The African Queen (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 9 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Well it’s about damn time! Back in 1998 the American Film Institute gathered experts from every aspect of the film world and came up with their “definitive” list of the top 100 American movies of all-time. I obsessed over this list for a while, eventually watching every movie in it. At the same time, the fledgling DVD format was very young and only a handful of these films were available on the format, the others were either in LaserDisc or VHS formats. As the years passed, more and more of these movies were released to DVD and many in special edition format. Warner in particular, took a great effort to offer many of these movies as two-disc editions that really stood out from some of the more bare bones releases. Films like “Singin’ in the Rain”, “The Philadelphia Story”, “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” I’m going somewhere with this, I assure you. After a while, virtually every film on that list was released on DVD in one form or another, but one movie has to be last, right? As you may have guessed by now, the absolute last movie to be released on DVD (and Blu-ray) is the film in question: “The African Queen”. It’s been so long, in fact, that the American Film Institute has even done an update to that original list and the 100 movies are now different; many are the same but there are now some omissions and new additions. Regardless, the Bogart and Hepburn fans can rejoice as the little tale of the boat, the drunk and the missionary is now available on disc!

We meet the rather small cast all at once in, surprisingly enough, Africa. Rose (Katherine Hepburn) and her brother Samuel (Robert Morely) are missionaries trying to bring religion to a small African village. But this is the start of World War I and the German troops are taking over anything and everything they can. It’s not too long before Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) makes his stop to deliver the mail that the village is burned and Samuel killed by the Germans. The town abandoned, Rose and Charlie head aboard “The African Queen” (the name of the boat and film) to head down the river and try to escape the hands of the Germans. The journey itself is dangerous enough, but add in the German boat, the Louisa, and you’ve got a lot of trouble brewing for Rose and Charlie. The backdrop of World War I is only part of the plot as the real action and charm of the movie is between two of the greatest actors to ever grace the screen: Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. The two are polar opposites, he a free-wheeling Canadian who likes his Gin and she the prim and proper English lass from the midlands of England. If you’ve ever head the phrase “opposites attract”, well it’s never been more evident than in this film.

The phrase “they don’t make them like they used to” certainly rings true here and having both Hepburn and Bogart on screen in the same film is a bit like having Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep on screen nowadays. John Huston directed this timeless classic based off a novel from C. S. Forester, perhaps better-known for his “Horatio Hornblower” novels. I’m reminded of the first time I saw this movie, back in the mid 80’s. I wasn’t the film buff I am now, but remember seeing a broken down Bogart chest high in water pulling a boat through the water. This is late in the movie, of course, but I asked my mother what the movie was and we watched the rest of it. The movie, now sixty, years old hasn’t lost any of its charm or allure and I doubt sixty years from now much won’t have changed. “The African Queen” is one of those movies that seems to have it all, action, romance and drama and it works well on each of those levels. If you’re a fan of the movie then I need say no more and if you’ve never seen the film, well I can only give it my highest recommendation.

Video: How does it look?

“The African Queen” is one of those moves that came out just before widescreen films were showing up and as such, the 1.37:1 full-frame transfer will be window-boxed on your HDTV. Still, this isn’t a totally bad thing as I’ve seen this movie on VHS and even basic cable and let me assure you that the picture quality is significantly improved with this initial Blu-ray release. There’s a sticker on the front of the box that claims this movie as been “meticulously restored” and I believe it. From the opening credits, the film has a saturation of colors that I’d not seen before. Upon previous viewings this had a very washed out feeling to it with no real depth. I’m happy to say that this does as good as I’ve ever seen it. Granted, it doesn’t hold a candle to the modern-day transfers out there. Still, we’ve waited a long, long time for this movie to be on DVD and Blu-ray, so Paramount did do this right.

Audio: How does it sound?

Audio-wise this won’t be the disc you pop in to demo your system, there are plenty of other movies for that. “The African Queen” sports a Dolby Digital mono track that sounds pretty darn good. Granted, with a mono track the audio options are severely limited as we only get sound out of one channel, but the sound is strong and doesn’t have that “hissed” or “dated” feel to it like some films of this age. There are a few times in the movie where there was some faux surround sounds like the mosquitoes and some insect chirps from the river, but they’re few and far between. Dialogue is very consistent and strong as well. Like the video, this is a good track but can’t hold a candle to the modern-day soundtracks out there.

Supplements: What are the extras?

There’s only one supplement on this disc, but it’s worth it. An hour long documentary entitled “Embracing Chaos: Making ‘The African Queen’ gives us some insight from those associated with the film (those who are still alive, anyway) the trip as to how the movie made it from book to screen, how it was produced, cast and the adventures that Bogart, Hepburn, Bacall and Huston had in Africa. This is shown in HD and gives you pretty much everything you need to know about the movie and is a must see.

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