New on DVD and Blu-ray: The African Queen
Film nerds whose agita has been exacerbated by the absence of The African Queen on DVD and Blu-ray can relax and ditch their worn VHS copies this week. The film is finally available on March 23 after a restoration process that was carefully overseen by the film's cinematographer, Jack Cardiff, and took six years of meticulous cleaning, scanning and digitizing of the original prints to complete.
The 1951 film, which won Humphrey Bogart his only Academy Award, is accompanied on both the DVD and Blu-ray discs by a documentary called "Embracing Chaos: Making The African Queen" and while it's no "Hearts of Darkness", there was plenty to overcome during this trip down the Ulanga River, helmed by director John Huston.
Huston insisted on filming on location, unheard of at the time, in the Belgian Congo. There were no tragedies on the set, but from the documentary we can gather that there was a literal shit-storm during filming. The normally hearty Katharine Hepburn could have really used some Pepto in Africa: Not only did she require her own private, floating latrine on set, she also nearly died from dysentery after drinking the water there. (In interviews clipped from The Dick Cavett Show and featured in the doc, Hepburn recalls drinking water to spite her alcohol-loving co-star and director, but ironically, it was their booze habits that kept them disease-free.)
Hollywood these days is so boring with its sexting scandals and porn star mistresses -- give me a good poop story any day over that. All of the trials endured by the cast and crew read like a particularly doomed round of the old Oregon Trail video game -- fording muddy rivers, overturned boats, dysentery and malaria abounded on the shoot until production in Africa wrapped and a sound stage in London was set up for the remaining scenes.
Those anecdotes barely scratch the surface of what's covered by the hour-long special, which also contains old interviews with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, footage from Cardiff's personal archive, and discussions with film historians and the world's most famous film buff, Martin Scorsese. The film's restoration is lovely, but the documentary proves to be an essential, quip-filled companion that was also worth the wait.
Buyer, Renter, Coaster: Buyer.
Amazon DVD Price: $18.99
Amazon Blu-Ray Price: $23.99