Tom Laughlin of ‘Billy Jack’ Fame wrote a definitive guide for writing a movie script that details nine elements that must be included for a successful story. There are aspects such as romance, clearly defined hero and villain as well as a ticking clock to ultimate danger. It is extremely rare for a film to present all of the listed points but a few notably exceptional films have done so. One of these rare and wonderful gems just received the home entertainment treatment it deserved; ‘The African Queen’. Not only is this a nearly perfect screenplay but it represents the convergence of talent both behind and in front of the camera that occurs perhaps once in a generation. Even though this film was made almost half a century ago it stands up exceptionally well to the test of time. If any movie deserves a re-release on high definition it is this one. ‘African Queen’ is one of the best examples of cinema made and a must see even for this current, computer jaded generation. I have several copies of this film already in my collection from VHS to one of the previous grey market DVD editions but still there was a sense of excitement upon hearing the announcement of a limited edition Blu-ray edition. It wasn’t just the prospect of new extras or the increase in resolution; it was the validation that the studio still acknowledges the historical cinematic greatness of classics like this one. Younger viewers should take note that this movie was made near the end of the golden age of the Hollywood studio system. Now it would be nearly impossible to assemble the amount of sheer talent that is boasted by this movie. It has been a long time coming but at last this venerable piece of artistic expression is afforded the treatment it so richly deserved. Many film buffs have included this title in their most wanted list only to wait year after year with little hope in sight. Then Paramount heard the plaintive cries of fans and stepped up to the plate big time. They didn’t just add it on to their continuing ‘Centennial Celebration’ series opting instead for a full blown box set.
At the heart of any great movie is the story and this one comes from a fantastic pedigree. The original bestselling novel was the work of C.S. Forester, a man who knew a lot about adventures on ship board as evident by his Horatio Hornblower nautical series. While the titular craft here is much smaller in scale that the high seas faring ships Forester was accustomed to writing about every bit of the high adventure and drama is brought to bear here. The novel was adapted for the screen by James Agee. He didn’t have a long resume and this screenplay was one of his early scripts but this certainly was one to hold as a claim to fame. After many films revolving around the recently concluded World War II this story goes back a bit in time to the First World War were sibling missionaries, Samuel and Rose Sayer (Robert Morley and Katharine Hepburn) are working in German occupied East Africa. Their life line to the rest of the world, supplies and correspondence is Canadian born boat captain Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart), who transverses the treacherous river in his broken down boat, ‘The African Queen’. When war officially breaks out between Germany and Britain the Germans deploy a gun boat to burn down the missionary beating Sam in the process inflicting injuries that prove to be fatal. With the river blockaded Rose devises a plan to retrofit the boat with a torpedo and sink the German boat freeing the river.
This was an action flick far ahead of its time. Having a strong, resourceful woman was novel for the fifties but helped continue the trend of strong women necessitated by the recent war. Hepburn was already famous with quite a career when she took on this movie and her personal relationship with Bogart only fueled the popular clamor for the film. Ultimately this film remains one of the greatest film romances ever.
Directing this film was one of the true legends of movies; John Huston. He embodied what it meant to be a film maker mastering production, writing, direction and acting. We would share an Academy Award nomination with Agee for the adaptation. His list of films reads like the syllabus of a master’s class in film making. The style of his direction here is absolutely impeccable. There is not a single frame wasted or camera shot poorly set. He paces the film gently at first affording the audience ample time to become familiar with the characters and emotionally vested in their predicaments. This Blu-ray edition gives an unprecedented view of Huston’s cinematic vision. The high definition video reveals the amazing background and lighting that creates the difficult river voyage. The audio is much better than I had antedated with a mono sound track. It up converted nicely to emulate an old time theater adding to the experience. In all you will not just watch this movie; you will experience it.