By the time cast and crew of "The African Queen" arrived in England in 1951 after their grueling shoot in Uganda and Congo, "all of them, except for Bogie (Humphrey Bogart) and Huston (director John Huston) had gotten sick," recalls Theodore Bikel. "They were pretty worn out."
And looking at the newly restored film on DVD and Blu-ray you can see why. An actress who made a career of never letting us see her sweat, Katharine Hepburn most certainly does, as does her co-star, who won an Oscar for his performance. A film that has become legend is brought vividly back to life in this newly struck edition.
"You can feel the heat and see in their faces how incredibly hot and miserable this shoot must have been," says Ron Smith, vice president for Restoration for Paramount. "Especially Bogart. Just standing there, talking with Kate early in the movie, leaning on a railing, you see the sweat just pouring down his face and body."
"The African Queen" is released on DVD ($19.99) and Blu-ray ($26.99) with a comprehensive making-of documentary. The commemorative, limited-edition DVD ($34.99) and Blu-ray ($43.99) box sets also have an audio disc with the Lux Radio Theater presents "The African Queen" radio broadcast; collectible postcards; a film frame collectible reproduction; and a reproduction of Hepburn's memoir "The Making of the African Queen or How I Went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind."
On the new DVD, the perspiration glistens and the makeup streaks, but the cast never wilts in this epic-comic romance of World War I Africa. "It looks . . . significantly richer and fresher than before," writes Jeffrey Wells on his movie buff's blog, Hollywood-elsewhere.
And it's all thanks to Technicolor, Smith says.
One of Hollywood's most beloved films is not stored there, but in England, as Huston, Bogart and Co. made what was, for its day, a European-financed independent film. Smith's technicians had to have the film strips projected, then digitally converted. That digital data shipped stateside before they could clean it up.
"I never realized how sharp it would look," Smith says. "There's a crispness there that really brings home the reality of shooting a film in Africa."
Bikel, 85, is the last surviving credited member of the cast. He recalls his double good fortune related to "The African Queen" that includes missing the toughest part of filming -- in Africa. As the first officer on the German gunboat Luisa that Bogie and Hepburn travel down river to sink, his scenes were shot on soundstages and in water tanks outside of London.
"Queen" also was Bikel's first film and led to a 60-year screen career that includes "The Defiant Ones," "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming" and the recent Israeli coming-of-age drama "The Little Traitor." A folk singer and stage actor at the time, Bikel relishes a photo of him playing guitar on the set to cast and crew in between takes. It's part of the DVD's special features.
Bikel learned the screen actor's motto, "Less is more," on the Shepperton soundstages and in the water tank there. He recalls marveling over Bogart's ability to hear lines "mumbled to him by a script supervisor" while getting into makeup, "then delivering this perfectly built performance by the time the camera rolled.
"And from Katharine Hepburn, I learned how one should behave on a film set. She was American New England Brahmin aristocracy, so gracious, a true noble lady," Bikel recalls. "With that nobility came a simplicity, too. She peddled around the set on a bicycle. When we did water scenes, at night, shooting in the cold, she rowed up in a boat. With brandy and rum -- 'So that you don't catch cold, dear.' "
THE PRISONER. Jim Caviezel stars in this mysterious six-hour miniseries based on the 1960s cult drama. Extras include commentaries, a production diary, unaired scenes, an interview with Sir Ian McKellen and more. ($29.98, Warner Home video. Available now.)