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John Huston
Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley, Peter Bull, Theodore Bikel, Walter Gotell, Peter Swanwick
Writing Credits:
C.S. Forester (novel, "The African Queen"), James Agee, John Huston

The greatest adventure a man ever lived ... with a woman!

At the start of World War I, German imperial troops burn down Reverend Samuel Sayerís 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.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
English Monaural
Spanish Monaural
French Monaural
Portuguese Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 105 min.
Price: $39.99
Release Date: 3/23/2010

• ďEmbracing Chaos: Making The African QueenĒ Documentary


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The African Queen [Blu-Ray] (1951)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 6, 2010)

Back in mid-2000, I took a look at the AFIís ď100 Greatest MoviesĒ list and realized that Iíd already reviewed quite a few of them. Intrepid young man I was, I decided to take on all of them. That task may sound daunting, but since it meant Iíd write up most of them when they got their initial release, I didnít have to do that much all at once. Online rentals allowed me to fill in gaps with then-released DVDs, and I picked up the rest when they eventually hit the shelves.

Some came out quicker than others, though. By October 2007, 99 of the 100 films had come out on DVD; The Jazz Singer was the release that pushed the list close to completion.

And then I waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally, March 2010 allows me to complete our AFI 100 page, as we now have 1951ís The African Queen - that last cog Ė available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Set in German East Africa circa the early days of World War I, where Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn) and her brother (Robert Morley) serve as Christian missionaries. This ends when German soldiers round up the locals and burn the village. The experience causes the brother to suffer a mental breakdown, and he dies before long.

With no reason to stay, Rose seeks to depart Ė and to avoid future encounters with the Germans. This places her on board ďThe African QueenĒ, a steamboat that traverses the river under command of its seedy, salty captain, Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart). He seems happy to hide out and wait for the war to end, but she wants to find a way back home to England. This sets the unlikely pair on a difficult journey out of Africa, one on which they will also do their part for the war effort.

You can place Queen on the fairly long list of movie classics I saw years ago on VHS but hadnít viewed as an adult Ė or at least not past the age of 20 or so. In the back of my head, I maintained a memory of dissatisfaction with the flick, but donít ask me to explain why; I know I didnít care for it but I couldnít discuss my specific complaints.

I suspect I didnít much care for it because it lacked a particularly dynamic plot. Ostensibly a ďwar flickĒ, Queen is really a character piece. Indeed, the entire scenario that launches the journey seems like little more than an excuse to plop the staid, stuffy Rosie in close quarters with the earthy Allnut. They couldíve been stuck on an island or snowbound on a mountain; it wouldíve made little difference in terms of story development.

Which means Queen lives or dies with the lead characters. For the most part, it entertains, especially during its first half. Inevitably, Rosie and Charlie eventually become lovey-dovey, and the movie loses some dramatic steam when they do. It compensates with a greater level of action and adventure, but the characters become less interesting to me.

Bogart won an Oscar for his work as Charlie, and I suspect that was one of those career recognition awards. I donít want to slight Bogartís turn here, as heís entertaining and charming. However, I find it hard to imagine many film fans would now defend Bogartís performance as the best of 1951 when he came up against Brando in Streetcar. Bogartís Charlie is a likable cartoon character and thatís about it.

Which comes as a definite contrast to Hepburnís much more three-dimensional Rosie. Both characters start out as caricatures, but only Rosie manages to grow beyond that level. Hepburn provides the more natural performance of the two, and she grounds the film on an emotional level.

My minor criticisms of Bogartís performance aside, the pair do have a good chemistry. I suspect thatís the reason Queen remains regarded as a classic. With lesser actors, I donít think the movie would stay lodged in the cinematic consciousness, as I donít think thereís much else about it thatís particularly special. Oh, itís an enjoyable ride, with some fun character moments and a dollop of good action.

But if you lose the two cinematic legends as the leads, I really doubt that Queen would be seen in the same light. Granted, one could say the same about many movies, but I believe Queen would show a bigger decline with other actors in it.

With Bogart and Hepburn at the fore, however, African Queen provides an enjoyable adventure. Do I really think itís one of the 100 best movies ever made? Nope Ė itís not even my favorite of the collaborations between Bogart and director John Huston, as I prefer both The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Maltese Falcon. Still, itís a charming romantic action flick that still holds up well after almost 60 years.

