The African Queen (1951)
Charlie's Nuts about his African Rose
Never do today what you can put off tomorrow - Charlie Allnut
To be frank "The African Queen" perplexes me, actually the movie itself doesn't perplex me but the countless plaudits from those who proclaim its greatness, and don't get me wrong as I do think it is a good movie but great does not spring to mind. To be fair I was born at the start of the 70s and so watching "The African Queen" now is to watch it out of context with the era but even though certain things such as the obvious special effects and use of green screen can be forgiven it still leaves me perplexed. And to explain why I am perplexed is that I don't think the storyline to "The African Queen" is that brilliant, it is enjoyable but not brilliant. I also don't think that either Hepburn or Bogart put in their greatest performance nor do I think it is John Huston's best movie as director. I do think it is remarkable that it ended out as good as it is considering the well documented production difficulties but it is for these reasons and more it leaves me sort of perplexed.
The year is 1914 and prim English woman Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn - Adam's Rib) finds herself alone in German Eastern Africa when German troops invade the mission run by her brother Reverend Samuel Sayer (Robert Morley - The Young Ones) and burn it down and as a result causing his death. But Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart - Casablanca) who delivers goods and the mail via his dilapidated steamboat comes to her rescue and together they sail down the river before the German's return. Despite being total opposites a closeness forms between Rose and Charlie as they not only battle the river but also nature and the threat of attack by German troops. And together they decide to turn Charlie's old boat 'The African Queen' into a torpedo to sink a German warship called the Louisa, but first they must navigate a river which has only been done once before.
To give "The African Queen" the credit it deserves it is a movie which manages to deliver adventure, drama, war, romance, comedy and so much from its simple storyline but it is a very simple storyline. After the introduction what we get is a journey movie not just in the journey of Rose and Charlie as they navigate the dangerous river but also there personal journey of growth. So we get the adventure and drama as they travel down the river, ride the rapids, dice with death going by a German fortress and also deal with nature as they become lost in a reed bed. And then as Rose and Charlie spend time together they grow fond of each other despite being complete opposites to the point that their love for each other is stronger than anything.
But that is all there seems to be to "The African Queen" the physical and emotional journey of Rose and Charlie and it doesn't really grab me. Don't get me wrong it is enjoyable and entertaining but at times I just wish the drama of tackling the rapids was more dramatic or the simmering feelings were more powerful. It just seems flat and maybe that is the point as if John Huston was going for something real rather than forced. Maybe that is why those who watched it when it first came out hold it in such high esteem where as watching it now it feels like it is missing something. Although having said that the outcome of this journey is brilliant and for me is the best part of the entire movie.
Of course the other thing which wouldn't have been so much of an issue is the special effects and for those who are not use to old movies will find this aspect of "The African Queen" comical. The dominant use of green screen and the models fixed into a boat for the rapid scenes stick out like a sore thumb and you have to appreciate that this is how things were done. Having said that the spliced in moments of drama which feature Bogart and Hepburn do make these scenes more spectacular and you do sense the drama when they float by the German Fortress, ducking under gunfire.
Now the irony is that I like what both Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart bring to the movie and seeing that for the most "The African Queen" is a two person movie they do a marvellous job of entertaining. But whilst I enjoy the prim-ness which Hepburn gives Rose and Bogart is comically brilliant as Charlie neither are their best performances and to be honest I would have said that Hepburn's performance was superior to Bogart yet it was Bogart who won the Oscar. Never the less the journey which Hepburn and Bogart take us on is fun, the way Charlie tries to smarten up for Rose is amusing whilst the softening of Rose is just as much fun.
What this all boils down to is that "The African Queen" is a good movie, it is an above average movie but for me it doesn't scream greatness. But whilst I may not hold it in such high esteem as many I can't deny Hepburn and Bogart take us on this journey of adventure, drama, comedy and romance is simply good fun especially when you learn all about the difficulties the production had.
Tags: World War I
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