Review: THE AFRICAN QUEEN - Restored, 60th Anniversary Re-Release

rating: 4.5

2011 marks the 60th anniversary of Humphrey Bogart & Katharine Hepburn's classic 1951 adventure/romance The African Queen and from today, a gloriously restored print will be returning to cinemas in most major cities in the UK. Directed by the legendary John Huston and based on a novel by C.S Forester, here€™s a quick recap of the story for those not in the know: It€™s East Africa during World War 1 and Humphrey Bogart is Charlie Allnut, Captain of the titular African Queen, a ramshackle steamboat which ships supplies to the small East African villages on and around the Bora river. When Katharine Hepburn€™s spinster, Rose, is left on her own after her Missionary Brother dies following the invasion of their village by the Germans, it€™s Bogart€™s Charlie who provides the only hope of a safe return to civilisation for the damsel in distress. Once on-board the plot really picks up steam (ahem), as Rose cajoles Charlie into assisting her carry out a plan that will see them use the African Queen and some home-made torpedoes to take down the nasty Germans and their gun boat, The Louisa, which is now controlling all traffic coming in and out of the area. The mismatched couple that is the grizzled, cigar chomping, alcoholic and the well mannered, uptight, prissy lady, must put their differences aside as they negotiate their way down the treacherous river, past hungry crocodiles, German gun fire and swarms of flies in order to carry out Rose€™s plan. What ensues is an enjoyable rip-roaring adventure featuring two of the biggest movie stars of their generation sparring and bouncing off each other the whole way through. It€™s a formula for success that numerous studios have attempted to replicate over the years, but only rarely has the magic contained in these 110 minutes been found again (Romancing The Stone, for one). They really did set the benchmark high for the Action/Adventure/Romance hybrid with this one. Much is often made about chemistry between actors in films (see my fellow reviewer Simon Gallagher€™s piece on €˜The Big Sleep€™ for more Bogart chemistry discussion) but this is a different type of chemistry on display here, not sexually charged but something more tender and evoking true companionship. This probably owes as much to do with the ages of the two stars at the time of filming, as it does to the well-written characters that they€™re playing. Bogart was 50-51 and Hepburn was 43-44, and in our current age of movie marketing where so much importance is placed on demographics and target audiences, one cant help but wonder how many studios today would make a film of this kind of scale with similarly aged Actors? The restoration came about after a teaming up of ITV Studios Global Entertainment, Paramount Pictures and Romulus Films, and it took seven years just to get all of the various rights holders together and raise the required funds. The actual restoration, which cost somewhere in the region of $650,000, took a year and crikey did they pull off a coup to assist them with the process: Original Cinematographer Jack Cardiff was recorded watching a projection of the original year-of-release film and he explained when he had used colour filters, which were studio and location shots, and also gave his grading advice. The original 35mm three-strip camera negatives had three layers making up each reel- Yellow, Magenta and Cyan. Each of these were badly damaged and faded, so, armed with the invaluable resource of Cardiff€™s input, each reel was scanned at high resolution and digitally recombined, using restoration tools to repair tears and scratches, remove dirt and stabilise the picture. The film was then re-graded. With the same treatment given to the soundtrack, the film can now be re-released in cinemas, both as a 35mm print and digital projection. It will also be available for a Blu-ray release too. The only down side to such a pristine transfer is that it becomes glaringly obvious which scenes were on location and which were studio shot scenes, especially during the white water rapids sequence, and that will no doubt raise a chuckle or two. Before the restoration such things were less discernible but this is only a miniscule gripe, and only likely to bother some younger audiences who are used to our modern effects and a bit more crash, bang, wallop. Likewise, it may also be a little too talky in places for them, too. That aside, The African Queen will always remain a classic and fans of the film should feel very privileged indeed to get an opportunity to go and see this sumptuous restoration up on the big screen where it belongs. Or if you haven€™t seen it at all, then there€™s no better time than the present, especially if you feel like an alternative to the current Hollywood product that€™s out there in our multiplexes at the moment. Bogart€™s Oscar winning turn has probably never looked so good. The African Queen is back in select U.K. cinema's across the country from today.
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Harry Roth hasn't written a bio just yet, but if they had... it would appear here.