The Review at a Glance: (max score: 5 )
Audio/Video total rating:
( Max score: 100 )
Studio and Year: Paramount - 1951
MPAA Rating: NR
Feature running time: 105 minutes
Disc Format: BD-50
Encoding: AVC (MPEG-4)
Video Aspect: 1.33:1
Audio Format(s): English/French/Spanish Dolby Mono
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Katherine Hepburn, Robert Morley
Directed by: John Huston
Written by: James Agee & John Huston based upon the novel by C.S. Forester
Region Code: A
Blu-ray Disc release Date: March 23, 2010
"A cinematic gem gets a make over"
At the start of World War 1, German imperial troops burn down Reverend Samuel Sayer’s mission in Africa. He is overtaken with disappointment and passes away. Shortly after his well-educated, snooty sister Rose Sayer (Hepburn) buries her brother, she must leave on the only available transport, a tired river steamboat 'The African Queen' manned by the ill-mannered bachelor, Charlie Allnut (Bogart). Together they embark on a long difficult journey, without any comfort. Rose grows determined to assist in the British war effort and presses Charlie until he finally agrees and together they steam up the Ulana encountering an enemy fort, raging rapids, bloodthirsty parasites and endlessly branching stream which always seem to lead them to what appear to be impenetrable swamps. Despite opposing personalities, the two grow closer to each other and ultimately carry out their plan to take out a German warship.
As a film enthusiast I am embarrassed to admit that I have never seen The African Queen in its entirety. Seeing as this is its first foray to DVD/Blu-ray I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to see it looking its best in this meticulously restored presentation. Based upon the novel by C.S Forester it tells the harrowing journey of two very different people thrown together in a far away and untamed land during turbulent times. Charlie (Bogart) is gruff, unrefined, and enjoys the “hair of the dog” while Rosie is learned, cultured, and ministerial. The one thing that they seem to have in common is their sense of patriotism. A group of German Imperial soldiers enters the African village where Rose and her brother serve as missionaries, burn it down and herd the natives out. During the attack her brother is beaten, develops a fever and eventually dies. Charlie operates a beat up old steamer called The African Queen and frequents the island, bringing Rose and her brother mail and supplies. He had been by recently and warned them of the impending troubles and that it may be a while before he could return. Shortly after the burning of the village Charlie returns and finds Rose sitting amidst the ruins. He helps her bury her brother and the two set off in The African Queen hoping to avoid encounters with the German army. After the death of her brother Rose has a strong desire to strike back at the German Imperial troops. She confides in Charlie and he mentions that the Germans have a gunboat, the Louisa, which patrols a large lake downriver, effectively blocking any British counter-attacks. Rose comes up with a plan to convert the Queen into a torpedo boat, and sink the Louisa. Charlie points out that navigating the river would be suicidal: to reach the lake they would have to pass a German fort and negotiate several dangerous rapids. But Rose is insistent and eventually persuades him to go along with the plan. As Charlie and Rose traverse the dangers of the Ulana River they encounter a host of obstacles, including unpredictable weather, hordes of mosquitoes, blood sucking leeches, and German soldiers. While these were certainly obstacles they were expecting something else happened that they didn’t see coming. It is this that will see them through the toughest parts of their journey. IF they survive.
What a wonderful film. Bogart and Hepburn are two of the most revered actors in cinematic history and their superlative performances in this movie are a testament to that. Both were nominated for Academy Awards, with Bogart winning for Best Actor. They had terrific onscreen chemistry which is one of the reasons this character driven story works so well. Its narrow focus revolves primarily around just the two of them which afforded them the chance to shine and shine they did. For Bogart this character was a departure from those he was accustomed to playing and he nailed it. Hepburn is captivating to watch and was a gifted actress capable of playing any role. The great John Huston helmed The African Queen and his brilliance as a director is on display throughout. It is interesting to see how a film such as this which has extremely limited reliance on effects and camera tricks came off so well. The use of miniatures and green (or yellow in this case) screens is pretty obvious but considering when this movie was made I didn’t think it was hokey or elementary. In 1951 independent filmmaking and shooting films primarily on location was rare. Many didn’t feel that a story such as this had the depth to be successfully adapted into a full length feature that anyone would care about. Guess again. While on the surface it may seem simple looking further reveals a delineated story of two souls destined to find one another by arriving from completely different paths that under any other circumstance would never have converged. It engages us by providing a bit of escapism through means of an adventurous tale of purpose, fortitude, acceptance, and romance (with light sprinklings of levity). These elements are interwoven through the wonderful performances by two Hollywood icons and the staunch vision of an incredible group of filmmakers determined to see it through. Six years ago Paramount undertook the task of digitally restoring this classic film. It has been meticulously restored using state-of-the-art 4K digital technology and the results are magnificent. Those that have been waiting for this beloved piece of American Cinema to come to DVD/Blu-ray have been rewarded with this excellent technical offering from Paramount.
