Rick Blaine is looking over a dossier the Germans have been keeping on him. "Hmm," he says, "are my eyes really brown?" They are now. "Casablanca," one of the most beloved movies of all time, has been colorized.
The color version of Casablanca will premiere on Ted Turner's Superstation on Wednesday (6:05 p.m., TBS). Already the station, WTBS, is running promos claiming a test audience that was shown the new version preferred it "9 to 1" over the black-and-white original.We're getting into a gray area here. When colorizing started, the films that were dipped in computer rinse looked rancid and sickly. Film buffs were appalled, and rightly so, and opposition to colorizing grew. Famous directors came to Washington and squawked to a congressional committee. Legislation is still being considered.
But as one who loves "Casablanca" madly, I have to admit that this color version looks pretty good to me. It made seeing the movie for the umpteenth time even more pleasurable than it would have been otherwise. Little about the color seems to detract from the incredible emotional pull of the film.
The blue parrot that sits outside The Blue Parrot cafe is now indeed blue. Humphrey Bogart's eyes are indeed brown. When he recalls the day the Germans marched into Paris for Ilsa, played by Ingrid Bergman, he says, "The Germans wore gray; you wore blue." And when the scene comes along, in that great ten-minute flashback sequence, it's a blue dress she's wearing.
For the most part, quieter, desert-type colors, as befits the African setting, have been used. Perhaps the most potentially controversial decision was making pianist and singer Dooley Wilson's suit a shiny gold in his first scene. A suit is just a suit, but a gold suit doesn't seem quite classy enough.
Also, the lollipop hues on the globe in the opening shot seem a little too circusy.
But the problems seem minor. A kiss is still a kiss, even when it's been colorized. Ingrid Bergman looks, if anything, even more beautiful after her computerized makeover. Maybe it's just that "Casablanca" is indestructible; you could project it on the ceiling and people would lie down to watch.
"I am quite satisfied with it," says Roger Mayer, president of Turner Entertainment Co. Mayer has domain over the vast film libraries Turner has acquired. He's a film buff himself, having spent 36 years in the business, 25 of those at MGM, which Turner bought.
"I've been around so long, I don't find anything perfect, though that is what we aspire to around here. But I think this is certainly the best that has been done," Mayer says.
The color conversion was performed by American Film Technologies, with whom Turner recently contracted to tint up to 180 movie titles over the next five years. AFT did the excellent color version of "Boomtown," which aired last summer.
Turner also uses another company, Color Systems Technology. It has colorized such films as "Arsenic and Old Lace" and "The Charge of the Light Brigade." Mayer says it costs from $250,000 to $300,000 to turn a film into color.
You could say that, like it or not, colorizing is here to stay. But not all colorized films are. Mayer acknowledges that some of the first films to be colored looked lousy, and he says some are being redone. "Miracle on 34th Street" turned out badly last year, Mayer says, and so the version shown on TV stations this Christmas will have been double-dipped in the color batter.
"It is an evolving technology," Mayer says. "The process is getting better, and the people doing it are getting better. They've become more expert at it."
Mayer concedes that coloring is not the thing for every black-and-white movie, yet he defends plans to colorize such stark monochromatic classics as "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and even "Citizen Kane." Mayer says, "If the same pictures were made today, they would all be made in color. Subtle colors, not bright shiny colors, and that's how we'll do them."
Claude Rains throws the bottle of Vichy water into the trash; the bottle is green. The plane to Lisbon takes off overhead; it is blue and silver. Bogie's trenchcoat is beige, and the fog they walk off into is, well, foggy. The colorized version of "Casablanca" marks the continuation of a beautiful friendship.