The African Queen

The African Queen (John Huston, 1951)
This namesake adaptation of C.S. Forester’s novel of 1935 is an adventure movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Robert Morley and Katharine Hepburn play Samuel and Rose Sayer, brother and sister British Methodist missionaries in the village of Kungdu in German East Africa at the beginning of World War I in August/September 1914. Their mail and supplies are delivered by the rough-and-ready Canadian boat captain Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) of the African Queen, whose coarse behaviour they tolerate in a rather stiff manner. When Charlie warns them that war has broken out between Germany and Britain, the Sayers choose to stay on, only to witness the Germans burning down the mission village and herding the villagers away. When Samuel protests, he is beaten by a German soldier. After the Germans leave, Samuel becomes delirious with fever and soon dies. Charlie returns shortly afterward. He helps Rose bury her brother, and they set off in the African Queen.

  With this premise, the development of the story might get you in or not but we know that we’re in for a relationship of odd couple and an eventual love storyline. Hepburn and Bogart aren’t especially actors that I would have paired but the chemistry works fine between both. Bogart is always Bogart and Hepburn is just perfect on the screen and tends to overshadow a bit of Bogie’s rough portrayal. This unexpected couple seems to develop in front of our eyes and we kind of believe when it happens.

Directed by John Huston, a director that I think has been a hit or miss thorough his entire career while having directed such gamechangers like The Maltese Falcon and many recognized movies like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Asphalt Jungle, The Man Who Would Be King, Under the Volcano, and many more. Amongst his filmography The African Queen lacks in his audacity and ferociousness that he often demonstrated with lots of his films. Also, this is not a film that film enthusiasts are often listing as their favorites. It may get an explanation because of the lack of edge and the difficult shooting may have overshadowed the film itself.

I must admit of not being a fan of this movie probably because the print I saw was not restored and dated a lot. There’s also the fact that considered as a masterpiece, The African Queen has retained a nice recognition and also being 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. However, I would rather much watch Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear instead of John Huston’s adventure film. It is also a studio film that plays more like a family film than a memorable performance from Bogart. I prefer ten times In a Lonely Place from Nicholas Ray that features Bogie and that may represent the real man he was. It is a very personal performance when compared to his Academy Award Winning perfomance in The African Queen.

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