Review: The African Queen DVD

STUDIO: Paramount | DIRECTOR: John Huston | STARS: Humphrey Bogart, Katherine Hepburn, Robert Morley, Peter Bull
RELEASE DATE: 3/23/2010 | PRICE: DVD $69.99
BONUSES: new documentary
SPECS: NR | 105 min. | Adventure | 1.33:1 fullscreen | Dolby Digital mono | English, Spanish and French subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Production superlatives abound in the great romantic adventure The African Queen: Adapted from the 1935 novel by C.S. Forester by legendary writer/critic James Agee, directed by John Huston, produced by Sam Spiegel, photographed by the great Jack Cardiff and starring an Oscar-winning Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn, the film remains an American classic, and an outstanding example of first-rate Hollywood filmmaking created on location and away from the physical oversight and comfort of the studio. It was shot primarily on location in Africa and England and it looks and feels that way from the very first shot.

Photographed in gorgeous three-strip Technicolor, the Queen has long been in need of a restoration and makeover, a chore that Paramount proudly takes on and delivers. 1951’s The African Queen receives a spectacular and well-deserved makeover from Paramount. The restoration process began by obtaining an original three-strip negative from Romulus Films, one of the Queen’s original production companies—and then recombining, aligning and cleaning the entire film. (The restored version was screened for the late cinematographer Cardiff last year, who approved the vibrant, colorful version that was ultimately used for DVD and Blu-ray release.)

Paramount also commissioned a new documentary about the film, the hour-long Embracing Chaos: The Making of the African Queen. Produced by Nicholas Meyer and directed by Eric Young, it’s an excellent companion piece to the film that includes more than two dozen newly recorded interviews with everyone from surviving cast and crew members (Theodore Bikel and assistant director Guy Hamilton), critics, biographers, publicists, relatives and diehard fans like Martin Scorsese (whose appearances on classic DVD supplements are fast becoming a second occupation for him). The tales of the movie’s creation–involving everything from soldier ants to rubber leeches to Hepburn’s constant vomiting between takes to Huston’s desire to shoot an elephant—have long been considered some of Hollywood’s greatest production tales.

Commemorative edition DVD and Blu-ray box sets of the film are also available, priced at $34.99 and $43.99, respectively. They include an audio disc of a Lux Radio Theater African Queen broadcast, collectible film frames and postcards, and a reproduction of Hepburn’s out-of-print memoir The African Queen or How I Went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.