on 2 July 2014
THE AFRICAN QUEEN  [Special Restoration Edition] [Blu-ray] The Mightiest Adventure Ever Filmed! A First Rate Adventure!
From the Golden Age of cinema The African Queen is a truly magnificent film adapted from a novel by C.S. Forester. Starring Humphrey Bogart in his OSCAR® winning portrayal of Charlie Allnut, the slovenly, gin-swilling captain of a tramp steamer called the African Queen, which ships supplies to small East African villages during World War I in August/September 1914. Katharine Hepburn plays Rose Sayer, the maiden-lady sister of a prim British missionary [Robert Morley].
When invading Germans kill the missionary and level the village, Allnut offers to take Rose back to civilisation. She can't tolerate his drinking or bad manners, he isn't crazy about her imperious, judgmental attitude. However it does not take long before their passionate dislike turns to love. Together the disparate duo works to ensure their survival on the treacherous waters and devise an ingenious way to destroy a German gunboat.
With masterful direction from John Huston, and cinematography by Jack Cardiff, ‘The African Queen’ may well be the perfect adventure film. Its roller-coaster storyline complemented by the chemistry between its stars.
FILM FACT: Awards and Honours: Academy Awards®: Won: Best Actor in a Leading Role for Humphrey Bogart. Nominated: Best Actress in a Leading Role for Katharine Hepburn. Nominated: Best Adapted Screenplay for James Agee and John Huston. Nominated: Best Director for John Huston. Much of the film was shot on location in Uganda and the Congo in Africa. About half of the film was shot in England. For instance, the scenes in which Bogart and Hepburn are seen in the water were all shot in studio tanks at Isleworth Studios, Middlesex. These scenes were considered too dangerous to shoot in Africa. All of the foreground plates for the process shots were also done in studio. The vessel used to portray the German gunboat Königin Luise in the film was the steam tug Buganda, owned and operated on Lake Victoria by East African Railways & Harbours.
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley, Peter Bull, Theodore Bikel, Walter Gotell, Peter Swanwick, Richard Marner, Errol John (uncredited), Gerald Onn (uncredited) and John von Kotze (uncredited)
Director: John Huston
Producers: John Woolf (uncredited) and Sam Spiegel
Screenplay: James Agee, John Huston, John Collier (uncredited), Peter Viertel (uncredited) and C.S. Forester (novel)
Composer: Allan Gray
Cinematography: Jack Cardiff
Special Effects: Cliff Richardson
Video Resolution: 1080p [Technicolor]
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English: 2.0 Dolby Digital Mono
Subtitles: English SDH
Running Time: 105 minutes
Region: Region B/2
Number of discs: 1
Studio: ITV Studios Home Entertainment
Andrew’s Blu-ray Review: 'The African Queen' has been consistently praised and admired by critics and audiences alike since its 1951 premiere, but for several years John Huston's stirring romantic adventure also carried the dubious distinction of being the only picture on the AFI's list of the 100 Greatest American Movies yet to see a digital release. That frustrating fact sent diehard cinephiles into periodic apoplectic fits, but Paramount, after much wrangling, at last secured and then painstakingly restored the film's original three-strip negative, which had been locked away in a British vault. According to the studio, all American prints had deteriorated to such a degree they were unsuitable for re-mastering. And now, after what seems like an eternity, this Holy Grail film hits the home video market not only in standard definition, but also in glorious 1080p Technicolor.
And let me tell you, the wait has been worth it. Classic film fans who don't rhapsodize over this superior effort, which breathes new life into this venerable drama, should head straight to the optometrist, because 'The African Queen' is a kingly specimen that will thrill even the most discriminating high-definition viewers.
