The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1951) | The Movie Waffler

Blu-Ray Review - THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1951)

the african queen review
A prim English missionary and a gruff riverboat captain attempt to thwart the occupying German forces in WWI East Africa.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: John Huston

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley, Peter Bull, Theodore Bikel

the african queen bluray

Whether it's Werner Herzog forcing his crew to drag a boat over a mountain or Alejandro González Iñárritu talking Leonardo DiCaprio into eating raw meat, there's a certain brand of filmmaker that likes to approach the art of making a movie as though it were some sort of conquest. Does travelling to remote, inhospitable locales and subjecting actors to the sort of indignities they're unaccustomed to really make for a better film than simply sticking to the cosy confines of a studio? I guess it depends on the film. In the case of Fitzcarraldo, I would say, yes, Herzog achieves a verisimilitude that can't be mimicked. Whereas nothing about The Revenant convinces me it couldn't have been made in Northern California, and DiCaprio is a good enough actor not to require such pretentious 'method' techniques.

the african queen review

When John Huston brought his pampered stars Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart to the wilds of Uganda and the Congo to shoot The African Queen in 1951, such behaviour was an anomaly in Hollywood. I'm not sure it was worth such a difficult trip. A few years later, Jack Arnold would film Creature from the Black Lagoon in Florida, but the movie is so well crafted that you never doubt for a second that its protagonists are in the remote Amazon. When Bogart's body is ravaged by bloodsucking leeches here, those really are leeches. But would Bogie be any less convincing if they were made of rubber?

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Based on C.S. Forester's novel, The African Queen takes place in 1914, war having just broken out. In German East Africa, British Methodist missionary Samuel Sayer (Robert Morley) is killed when occupying German troops burn down the native village he and his sister Rose (Hepburn) have been attempting to convert to Christianity. Left alone, Rose is found by Canadian riverboat captain Charlie Allnut (Bogart), who advises she leave with him immediately, as the Germans are looking to capture his boat, the eponymous 'African Queen', for its supplies of fuel and explosives.

the african queen review

Rather than simply fleeing, Rose plots revenge, and comes up with the idea of turning Charlie's beloved boat into a giant torpedo to ram the 'Königin Luise', the giant German gunboat that has been terrorising the river. To catch up with the Königin Luise, they must brave a variety of obstacles, including raging rapids and a manned German fortress.

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In its relationship between the mimsy missionary and the coarse captain, The African Queen follows a template that has proved successful in everything from It Happened One Night to The Sure Thing, that of a mismatched man and woman stuck together on an adventure, only to finally set aside their differences and become romantically bonded. The trouble with The African Queen is that it never exploits the full potential of the disparity between Rose and Charlie. The movie focusses on the conflict between its heroes and the German military, when the more interesting clash is the class and cultural one that divides Rose and Charlie. The two are barely at odds with one another to begin with, and their advancement to a romantic entanglement occurs at an implausibly early stage. From that point we're left to watch as the two make googly eyes at each other, and the potential abrasive spark has been snubbed out.

the african queen review

On a technical level at least, The African Queen never fails to impress. Jack Cardiff's cinematography captures the rugged features of both the African locale and Bogart's fascinating fissog, and Paramount's 4K restoration allows you to count every individual growth of stubble on his chin. Huston constructs some clever set-pieces, like a German sniper thwarted by the glare of the sun, and a pre-Deliverance encounter with some treacherous rapids. The African Queen is considered a stone cold Hollywood classic, so why does it leave me so emotionally uninvolved?

Commentary track by cinematographer Jack Cardiff; interviews with film critics Neil Sinyard and Kim Newman; isolated music and effects track; an hour long 'Making' Of' documentary; trailer; 60 page collector's book featuring new and archive writing on the film.

The African Queen is on blu-ray now from Eureka Entertainment.