'African Queen' plies DVD waters
By MIKE SNIDER
"The African Queen" has finally shipped out on DVD.
Among the classics — listed by the American Film Institute as one of the top 100 films of all time — the Humphrey Bogart/Katharine Hepburn movie is among the last to come to home video. For its arrival this week on DVD and Blu-ray, "The African Queen" has been digitally detailed and buffed.
The John Huston-directed World War I adventure was first released in 1951.
"It turned out a whole lot sharper than we had hoped for," says Ron Smith, vice president of restoration for Paramount Pictures. "You can really see the years on Bogey's face, for instance, and the real sweat pouring down his face."
Viewers can even make out Hepburn's freckles, too. "They both look spectacular throughout the movie, especially as they get more disheveled," Smith says.
The story of a boorish steamboat captain — for which Bogart won an Academy Award — and a missionary who set out to sink a German ship was not among those that hit DVD during the digital disc's overthrow of VHS.
"I would say certainly those under the age of 50 have only seen it on TV," says Lynn O'Leary of Paramount Home Entertainment. O'Leary oversaw a documentary about the making of the film, included on all editions. (A DVD box set and Blu-ray box set also includes a reprint of Hepburn's memoir about the film.)
The film was a trailblazer, says actor Theodore Bikel, 85, who played a German officer: "The restoration gives it a vividness of color. It is phenomenal."
Bikel has fond memories of his two famous co-stars. Bogart died in 1957, Hepburn in 2003.
About Bogart, he says: "I would sit next to him in the makeup trailer, and the script supervisor would sit next to him, and he would sort of go through the lines in the scenes to shoot and he would kind of mumble the lines, just the pure text, expressionless almost. Twenty minutes later, we were on the set, and there was this full-blown performance.
"I swear to you, to this day, I don't know where or when it all came together," he says.
Hepburn, he adds, was "very helpful and very kind. In fact, when we were shooting the scenes in the water, she would show up in a little rowboat. She wasn't even in the shot that we were doing, and ... she had two bottles, one of rum and one of brandy, and she gave it out to everybody in the water so we wouldn't catch cold."
Paramount is planning to show the film in theaters later this year.
"The film is a classic and has only been available on bad-quality imported bootlegs for years now," says Bill Hunt, editor of TheDigitalBits.com, a home video news-and-reviews site. "Fans have been waiting for it for a very long time."