The African Queen: Special Restoration Edition (1951)

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Released 6-Oct-2010

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Adventure Featurette-Making Of-Embracing Chaos - Making The African Queen
Audio Commentary-Cinematographer Jack Cardiff
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1951
Running Time 105:09
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (89:52) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By John Huston
Studio
Distributor
Romulus
Beyond Home Entertainment
Starring Humphrey Bogart
Katharine Hepburn
Robert Morley
Case Amaray-Opaque
RPI $19.95 Music Alan Gray


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     The African Queen is a cinema classic that needs little introduction. In German East Africa in September 1914 during the early days of WW1, Charlie Allnut, a grubby, gin swilling river launch captain (Humphrey Bogart) delivers mail up and down a river on his 30 foot boat, the African Queen. One of his stops is the Methodist mission run by the Reverend Samuel Sayer (Robert Morley) and his prim and proper spinster sister Rose (Katherine Hepburn). They minister to a small native congregation until the village and their mission is torched by German soldiers and the villagers marched away. When Samuel dies, Charlie offers to take Rose to safety. But she has other ideas; she proposes that they take the African Queen down river to torpedo the Louisa, a 100 ton German steamer with a 6 inch gun, on the lake. Thus begins the journey of this mismatched couple, facing rapids, insects, animals, Germans and extensive reeds and marshes as gradually their antipathy towards each other turns to respect, then love.

     The African Queen is basically a two hander and both Bogart and Hepburn are wonderful. Bogart won his only Oscar for the role of Charlie Allnut, a dirty, unshaven, gin soaked man, half a continent away from Casablanca’s suave tuxedoed Rick. He is terrific, although Hepburn’s is a greater character arc from prim missionary with clothes all buttoned and in place, to dishevelled, resourceful heroine, finding a mission, and love, in this most unlikely place. Their dialogue scenes sparkle with wit and understatement. Together with the terrific performances, The African Queen is replete with humour and wonderful Technicolor cinematography by Jack Cardiff that beautifully captures the African locations. While some of the back projection sequences, such as running the rapids, look obvious (it is 1951 after all), most of the film looks truly spectacular.

     The African Queen has been released previously in Region 4 and was reviewed here. The reviewer noted that that release had very poor video; it was riddled with artefacts, scratches, nicks and had faded colours. Does this new Special Restoration Edition fix these issues and how does the film hold up after 60 years? The answers are that, first, The African Queen now looks terrific, the problems with the print fully resolved. Second, this is still a wonderfully entertaining film, with fabulous stars and beautiful location photography. The African Queen is a film that should be in the collection of every film enthusiast – and this Special Restoration Edition finally does it justice. Throw away the old disc, this IS the one to have.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     The African Queen is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, the original theatrical ratio being 1.37:1. It is not 16x9 enhanced.

     As noted, this print, restored in 2009, is terrific. The Technicolor cameras give a great depth of field with objects in wonderful, almost 3D clarity deep into the shot. Colours are also immersive, with beautiful deep browns and greens predominant. The picture is very sharp with excellent clarity and contrast; blacks and shadow detail are great. Skin tones are fine.

     I did not notice any film or film to video artefacts. The layer change at 89:52 resulted in a slight pause.

     There are no subtitles, even when native languages and German is spoken.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     Audio is an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track at 192 Kbps. The dialogue is clear, river and rapid effects, rain and jungle noises are clear and sharp enough, but of course hardly vibrant. The surrounds and subwoofer are not used. The film was released originally with a mono sound mix so we need not be too concerned

     The score by Alan Gray is nicely heard in the mix. However, the score is perhaps the most dated part of the film and sometimes feels intrusive.

     Lip synchronisation is fine.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Embracing Chaos: Making The African Queen (56:55)

     Incorporating archival black and white on set photographs, a range of archival interview footage with John Huston, Katherine Hepburn and Jack Cardiff (cinematographer), interviews with approximately 23 others including Martin Scorsese, critics Rudy Behlmer and Richard Schickel, the biographers of Bogart, Hepburn, Huston, Sam Spiegel (producer), James Agee (writer) and Bacall, the sons of C.S. Forester and Huston, various friends of Hepburn and Bogart plus other writers, directors and critics this is an informative and entertaining documentary. Perhaps some of the most interesting comments come from Guy Hamilton, who was Assistant Director on The African Queen and who later directed a number of Bond films including Goldfinger. Always interesting, topics include the C.S. Forester novel, producer Sam Spiegel, the effects of the McCarthy committee, Huston, Agee, filming in the jungle, insects, illness, the Technicolor movie cameras and general on set anecdotes, including the fate of Hepburn’s personal toilet.

Audio Commentary – Cinematographer Jack Cardiff

     Cardiff speaks about the challenges and difficulties of shooting with Technicolor cameras in the Belgium Congo and Uganda, insects and illness, working with Huston and the two stars of the picture. While he is watching the film for the commentary, there are long pauses and very few screen specific or technical discussions. However, there are a number of interesting anecdotes and is worth a listen.

Trailer (2:24)

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     Not surprisingly, there have been a number of releases of The African Queen in different regions. The best has been the Region 2 UK SE release that included as extras Embracing Chaos: Making The African Queen, the audio commentary by cinematographer Jack Cardiff, cast and crew biographies, photo and poster galleries and a theatrical trailer. The Region 1 US release has the ‘making of” but not the commentary. Here in Region 4 we get both the important extras.

     Blu-ray releases follow the same pattern. The US Region All, includes the “making of” only while the Region B Australian Blu-ray includes all the Region 2 SE extras. The Australian Blu-ray is reviewed on this site here.

Summary

     In this Special Restoration Edition, The African Queen now looks terrific. Sixty years on, this is still a wonderfully entertaining film, with fabulous stars and beautiful location photography. The video is excellent, the audio the original mono, and the extras are extensive including the great Embracing Chaos: Making The African Queen documentary that is well worth repeat viewings.

     This is one film that should be in the collection of every film enthusiast – and this Special Restoration Edition finally does it justice. Throw away the old disc, this IS the one to have.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Tuesday, February 01, 2011
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 42inch Hi-Def LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Blu Ray - NickH
various Blu-Ray v R4 DVD - Anonymous REPLY POSTED
Almost does it justice... - Gavin Bollard (bio - updated 9 Nov 2005)