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The African Queen (Masters of Cinema) (Blu-ray Review)

The African Queen (Masters of Cinema) (Eureka Entertainment) PackshotThe 1951 classic adventure film The African Queen from director John Huston was and is one of the few indie films from Hollywood’s Golden Age and almost miraculously, given that it didn’t come out of the established and powerful studio system, it is one of the most convincing films in its genre from the era. This can probably be put down to the also unusual for the time on-location shooting in Africa and the chemistry between the lead actors Humphrey Bogart, who garnered an Oscar for his portrayal of the gin-soaked tramp steamer captain Charlie Allnut and Katharine Hepburn, who played the prissy sister, Rose Sayer, of a Christian missionary.

When the East African village they are working in during World War I is invaded by Germans and Rose Sayer’s brother, Rev. Samuel Sayer (Robert Morley), dies, Charlie offers to get Rose back to ‘civilization’ on his junk steamboat, The African Queen. The two mismatched shipmates can’t stand each other’s company – Charlie can’t stand Rose’s overbearing correctness and judgmental attitude, and Rose can’t stand Charlie’s seemingly lackadaisical attitude and hard-drinking. It doesn’t take long before the pair’s disparate attitudes turn into passionate love as the pair face a number of life-threatening obstacles on their way down the river, including crocodiles, waterfalls, mosquito swarms and more.

John Huston’s direction keeps things moving at an interesting pace, balancing the rollercoaster ride of adventure with the softer, saccharine romance between Bogart and Hepburn’s characters, while the screenplay by film critic James Agee adapted from a novel by C.S. Forester, also infuses just the right amount of comedic elements. And this being a John Huston film, we are also treated to beautiful cinematography, no doubt aided by the on-location shooting in East Africa.

The troubles that the on-location shooting wrought on the production have been well documented over the years, including in a book by Hepburn Herself. The end result, however, is a film that has stood the test of time and also is one of the most sincere and enjoyable genre films of its era.

The Video

This Masters of Cinema series Blu-ray release of The African Queen is presented on Blu-ray in an AVC 1080p encodement framed at 1.37:1 taken from Paramount’s 4K restoration of the film, which has been available on Blu-ray in the US since 2010 and was reissued in 2017. The image is fairly grainy and at times show somewhat of a greenish cast, but it looks consistent, organic, detailed, richly saturated, and amazingly free from source damage.

The Audio

The audio for The African Queen is the original monaural mix provided here in LPCM 2.0. It provides clean dialogue and little in the way of hiss or clipping.

The Supplements

  • Audio Commentary by director of photography Jack Cardiff
  • Neil Sinyard on the film (1.78:1; 1080p)
  • Kim Newman on the film (1.78:1; 1080p)
  • Interview with co-screenwriter Peter Viertel (1.78:1; 1080p)
  • Audio interview with director John Huston (The Guardian, recorded at the NFT, 1981)
  • Audio interview with Anjelica Huston & Angela Allen (Post-screening discussion recorded at the NFT, 2010)
  • Embracing Chaos: The Making of The African Queen (1.78:1; 1080p)
  • The African Queen: LUX Radio Theatre Adaptation (Originally aired December 15, 1952)
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • 60-page collector’s booklet features:
    • A PAIR OF ACES AND A QUEEN
      The Picturegoer (vol. 23, no. 879 – 8 Mar 1952)………………………………………………5
    • AFRICAN ADVENTURE
      The Veteran Magazine (Spring 2003)…………………………………………………………….15
    • Contents (Cast and Crew on
    • INTERVIEW WITH JOHN HUSTON
      by Karel Reisz (Sight and Sound – vol. 21, no. 3 – Jan/Mar 1952)……………………..25
    • Page 2)
    • EXTRACTS FROM “THE MAKING OF THE AFRICAN QUEEN”
      by Katharine Hepburn (1987)……………………………………………………………………….34
    • PETER VIERTEL: IN MEMORIAM
      by Michael Scheingraber (2019)…………………………………………………………………..48
    • ARTWORK GALLERY……………………………………………………………………………………..50
    • Viewing Notes……………………………………………………………………………………………..58
    • Production Credits & Special Thanks…………………………………………………………….59

The Final Assessment

While this Eureka Entertainment release brings nothing new to the table as far as the restoration, which has been available for a decade, the abundance of supplements, which the previous US release from Paramount lacked outside of the also included here making-of, Embracing Chaos, is well worth the investment. Excellent set for collectors.

The African Queen is out on Blu-ray in the UK 18th November 2019 from Eureka Entertainment

Purchase on Amazon UK


4 / 5 TheaterByte Rating
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Romulus Films | Horizon Pictures | Eureka EntertaimentStudios & Distributors
John HustonDirector
C.S. Forester (novel) | James Agee (adapted for the screen by) | John Huston (adapted for the screen by)Writer
105 Mins.Run Time
£25.99MSRP
18 November 2019Release Date
1.37:1Aspect Ratio
AVC 1080pVideo
English LPCM 2.0 MonoAudio
English SDHSubtitles
The Creative Content
The Video
The Audio
The Supplements
Summary
In World War I East Africa gin-soaked riverboat captain Charlie (Humphrey Bogart) and Christian missionary Rose (Katharine Hepburn) escape to safety down a river when Germans attack the rural village where she and her now-deceased brother were working and they face a number of life-threatening challenges. This Masters of Cinema series release uses the same 4K restoration from Paramount issued in 2010 on Blu-ray but adds a number of excellent bonus features.
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