Others can wet themselves over the just-announced restored Bluray/DVD of John Huston‘s The African Queen (Paramount Home Video, 3.23). But not me. Not until I see it, I mean. You can’t trust anyone these days, and you definitely can’t trust anyone putting out a restored version of a three-strip Technicolor film that’s nearly 60 years old.
The portions of The African Queen with genuinely rich and bountiful colors are those that were shot on a London sound stage. The African location footage portions are great for authenticity and verisimilitude but they”re grainy and desaturated and nothing to write home about. So don’t get too excited. The film is only going to look as good as it’s going to look, or as good as it looked on theatre screens in 1951, which wasn’t any kind of drop-your-pants Technicolor orgasm experience to begin with.
The Bluray Queen may turn out to be a more luscious and detailed rendering than anything seen before, and I’ll be delighted as anyone else if this happens. Or it may turn out to be a very decent-looking, not-bad, in-and-out version covered with billions of digital mosquitoes (on top of the actual mosquitoes that Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn have to cope with on the Ulanga).
All I know is that I’ve been burned before and you can’t trust Bluray technicians to do the right thing. Not necessarily because they might be grain Jihadists. Or maybe original dp Jack Cardiff, who was shown the restored digital version and signed off on it before he died, was a grain fanatic. You never know. You can’t trust anyone. Grain monks will not go quietly into that good night. If by clapping my hands three times I could make them disappear, I would clap my hands three times.
All of the different Queens (Bluray, single disc, boxsets) will feature a doc called Embracing Chaos: Making The African Queen, featuring interviews with Martin Scorsese and others. The box sets will also include an “audio disc recording of the original Lux Radio Theater broadcast of The African Queen, a reproduction of Katharine Hepburn’s out-of-print memoir “The Making of The African Queen or How I Went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind,” a Senitype film frame reproduction and postcard reproductions” of images from the film.