Notable for its ambitious location shooting in the Belgian Congo, colourful production history, terrific chemistry between stars Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, and sweet, captivating story and based on the novel by C.S. Forester fame, 'The African Queen' scored big upon its initial release and hasn't lost any of its lustre since. Humphrey Bogart won his only Academy Awards® and beating the likes of Marlon Brando in 'A Streetcar Named Desire' and Montgomery Clift in 'A Place in the Sun,' for his role as the gruff, grimy, gin-soaked Charlie Allnut, skipper of the “African Queen.” a rickety riverboat that delivers supplies to, among other places, a small, isolated mission run by the Reverend Samuel Sayer [Robert Morley] and his prim, virtuous sister, Rose Sayer [Katharine Hepburn]. Unaware of a major conflict known as World War I, Samuel and Rose are shocked to hear from Charlie Allnut about an imminent German invasion, and when Kaiser Wilhelm's soldiers overrun the mission almost on cue, the siblings watch in horror as troops ransack and burn their settlement. The trauma and devastation send Samuel Sayer to an early grave, leaving Rose Sayer to fend for herself in the wilds of The Dark Continent.
When Charlie Allnut stops by to assess damage and offer help, he never dreams the dogged Rose Sayer will shanghai him and his boat, taking them on a dangerous journey down river that will continually test their courage and tenacity, all in the hope of finding and destroying the German gunboat that harbours the regional command. Along the way, the dilapidated “African Queen” must traverse treacherous rapids, cut through dense brush, and survive rough storms, while its two oil-and-water shipmates spar, bicker, and ultimately become smitten. Charlie Allnut and Rose Sayer's romance is as unlikely and unexpected as it is endearing and cute, and the middle-aged couple often acts like two starry-eyed teens basking in the unsullied bloom of young love. Their strong emotions, however, never weaken their resolve to confront and cripple the wily Germans, but executing their preposterous plan will take every ounce of energy and blind faith they can muster.
The long-standing appeal of 'The African Queen' may be due in part to its against-all-odds attitude and core values of guts and perseverance, but more likely stems from the irresistible appeal of its improbable hero and heroine. The notion that a blasphemous drunk and pious spinster could fall in love, let alone have the audacity to believe they can take down a well-oiled military machine, is both ludicrous and delightful, and Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn play their roles to the hilt. Never for a moment does their affection seem anything less than genuine, and with a mastery of their craft that few others in the industry possess, the two legendary actors infuse their eccentric, charismatic characters with palpable warmth and spirit.
No stranger to big, outdoorsy tales of indomitable will and chutzpah, John Huston who teamed with Humphrey Bogart on the equally rugged and immortal 'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre' just three years before, deftly blends rousing physical sequences with scenes of exquisite tenderness and charm. The director's keen sense of rhythm keeps the story flowing like the river itself, ramping up tension at some points, gently drifting along in others, to create a comfortable mood punctuated by stunning landscape and wildlife shots. The marvellous script, which he co-wrote with James Agee and contains several memorable exchanges, and despite the fact that most of the film is a two-person dialogue, the characters are so richly drawn and brought so vividly to life by the actors, we never tire of them.
Amazingly, 'The African Queen' was not nominated for Best Picture, but both John Huston and Katherine Hepburn did receive nods for Best Director and Actress, respectively. John Huston was beaten by George Stevens for 'A Place in the Sun,' while Hepburn lost to Vivien Leigh's Blanche DuBois. Yet the lack of awards recognition can't diminish the film's lasting impact or the reverence it engenders. Charlie and Rose, as sweaty and dishevelled as they often appear, and as quirky and stubborn as they often act, are one of the films' immortal couples, ranking right up there with Scarlett and Rhett. Their passion may be muted and their age advanced, but they're still quite a pair. And 'The African Queen' is still quite an awesome adventurous film.
The film’s restoration in 2010: ITV STUDIOS Global Entertainment has partnered with Paramount Pictures to save this great classic and restore it back to its former glory. The Original 35mm three strip camera negatives were scanned at high resolution and digitally recombined using restoration tools to repair tears and scratches, remove dirt and stabilise the picture. The soundtrack underwent full digital audio restoration removing clicks, hum, and other audio defects before creating a new Optical soundtrack negative. The Digital files have been output to a high resolution digital cinema File as well as creating a pristine new combined 35mm negative and an HD master. This is a fine example of how today’s technologies can protect and preserve classic films both digitally and photo-chemically for the next 100 years and beyond.
