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The African Queen(1951)
Charlie Allnut is 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. Rose Sayer is the maiden-lady sister of a prim British missionary, Rev. Samuel Sayer. When Germans invade and Sayer dies, Allnut offers to take Rose back to civilization.
For more about The African Queen and the The African Queen Blu-ray release, see the The African Queen Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on March 26, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: John Huston (I)
Writers: C.S. Forester, James Agee, John Huston (I)
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley, Peter Bull (I), Theodore Bikel, Walter Gotell
» See full cast & crew
The African Queen Blu-ray Review
This 'Queen' is Blu-ray royalty.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, March 26, 2010
There's death a dozen times over down the river.
From Hollywood's Golden Era comes The African Queen, an indelible icon of moviemaking yore that's still fresh, refreshing, and thoroughly enjoyable even almost sixty years after its theatrical release. Starring two of Tinseltown's biggest names -- of their era and beyond -- in Humphrey Bogart (Casablanca) and Katharine Hepburn (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner), The African Queen yielded each of them an Oscar nomination; Hepburn failed to capture what would have then been her second and, ultimately, fifth, but Bogart walked away with his one and only statue amongst two additional nominations. The African Queen may be remembered for its fantastic performances, but the film is much more than its leads, playing as a remarkably simple yet expertly-constructed masterpiece of fundamental cinema that sees a broad swath of elements amidst a basic story and an exotic setting. The combination of elements -- not to mention that The African Queen is simply a vastly entertaining picture even through the prism of all else that it gets right -- has earned it a top-20 spot on the American Film Institute's list of the top 100 movies, besting such legends as 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Godfather Part II, and Forrest Gump.
German East Africa, 1914. Missionary Rose Sayer (Hepburn) and her brother Samuel (Robert Morley) learn of the outbreak of war on the European continent from grimy and hungry riverboat skipper Charlie Allnut (Bogart). It's not long until the war reaches Rose and Samuel's village; it's burned to the ground and a beaten and defeated Charlie soon perishes from his wounds, the elements, and the tragic developments that have interrupted their effort to spread the Word of God to Africa's population. Charlie returns with his rickety steam-powered vessel, the African Queen, and rescues Rose from the solitude of the abandoned and destroyed village. Fearful that the Germans may be interested in obtaining the supplies on his ship -- including crates of explosives and a couple of gaseous cylinders -- Canadian Charlie is content to sit out the war on the backwaters of Africa, particularly considering that the German vessel Louisa and her six-pound gun is lurking about several miles downriver. British national Rose, however, devises a plan to turn Charlie's supplies into makeshift torpedoes and sink the German vessel -- using the Queen as a delivery device -- and convinces Charlie of the necessity and foolproof nature of her plan. Proving herself a capable sailor, Rose leads the charge to take the fight to the Germans the only way she can. It's only a question of whether she can survive her time with the hard-drinking skipper of the African Queen along the way.
Yes, The African Queen offers a bit of everything: a sprinkling of daring adventure, a helping of romance, a pinch of drama, a pint of action, several fifths of gin, and a river's worth of fantastic moviemaking. Indeed, this is complete moviemaking and at its very best to boot, the film a prime example of a near faultless picture that doesn't overemphasize any single element and by extension actually supports and enhances all of them thanks to a perfect balancing act courtesy of Director John Huston's (The Maltese Falcon) fantastically understated but highly effective helmsmanship. The film is dominated by its capable story and sense of adventure and romance; the script is the definition of understated simplicity but it nevertheless excels thanks to every element coming perfectly into place. Still, it's ultimately the quality of the leads that injects into The African Queen a sense of completion that turns what is otherwise a fairly ordinary and straightforward story into an exceptional moviegoing experience. Huston still captures the beauty, glory, grandeur, and danger of the African setting superbly, and the fog of war surrounding the adventure makes it all the more deadly, daring, and tense. Bogart and Hepburn nevertheless remain the stars of the show, and it's how exceptionally well they blend into the movie -- its setting, themes, dialogue, emotions, and honesty -- that comes to define The African Queen by film's end.