This film isn’t rated but contains thematic material that would probably garner it a PG rating.
AUDIO/VIDEO - By The Numbers:
REFERENCE = 92-100 / EXCELLENT = 83-91 / GOOD = 74-82 / AVERAGE = 65-73 / BELOW AVERAGE = under 65
**My audio/video ratings are based upon a comparative made against other high definition media/blu-ray disc.**
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- Low frequency extension:
- Surround Sound presentation:
- Dialogue Reproduction:
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- Black level/Shadow detail:
- Color reproduction:
The African Queen comes to Blu-ray Disc from Paramount featuring 1080p AVC encoded video that has an average bitrate of 39 mbps and lossy Dolby Digital Mono sound that has a constant bitrate of 224 kbps.
Originally shot in Technicolor The African Queen probably looked spectacular when it was released in theaters in the early 1950s. Over the years degradation and age took its toll on its elements and it suffered from washed out and debris laden imagery and a noisy soundtrack. I am happy to report that this newly restored presentation looks marvelous and yields sound quality that together probably rival its original theatrical elements. Colors are vivid with subtle tonal variation and clean rendering that draws out primaries such as the blue of Katherine Hepburn’s eyes, and allows them to sparkle. The range of colors is not particularly extensive but the earth tones which are its primary source look great. Facial textures and complexions are nicely delineated with warmth and lifelike tonality. Images are well detailed over the course of the film. This isn’t going to exhibit the type of razor sharp high gloss definition that we see from films today however the level of resolution is impressive for films of this age. There are minor fluctuations in sharpness and detail that appear related to the original photography and rarely infringe upon fidelity. Film grain is intact, and appears well preserved throughout the presentation. Blacks are stable with consistent contrast levels that draw out plenty of visible detail during light and dark segments. There are a handful of instances where this presentation puts it all together and looks terrific. One example occurs in Chapter 13 where Charlie and Rose are making their way through the mud/muck and reeds by chopping and pulling the African Queen by hand. This sequence has an excellent sense of dimensionality with rich contrast and discernible definition that leaves it looking incredible for a 60 year old film. The monaural soundtrack is presented in Dolby Mono and while it won’t knock your socks off I found it delivered the components of the original recording quite well. Overall quality is clean and primarily free of unwanted clicks, pops or background hiss. Dialogue intelligibility is excellent as it is never lost amidst the other sounds coming through the central channel. The raging water and storm sequences exhibit a broader dynamic quality that adds a bit more emphasis. As a whole the presentation sounds just slightly compressed but not at the expense of fidelity. Purists will appreciate the time and effort that went into maintaining the integrity of this great film’s original elements while restoring it. The result will allow those seeing it for the first time to experience it looking and sounding better than it ever has on home video. For those that recall seeing it during its theatrical run this high definition presentation on Blu-ray will be like a trip down memory lane (maybe even better). Kudos to Paramount on a job well done!
- (HD) Embracing chaos: Making The African Queen - This hour long and comprehensive documentary takes a look back at the production with commentary about the cast, the challenges of the filming locations and how the spectacular cinematography impacted the industry overall. Includes on-camera interviews with notable Hollywood icons, critics and crew members from the film including Martin Scorsese, Tony Huston, Richard Schickel and more, plus never-before-seen archival images and home movie footage provided by the estate of cinematographer Jack Cardiff.
The African Queen truly is a cinematic gem. Seeing it now for the first time reminds of why I love my job as a reviewer. It exposes me to wonderful films such as this that allow me the opportunity to connect with American Classics from a generation ago. Paramount has painstakingly restored The African Queen and the results are well worth the 6 years it took. Debuting for the first time on DVD and Blu-ray, this high definition presentation looks marvelous. The film’s original elements appear intact and yield image and sound quality that probably rival its theatrical presentation. Fans are in for a real treat and can look forward to a whole new experience thanks to this excellent Blu-ray offering from Paramount. Highly recommended!
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