Blu-ray Video Quality – Film buffs have waited far too long for a digital transfer of 'The African Queen,' so expectations understandably ran high when Paramount announced its 4k restoration of the 1951 film. Working from the original three-strip negative, technicians scanned and digitized each element, then recombined and carefully aligned them before removing any dirt, nicks, and scratches. The process was long and arduous, but any doubts 'The African Queen' might arrive on Blu-ray looking less than its best vanish immediately upon one's first view of this stunningly beautiful rendering. Breath-taking clarity and sharpness, lush colour, and plenty of high-definition pop all belie the picture's advanced age and make this antiquated classic almost seem like a new release. Details, even in the background, remain well defined, and the driving rain possesses such marvellous clarity, it often looks like little needles falling from the heavens. Close-ups, especially those of Bogart, are sublime, highlighting every nook and cranny in his weathered face, and though Hepburn is photographed in soft focus, her classic features (oh, those cheekbones!) still come across well. Omnipresent beads of sweat are also visible, and the thick brush the pair must hack through is marvellously distinct. The African countryside and wildlife, especially a herd of crocodiles, nearly jump off the screen, often producing a sort of you-are-there effect that thrusts us into the action. Please Note: Playback Region B/2: This will not play on most Blu-ray players sold in North America, Central America, South America, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. Learn more about Blu-ray region specifications.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – ITV STUDIOS Global Entertainment has partnered with Paramount Pictures and hasn't tried to improve the audio on 'The African Queen,' because it is just fine by me. The original mono track gets the job done, producing full-bodied sound with plenty of tonal depth and presence. Though a bit of hiss still remains, the clean-up has been thorough, erasing any age-related pops, crackles, and static. Dynamic range is quite good, with high ends resisting distortion and low ends possessing good weight, and the action-oriented scenes fill the room well, even without multi-channel activity. And just because the track is front-based doesn't mean we don't pick up all the ambience of the African setting. On the contrary, the animal noises, buzzing of bugs, and rustling of foliage all come across quite well. It's not exactly immersive audio, but it represents the locale well. Best of all, dialogue is always clear and easy to comprehend, and Allan Gray's music score benefits from solid fidelity. For an almost 60-year-old soundtrack, 'The African Queen' sounds mighty spry.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
Audio Commentary: Commentary with the late Jack Cardiff: Jack Cardiff discusses in great detail how specific sequences from The African Queen were shot, the various technical obstacles the tech crew had to overcome in the Belgian Congo, the diseases the actors struggled with during the shooting, some of the similarities and differences between C.S. Forester's novel and the film, etc. This is a truly amazing and fascinating audio commentary.
Special Feature: Embracing Chaos: Making The African Queen  [60:00] An outstanding in-depth look at the production history of The African Queen, with various comments by Martin Scorsese, Jack Cardiff, film historian Rudy Behlmer, writer/director Nicholas Meyer, Humphrey Bogart Biographer Eric Lax, assistant director Guy Hamilton, and actor/director/producer Norman Lloyd, among others. With optional English SDH subtitles.
Special Feature: Star Profiles [biographies in text format]
1. Humphrey Bogart
2. Katharine Hepburn
3. John Huston
4. Jack Cardiff
Special Feature: Picture Galleries
1. Poster and Lobby Cards [1:00]
2. Behind the Scenes [4:00]
Theatrical Trailer  [3:00] Original Theatrical Trailer for The African Queen.