The African Queen's pair of leads are so magnificent and the story written in such a way that it might even pass as a Buddy movie, but the budding romance and the characters' oftentimes outwardly tumultuous but inwardly respectful relationship that grows into something more than a mutual friendship adds an interesting angle to the picture and helps place the film in something of a unique genre that's comprised of all the major elements but dominated by none. Primarily assembled around its setting and two actors, Bogart and Hepburn carry the film remarkably well, both lacking the glamour they were known for and in turn appearing haggard, scruffy, tired, worn, excessively hot, and generally unkempt but nevertheless turning in two of the more exceptional performances of their careers. The fact that the picture was filmed primarily on location in the elements of Africa and not in the safety and comfort of a soundstage (save for select scenes) only adds to the mystique of the movie and the quality of the experience, and the realism the location shoot adds to the picture also proudly rests as one of the many elements of near equal value that make The African Queen a splendid and timeless film.
The African Queen Blu-ray, Video Quality
The African Queen traverses onto the Blu-ray high definition landscape and yields a 1080p, 1.37:1-framed transfer that doesn't sparkle like a new release but nevertheless looks as beautiful and pristine as one could hope of a classic movie approaching its 60th birthday. Please also note that this transfer preserves the film's original theatrical aspect ratio, placing vertical black bars on either side of the image when replayed on a standard 1.78:1 high definition display. The opening title credits stand out as beautifully sharp, and the transfer only continues to impress from there. The African Queen retains a thick layer of natural film grain that adds to the image's distinctive and classic texturing and only helps in brining out the best of what else the transfer has to offer. Fine detail is wonderfully preserved throughout; whether the caked-on grime and scruffy facial hair that covers Charlie's face for the majority of the picture, beads of sweat on faces, the rough texturing of the Queen's wooden hull and various metal parts, the fine lines of clothing, or the breathtaking backgrounds of the African setting, The African Queen never yearns for additional detailing. Colors, too, are splendidly reproduced; the bright adornments worn by Africans attending Rose's mission church as seen at the beginning of the film, the green foliage that's visible throughout, or the darker shades that make up the Queen are all delivered with the utmost care and make for a standout feature on this already highly-impressive image. Darker scenes are also handsomely captured with no devouring of detail or excessively bright blacks, and the wide-range of flesh tones seen in the film all take on natural-looking shades with no obtrusive push towards red or orange. There are no major distracting print anomalies -- scratches, dirt, debris, and the like -- to take away from the quality of the image, either. Only minor bouts of softness in several scenes pull the viewer out of the movie, but considering the astounding quality of the film in general, it's easy to assume that such scenes are inherent to the source, as are the several obviously fake backgrounds that stick out thanks to the increased resolution of the Blu-ray disc. Nevertheless, what's important here is that Paramount's Blu-ray wonderfully preserves what the film very well may have looked like in its original state decades ago, and fans can rest assured that this is the best the film has ever looked for consumer home viewing. The African Queen represents what Blu-ray is all about; the format is proving nothing less than a miraculous technology for presenting properly-restored classic films for home viewing, and this presentation ranks among the very finest transfers of a classic film currently available on Blu-ray.
