After Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness but long before Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, John Huston sailed down river with The African Queen, his charming adaptation of C. S. ‘Horatio Hornblower’ Forester’s novel about a prim British missionary teaming up with the grizzled captain of the titular tramp steamer to combat vicious Germans deep in Africa in World War One.
Who do you cast in such roles? Why, Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn, of course! If you can put to one side the improbability of the southern drawling Hepburn, about as American as can be, playing the sister of the pompous and delightfully British colonial Robert Morley, The African Queen offers much to enjoy. Hepburn had already achieved screen greatness in the 30’s and this would serve as one of several comebacks across ensuing decades, but Bogie was arguably here at the height of a career buoyed by Casablanca and set to be tragically cut short by the end of the 1950’s. Huston nevertheless understands putting these two together is celluloid dynamite; a heady fusion of charismatic big screen prowess as Hollywood sailed into the last decade of its Golden Age of stars, studios and old-fashioned vehicles.
That being said, The African Queen has inspired so much over the last seventy years, it provides a template for the romantic comedy adventure that would be replicated down the decades, be it Robert Zemeckis with Romancing the Stone or even Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Hepburn and Bogart are the classic reluctant pairing thrown together, who fall in love amidst great adversity.
Though Huston would direct a varied amount of pictures across his career in a multitude of genres, The African Queen is probably his most beloved. It is certainly his most relaxed, well lensed but unafraid to allow Hepburn and Bogie do their thing, trade on their screen personas, and often carry the film at points the script and story might drag a touch. They keep the picture on its feet.
Endlessly screened over the years on television, with several home releases, Eureka Entertainment’s brand new release is nonetheless a triumph in gathering together material new and old which fully illuminates the making of the picture. The extras include:
- Limited Edition Hardbound Slipcase [3000 copies]
- PLUS: A LIMITED EDITION 60-PAGE Perfect Bound Collector’s book featuring archival writing on the film
- Spectacular 4K restoration by ITV and Paramount Pictures
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
- Uncompressed LPCM audio (original mono)
- Isolated Music & Effects track
- Audio Commentary by cinematographer Jack Cardiff
- Embracing Chaos: Making The African Queen [59 mins] – a comprehensive documentary about the making of the film
- A video interview with co-screenwriter Peter Viertel, author of White Hunter, Black Heart, by filmmaker Michael Scheingraber
- Audio recording of an on-stage NFT discussion about the film with Anjelica Huston and script supervisor Angela Allen from 2010
- Audio recording of the Guardian interview with John Huston at the National Film Theatre in 1981, discussing his work and career
- New video interview with critic Kim Newman
- Newly filmed interview with film historian Neil Sinyard
- Lux Radio Theater adaptation from 1952 with Humphrey Bogart and Greer Garson
- Original theatrical trailer
A joyous experience, The African Queen is redolent in how much it laps up the presence of its magnetic screen icons, with John Huston ensuring the ride is witty and often thrilling as these mismatched lovers sail down their heart of darkness, toward the light. With a release this good to back it up, it’s almost unmissable.
The African Queen is released on BluRay by Eureka Entertainment on November 18th.