Finally, The UK Blu-ray release of John Huston's ‘The African Queen’ has two key advantages over the U.S.A Region A/1 release, as it comes with a very good audio track and a very strong audio commentary by the late Jack Cardiff. If you do not yet have this classic film in your Blu-ray library collection, but keen to get this particular copy, then please remember as this is a Region B/2 Blu-ray disc. Ever since I had this on an NTSC LaserDisc, it has always been a massive favourite of mine, but now I have it in the ultimate Blu-ray format; I am now a very happy bunny and it will give me endless hours of enjoyment and an honour to have it in my extensive Blu-ray Collection. Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
WARE, United Kingdom
*** BLU RAY Version ***
Soldier ants three inches deep on the hut floor, hornet nests alongside the river bank, twenty crocodiles ready to eat you for breakfast should you actually venture into the river, dip your feet in the black rotten water of the river to dissipate the unbearable heat and a parasite called a Jigger Bug would lodge itself between your toes and eventually kill you though liver failure... When you listen to Jack Cardiff's spectacularly good feature-length commentary on the actual filming of "The African Queen" in 1951 (he was Director Of Photography), it's a small miracle that this beloved independent gem ever got made at all...
Escaping the suffocating McCarty trials in the USA at the end of The Forties and beginning of the Fifties (Bogie, Hep and Huston were all considered to have lefty affiliations), Director John Huston set off to Africa to film C.S. Forester's 1935 novel on location (an unheard of thing at the time). He dragged with him huge and cumbersome Technicolor cameras, his sickness-prone crew and Jack Cardiff's two lamps and small generator. 1st location was in Biondo on the Ruiki River in the Belgian Congo, 2nd location was Uganda and 3rd was back in the UK (all shots that required actors getting into the river were done in water tanks in London because the Ruiki was just too dangerous in real life).
Their trials and tribulations throughout the shoot are truly the stuff of Hollywood legend - Lepers carried their equipment, they bunked in bamboo huts with all manner of creepy-crawlies joining them under the netting and an African hunter who had been supplying them with meat on a daily basis was led off by authorities for suspected cannibalism (natives going missing). The water was contaminated with parasites (neither Huston nor Bogie got sick because they were gulping back whiskey), the boiler of the boat almost fell on Katherine Hepburn and nearly killed her (she was ill throughout the shoot, but trooped on), tropical rain storms turned pathways into rivers of mud, swarms of flies ate their skin and they couldn't do their necessaries because two deadly black mamba snakes were lurking in the latrine...ouch!
You learn most of these fab titbits from two sources - Jack Cardiff's commentary and a truly superb near 60-minute feature called "Embracing Chaos - Making The African Queen" (with or without subtitles). It includes contributions from large numbers of luminaries and those actually involved in the movie - John Huston and Katharine Hepburn (excerpts from The Dick Cavatt Show 1972/1973), Guy Hamilton (Assistant Director), Sir John Wolff (Producer), Angela Allen (Script Supervisor), Theodore Bickel (officer on the German boat), Desmond Davis (Clapper Boy), Jack Cardiff (DOP), Lawrence Grober (Huston's biographer), William J. Mann (Hepburn's biographer), Laurence Bergreen (James Agee's biographer), Eric Lax (Bogart's biographer), Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni (Sam Spiegel's biographer - Producer/Financier), Warren Stevens (Bogart's friend), John Forester (C.S Forester's son) and Martin Scorsese. There's even clips of and stuff about Lauren Bacall as Bogie's husband, camp cook, medical helper and general all-round on-set good person. Their romance was genuine and real and it's treated with great affection here. "Embracing Chaos..." is a feast of detail and beautifully put together storytelling - it really is.
The "Posters & Lobby Cards" extra has 6 posters (in full colour) and 6 lobby cards - a treat to look at. The "Star Profiles" of Bogart, Hepburn, Huston and Cardiff turn out to be on-screen info snippets which are good rather than great. The "Behind The Scenes" stills are photos on set with animal noises in the background - again not great. And the trailer only shows you how washed out the original film had become.