The African Queen Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The African Queen floats onto Blu-ray with a minimalist but true-to-the-source Dolby Digital mono soundtrack; only the center channel speaker will be engaged in 5.1 home set-ups. This presentation is decidedly but understandably limited; various atmospherics throughout the film will never engulf the listener, nor will any sound effects enjoy the heft and clarity associated with multichannel presentations of newly-minted content. That's not a bad thing at all, however; alongside the glorious video restoration, the original mono soundtrack only adds to the quality of the presentation in recreating the movie for home viewing in a manner that's as close as possible to its original theatrical exhibition. Still, it's worth noting that, while perfectly clear, audible, and comprehensible, various jungle sound effects generally play as miniscule and add but a cursory environmental feel to the track. Gunshots are equally puny but sonically effective at a very base level. The track in general has a cramped feel to it, but again, this presentation is perfectly fine in the context of the aged but original elements. Audio purists will enjoy this track a great deal, and those accustomed to or preferring more rambunctious audio presentations can take solace in the fact that this is The African Queen as it was meant to be heard both in 1951 and 2010. Update: Upon closer inspection, very slight information may be heard emanating from the front side and surround speakers during playback. However, the sound is so faint that hearing it clearly required a full disconnect of the center channel speaker and an increase in volume to near maximum on the equipment used in evaluating this disc. The additional sound in no way either enhances nor hinders the presentation in any way and, again with this equipment and in the same environment, proves inconsequential and inaudible during playback at reference level where the center channel speaker completely dominates the presentation.
The African Queen Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The African Queen's Blu-ray debut offers but a solitary extra; fortunately, it's a great one. Embracing Chaos: Making 'The African Queen' (1080p, 59:23) is an exceptional piece that looks at the quality and legacy of The African Queen. A wide array of notable individuals -- Directors Nicholas Meyer, Martin Scorsese, and Norman Lloyd; Film Historians Rudy Behlmer and Richard Schickel; John Forester, son of The African Queen Novelist C.S. Forester; Humphrey Bogart Biographer Eric Lax; Sam Spiegel Biographer Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni; and various The African Queen crew members -- take viewers through a verbal and visual history of the picture, including a look at the novel on which the film is based; the early stages of the project; actors originally pegged to star; the history of the film industry at the time of the production; the assemblage of the cast and crew that would ultimately produce, craft, and star the film; tales from the shoot; the themes of the film; its construction; and plenty more. This piece is nearly as engaging as the film itself, delivered in a wonderful high definition picture quality and comprised of newly-minted and vintage footage alongside clips from the film, and it proves a worthwhile endeavor not only for fans of the film but for fans of cinema in general and those interested in the making of one of Hollywood's best pictures and one that is certainly of a fascinating and unique historical background.
The African Queen Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
There may be other classic films out there that enjoy greater recognition, but few are as truly endearing as The African Queen. With two performances for the ages, a grandiose and exotic setting, a wonderful sense of adventure, a charming and believable romance, and an altogether completely immersive and seamless experience, The African Queen is deserving of its accolades and more -- including its proud ranking as the 17th best movie of all-time according the American Film Institute. The only film for which the legendary Humphrey Bogart won an Oscar, The African Queen makes for a prime example of what seamless acting and first-class cinematic storytelling are all about, the film still a triumph some 60 years after its release and still a ride down a river of movie magic that's as harrowing but inviting today as ever before. Paramount's wonderful Blu- ray release only makes The African Queen experience all the better. Sporting a world-class high definition video restoration, a by-the-book but true-to-the-source soundtrack, and a singular but nevertheless exceptional supplement in the form of an engrossing documentary, The African Queen makes for a must-own Blu-ray disc. Highly recommended.
The African Queen: Other Editions
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The African Queen Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Deal Alert: The African Queen Blu-ray for $15 (Expired) - April 23, 2010
Best Buy has an interesting BD-related deal of the day going on now. Today only, you can buy the Blu-ray of the classic John Huston adventure movie The African Queen for only $15.00 (62% off MSRP). This offer is available for in-store pickup and online, and expires ...
• Video: Restoring The African Queen - March 17, 2010
An exclusive eight-minute video was posted today at MovieWeb offering a fascinating look at the many challenges faced for the restoration of John Huston's The African Queen, which will finally come out on Blu-ray next Tuesday. Paramount's ambition with this restoration ...
• The African Queen Blu-ray Announced for March - January 11, 2010
Paranount Home Entertainment has announced that it will release 'The African Queen' on Blu-ray on March 23. Meticulously restored using state-of-the-art 4K digital technology, 'The African Queen' will now be available for a new generation to appreciate and for ...
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