Footnote: the release of African Queen allowed me to complete both of the siteís AFI 100 pages. It was also the final component left to fill out the AFIís 2007 update. I hate to admit it, but Iím almost sad that Iím finally finished with the page. This day has taken so long to get here that itís kind of anticlimactic!

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A-/ Audio C/ Bonus B-

The African Queen appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. After such a long wait, fans expected something special, and thatís what they got from this outstanding presentation.

Sharpness was surprisingly good. A little softness affected some wide shots, but the majority of the flick looked concise and well-defined. Close-ups of Katharine Hepburn tended to be the fuzziest, but this appeared to be a visual choice to soften the appearance of an aging actress; I didnít think it was a transfer-related issue. No concerns with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and edge haloes were absent. Source flaws also created no concerns, as the movie boasted a clean presentation.

Like many Technicolor movies, Queen came with a slightly brownish tint. That also fit the filmís setting, though some brighter colors appeared as well. I thought that the hues looked fine given their restrictions, and when allowed to do so, they could be quite vivid. Blacks were dark and dense, while shadows came across as concise and clear. I felt quite impressed by this very strong transfer.

On the other hand, the monaural audio was a bit on the feeble side. Mastered at a low level, I needed to crank my receiverís volume higher than usual to get to a listenable place. Even then, the track seemed somewhat thin and nondescript.

Speech remained intelligible, but the lines could be brittle. Still, they werenít bad, as dialogue was often the best aspect of the track. Music appeared a little shrill and lacked much low-end. Effects werenít much better, as those elements appeared fairly wan and lackluster. Given the restrictions of the source material, I thought a ďCĒ grade was in order, but more dynamic mastering mightíve made this a more acceptable auditory presentation.

How did the picture and sound of this Blu-Ray compare with those of the standard DVD? The audio seemed to be virtually identical. I suspect the Blu-ray probably had less compression, but the results sounded about the same to me; both discs offered lackluster mono sound.

While I liked the SD-DVDís image quite a lot, it couldnít compete with this excellent Blu-ray. That was especially true in terms of sharpness, as the Blu-ray boasted the usual improvements in terms of clarity and delineation. The DVD was very good, but the Blu-ray is a notch better.

Since it took forever for the much-lauded African Queen to hit DVD/Blu-ray, you might expect a wealth of supplements. Youíd expect wrong. The only extra comes from Embracing Chaos: Making The African Queen, a 59-minute, 24-second documentary. It provides notes from novelist CS Foresterís son John, critic/historian Richard Schickel, film historians James Ursini and Rudy Behlmer, James Ageeís biographer Laurence Bergreen, filmmakers Martin Scorsese, Mark Rydell, Norman Lloyd, Steven Charles Jaffe and Nicholas Meyer, Bogart biographer Eric Lax, Sam Spiegel biographer Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni, assistant director Guy Hamilton, actor Theodore Bikel, John Huston biographer Lawrence Grobel, producer Sir John Woolf, Katharine Hepburn biographer William J. Mann, script supervisor Angela Allen, clapper boy Desmond Davis, Lauren Bacall biographer Brenda Scott Royce, Bogart friend Warren Stevens, Hustonís son Tony, publicist David Lewin, director of photography Jack Cardiff, and Hepburn friend John Philip Dayton. Hepburn and Huston and also appear via archival footage.

ďChaosĒ looks at the source novel and its slow path to the screen, notes about cast and crew, the eraís social climate and its impact on the production, some story/character areas, shooting in Africa, various technical challenges and cinematography, general anecdotes, and the filmís reception and legacy. While Iím disappointed in the paucity of bonus materials, at least ďChaosĒ offers a good look at the film. It moves at a brisk pace and digs into the flick with pretty good gusto. We find a nice exploration of a variety of subjects in this enjoyable, informative piece.

While not the best of the John Huston/Humphrey Bogart collaborations, The African Queen provides a likable romantic adventure. It works mostly due to the chemistry of its leads, as the interaction between Bogart and Katharine Hepburn elevates the material. The Blu-ray boasts excellent visuals but the audio seems lackluster. In terms of supplements, we only get one, but itís an engaging documentary. The absence of more substantial bonus materials disappoints, but the film receives good treatment here, and the Blu-ray is the way to go for fans who want to see Queen at its best.

To rate this film, visit the original review of THE AFRICAN QUEEN

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main