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‘African Queen’ Gets a Royal Treatment

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Among films deserving the complete laser-disc treatment, “The African Queen” has to be high on the list.

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So there is good reason to cheer that it gets the deluxe treatment in a limited commemorative boxed edition (CBS-Fox Video/Image Entertainment, $70) that not only includes a restored digital remastered copy of the film, but also two books and eight lobby card reproductions.

It’s one of the heaviest items yet in the laser-disc race for the most sumptuous packaging of a motion picture on laser. Unfortunately, the only thing missing is the effective use of the state-of-the-art interactive-video capabilities of the laser-disc machine.

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But what you get instead is enough to make an old-fashioned viewer drool:

* A pristine, restored digitally remastered film transfer of the John Huston-directed 1951 film starring Humphrey Bogart as a drunken skipper and Katharine Hepburn as a spinster traveling down the Congo during World War I and fighting the elements as well as the Germans. Bogart won an Academy Award for best actor; Hepburn and Huston were nominated.

* The original film trailer also restored and remastered.

* A hardcover edition of Hepburn’s book, “The Making of ‘The African Queen,’ or How I Went to Africa With Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind,” reprinted for this commemorative edition.

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* A copy of the Academy Award-nominated shooting script by Huston and writer-critic James Agee.

* Eight lobby cards created from the original prints and seductively labeled “collectible.”

What you don’t get is any effective use of the expected laser-disc technology--no alternative soundtracks featuring a scene-by-scene discussion of the film, no special audio or video supplements, no use of the frame-by-frame possibilities exploited by other special laser sets.

Maybe none of that is necessary when you have “The African Queen” restored to all of its Technicolor glory. After all, this film has been many things to many viewers. For some, the saga of Charlie and Rose is one of the great love stories ever put on the screen. For others, it’s just first-rate storytelling filled with adventure and suspense, the kind of old-fashioned film that is completely satisfying. For those who love film, it’s part of the mythology surrounding the great stars and directors of cinema history.

The 105-minute film holds up beautifully. Hepburn’s strong-willed Rose Sayer is the perfect match for Bogart’s Charlie Allnut, a dissolute Canadian skipper who finally succumbs to Hepburn’s plan to take the African Queen down river, through deadly rapids, and destroy the German gunboat that is lying in wait for the British.

It is everything a good film should be--funny, daring, scary, moving, sentimental, realistic, lovable, charming, entertaining and, best of all, it has a terrific beginning, middle and end. Agee’s matchless script is perfectly brought to the screen with all of its smoldering innuendo and subtlety intact.

If you want the kind of inside information and gossip that usually is put on the disc itself, you will have to get out the reading glasses and enjoy the printed word on paper in Hepburn’s funny book and the Agee-Huston clear-headed shooting script.

If that isn’t enough, you might pick up a laser edition of “White Hunter, Black Heart” (Warner Bros., $30), a 1990 film adaptation of Peter Viertel’s 1953 novel based on his experiences during the filming of “The African Queen” and his observations of director Huston.

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Clint Eastwood not only directed the film but also stars as the Huston-driven main character, a fictionalized portrait of a half-crazed, self-destructive filmmaker who is obsessed with the idea of killing an elephant while on location for his movie in Africa.

It’s a convincing piece of film that is even more riveting after watching the original and reading Hepburn’s book.


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