Thursday, 10 March 2011

The African Queen

Year: 1951
Director: John Huston
Screenplay: James Agee and John Huston, based on the novel The African Queen by C. S. Forester
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Katherine Hepburn, Robert Morley, Peter Bull, Theodore Bikel
Running Time: 105 minutes
Genre: Action, adventure, drama, romance

Summary: German East Africa, September 1914: Rose Sayer (Hepburn) and her preacher brother, Samuel (Morley), are Methodist missionaries, living and working in a small village. Supplies, mail and news is regularly delivered by Captain Charles Allnut (Bogart) who sails a small run-down steam-boat called the African Queen. When the First World War breaks out, German soldiers raid the village, and Samuel is so traumatised by the experience that he dies shortly afterwards.
Realising that there is nothing left for her in the village, Rose decides to go away with Allnut in the African Queen. She discovers that the Germans have a large and powerful gunboat stationed in a large lake, which effectively blocks any British counter-attacks. Rose hits on the idea of using the supplies of explosives and canisters of oxygen to turn the African Queen into more or less a giant torpedo and use it to blow up the gunboat.
Allnut reluctantly agrees to go along with the plan. However, to get to the gunboat they have to travel down a long river which is so dangerous that it is considered to be completely unpassable, added to which they would have to pass right by a stronghold full of enemy soldiers.

Opinions: This movie is a fun mix of adventure, action and romance. It benefits enormously from the casting of Humphrey Bogart as the tough, gin swilling, rough-and-ready steamboat captain and Katherine Hepburn as the prim, proper and very strong-willed English missionary. The two have plenty of on-screen chemistry and the dialogue between them is witty and engaging. Both of them are almost constantly caked in dirt and sweat, looking very farm removed from glamorous Hollywood movie stars. The burgeoning relationship between the two characters is well-handled and the mix works well so that the romance element doesn't unbalance the action or vice versa.
The action sequences are well directed, and there are many vividly memorable sequences most notably a very unpleasant encounter with some leeches.
The film is strikingly photographed in Technicolor. A lot of the film was shot on location in Uganda and the Congo, which was very unusual for the time given the size of the cameras used for the Technicolor filming. Certainly it makes for a vivid and exotic backdrop for the action. The cast and crew had a tough time during the location filming, with most of the film-makers falling ill, except Bogart who later claimed that he didn't fall ill because he didn't drink any water on location, and instead used a large supply of whiskey that he had brought with him.
This film is basically a yarn. It doesn't try to be anything else than pure entertainment and it definitely succeeds at that.

Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart take a ride on board The African Queen

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