Which brings us to the print itself - it's GLORIOUS. Digitally restored in 2009, the vast majority of the film is a joy to look at. Sweat on the hairs of Bogart's arms, the lipstick on Hepburn's lips in the church scene at the beginning, the rusty and stained woodwork of the old boat itself, Robert Morley's huge bug eyes as he watches the natives huts burn...it's all beautifully rendered.
There are drawbacks - the aspect is old-school and filmed as such, so when your player actually throws the print onto a modern-day widescreen TV, it's in a centred box. However, if you adjust it to fit the whole screen, I still found it fitted well and without too much compromise to stretching. There are also sections where there's slight blurring of the focus, stock footage of the river that was damaged - but - and I stress this - it's miniscule. As I stood back from the 42" Sony and looked at the print - I was gobsmacked at how beautiful it looked almost all of the time.
But the film itself belongs to the astonished lead duo of Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn playing Charley Allnut and Rose "Rosie" Sayer - an American gin-sozzled steamboat Captain and a straight-laced prim and proper English Missionary lady. James Agee's wonderfully loaded dialogue spiked up the tension between the two at first, then the slow burning romance and then the mutual appreciation of each other (Huston loved beautiful losers) right up the hoisting of the Union Jack and the patriotic torpedoing of a German gunboat at the very end. Such was the chemistry and force of their brilliant performances - both actors virtually reinvented their careers on the back of the movie (Charles Laughton and Betty Davis had initially been thought of for the parts). A genuinely amazed and humbled Bogart even nabbed the Oscar from the clutches of Marlon Brando and Montgomery Cliff.
This BLU RAY reissue is a triumph because it works on the two most important levels - the print is as lovely as it's ever going to be and the two main extras match that.
"The African Queen" is 60 years old next year and this superb 2010 Blu Ray reissue does that enduring classic proud.
Recommended big time.
PS: for other superb restorations on BLU RAY, see also my reviews for "The Italian Job", "Saturday Night, Sunday Morning", "The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner", "Zulu", "The Dambusters", "Quo Vadis", "North By Northwest", "Cool Hand Luke", "The Prisoner - The Complete (TV) Series In High Definition", "Goldfinger", "Braveheart", "Snatch" and "The Ladykillers"
WW1, East Africa, after her brother is killed by invading German troops, Rose Sayer is reliant on gruff steamboat captain, Charlie Allnut, to ferry her safely out of harms way and back to civilisation. Trouble is is that they are poles apart in ideals and ways, she is a devoted missionary, he a hard drinking tough nut with a glint in his eye. Yet as they venture further down the river, an unlikely alliance is starting to form, both in personalities and a keenness to give it to the Germans!
It's probably something of a given that The African Queen was starting with an advantage from the very first cry of action! Because to have Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn as your lead actors is not to be sniffed at, whilst also having John Huston directing is stacking the odds heavily in your favour. Thankfully history and time show us that all involved in this piece crafted a most delightful and exciting picture, yet it triumphs more as an intriguing picture than merely a meeting of Hollywood giants. Adapted by Huston and James Agee from the novel by C.S. Forester, it's believed that the original intention was to film it as an outright drama, but whether by star design or a going with the flow attitude, the picture turned out to be a drama fused with splices of humour, the kind where the tongue gets firmly stuck in the cheek.
As character pieces go, The African Queen has few peers, especially in the pantheon of 50s cinema, then you add the excellent story to work from, with the location work in Congo and Uganda expertly utilised by Huston (clearly revelling in the mix) and his photographer, Jack Cardiff. Then there is that magical flow, just as The African Queen (the boat itself) is flowing down the river, so does the film effortlessly glide along without pretentious posturing, screaming out that this is as a humane a story as you are likely to witness again. Some cynical reviewers will point to the dated studio filmed segments as a reason why this film shouldn't be termed a classic amongst classics, but really it's only an issue if you want it to dim your appreciation of the splendour from every other frame. From Bogart and his wry or humorous expressions, to Hepburn and the art of acting prim, this is a pure joy and justly it deserves to make all those lists containing greatest films of all time. 10/10