting it turns everyone paranoid and dangerous.

* The African Queen -- Bogart plays a riverboat captain during World War I helping a straitlaced missionary (Katherine Hepburn, Bringing Up Baby) evade the German army.

The Evidence

I would hope, this far into the twenty-first century, that these films need no introduction. Each is a classic that's been lauded, imitated, and parodied to death in the decades since release. Just in case, here's a quick rundown:

* The Maltese Falcon is one of the first and best noir films. Bogart perfectly embodies the ambiguous hero Sam Spade, and the plot sets up the kinds of delicious disappointment the genre would become known for.

* Roger Ebert best summed up Casablanca when he said "When people ask me what the best film is, I say Citizen Kane. When they ask me for my favorite, I say Casablanca." The film is a beautiful love story, a tribute to life under occupation, and a film about taking a moral stand in the face of an implacable enemy.

* The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a prototypical thriller, one grounded in interesting characters and a compelling plot. Another beautiful ending makes this one a classic.

* Finally, The African Queen is a late-career pairing of Bogart and Hepburn in a film that's lush, romantic, and surprisingly thrilling given that much of it takes place on a riverboat. All of these films are classics, and all really belong in any serious movie collection.

Which brings us to The Best of Bogart Collection (Blu-ray). This set is a compilation of the previously available Blu-ray releases of these four films. The quality of each release is the same, as are the extras. The four discs are double-stacked in a standard width Blu-ray case, which is tucked inside a sturdy cardboard sleeve along with an envelope containing postcard-sized reproductions of the films' movie posters.

There's a tie for best-looking film of the bunch between The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, which is a bit funny considering these are the two oldest films in the set. All of the films feature 1.37:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfers, and these two earlier films are obviously transferred from well-restored prints. Damage is almost nonexistent, black levels are deep and consistent, and contrast stays rock-solid throughout. These films represent the pinnacle of what high def can do for older, black-and-white films. Treasure of the Sierra Madre appears excellent, only a hair less perfect than the earlier films. Again, we get sharp detail, wonderful blacks, and well-rendered grain. The set's lone color film is also a Technicolor extravaganza, and the transfer here respects that tradition. Colors are bold and beautifully, detail is strong, and grain is handled perfectly. There's a bit of softness here and there, but that's probably as much the fault of the film as this transfer.

All four films also offer excellent 1.0 mono soundtracks that respect the original presentation -- Maltese Falcon and Sierra Madre are DTS-HD, while the other two have Dolby Digital mixes. All of them offer generally clean and clear dialogue, and are free of hiss and distortion. The excellent music of a film like Casablanca sounds surprisingly rich, but these tracks are limited by the comparably primitive recording technologies of their day.

The extras have largely been carried over from previous Blu-ray releases, and three of the four films are fully loaded special editions. The Maltese Falcon gets a commentary by Bogart biographer Eric Lax, a featurette on the making of the film, makeup tests, a blooper reel, a set of "Warner Night at the Movies" shorts, and three radio adaptations of the story. Casablanca gets an excellent commentary by Ebert, one by Rudy Behlmer, an introduction by Lauren Bacall, outtakes, four featurettes, and multiple adaptations of the film (including the parody "Carrotblanca" and a radio feature), and the film's trailer. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre includes another commentary by Lax, a pair of featurettes, another "Night at the Movies" short subject gallery, the film's trailer, and a radio adaptation. Finally, The African Queen includes a documentary on the making of the film. It's a full and impressive slate, especially taken all together.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Of course if you already own two or more of these individual releases, then this set probably isn't worth the extra cash; just get the missing discs as standalone discs -- unless, of course, those four lobby cards are really tempting. In a perfect world, I'd probably throw The Big Sleep and/or In a Lonely Place into any set called The Best of Bogart, though it's hard to argue with these four films. Detail hounds might complain that not all the releases have the hi-def audio we expect of the format, and I might be willing to forego a couple of those short extras in favor of a lossless audio track for Casablanca.

Closing Statement

The Best of Bogart Collection (Blu-ray) is an ideal set for a lot of people. Those looking to upgrade old versions of these films will find near-perfect audiovisual presentations, while those who only own one or two of the previous Blu-rays can get them all in one place for a slight discount. This set is also the perfect gift for someone who needs to be introduced to Bogart, as these do absolutely represent four of his best performances. Though we could quibble about the lack of new extras, overall this is a stellar release of classic films.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2014 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice, The Maltese Falcon
Judgment: 96

Perp Profile, The Maltese Falcon
Video Formats:
* Full Frame (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)

Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1941
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Maltese Falcon
* Commentary
* Featurettes
* Bloopers
* Radio Adaptations

Scales of Justice, Casablanca
Judgment: 98

Perp Profile, Casablanca
Video Formats:
* Full Frame (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)

Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1942
MPAA Rating: Rated PG

Distinguishing Marks, Casablanca
* Commentaries
* Featurettes
* Bonus Shorts
* Radio Adaptations
* Trailers

Scales of Justice, The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre
Judgment: 97

Perp Profile, The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre
Video Formats:
* Full Frame (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)

Running Time: 126 Minutes
Release Year: 1948
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre
* Commentary
* Featurettes
* Radio Adaptation

Scales of Justice, The African Queen
Judgment: 94

Perp Profile, The African Queen
Video Formats:
* Full Frame (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 1951
MPAA Rating: Rated PG

Distinguishing Marks, The African Queen
* Documentary

Accomplices
* IMDb: The Maltese Falcon
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0033870/combined

* IMDb: Casablanca
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0034583/combined

* IMDb: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0040897/combined

* IMDb: The African Queen
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0043265/combined