The African Queen (1951)
John Huston's "The African Queen" is one of the more known pieces that features Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn...which is ironic because it is neither of their finest moments. Perhaps it's so well known—though I would argue rarely seen—because for being such quintessential stars of the silver screen, Bogey and Heppy only made this movie together.
The story is a story of nationalism and patriotism. It's in African at the beginning of WWI where Samuel Sayer (Robert Morley) and his sister, Rose (Hepburn) are trying to convert the natives to Christianity. Just by the opening scene, which drags on for what seems like an eternity, the movie defines itself. We see Samuel and Rose trying to play five verses of a hymn to the native people, who scream out an unintelligible mess of noise which drowns out the piano.
Upon the arrival of Charlie Allnut (Bogey)—a weathered, tough steamboat captain—the natives ditch church to run outside and fight over the remains of Charlie's cigar. This brings around another point: for being apparently inseparable from cigars and scotch, Humphrey really doesn't smoke and drink that much in the movie. It has no forbearance on anything, but it's nice to know.
In the first few minutes, the arrival of the Germans gives us a good villain. You have to remember when this movie was made...the nationalistic and anti-German thoughts don't seem so out of place.
Anyways, the Germans storm into siblings' village and kidnap all the native Africans and then set fire to the houses. They forcibly enlist the men and women, leaving the couple behind in shell-shock. Samuel comes down with a fever and has a hysterical reaction to the loss of his congregation. He spirals down quickly and soon dies.
Thankfully, Charlie shows back up and takes Rose away, onto his boat, The African Queen. Now that they are on the river, Rose develops taste for blood, German blood. She decides that they should aim to take out one of the German's biggest warships to clear the way for the British.
Naturally, Charlie isn't keen on this idea, because it means risking both his neck and his boat; but Rose is a persuasive woman with definite feminine charm.
The two find themselves on a mission to take out the Germans single-handedly.
"The African Queen" is, unfortunately, quite a disaster. I'm sure at the time that it meant a great deal to all those involved; but in today's age, it doesn't stand up at all.
The last thirty minutes are the only parts of the movie that feel somewhat entertaining.
What is an interesting idea stretches on too long. We don't need to see two people argue on a boat and face every possible nature catastrophe to understand that they have had a hard time.
"The African Queen" also gives me more reason to pause at worshipping John Huston. He is clever and a strong director; but I have yet to see anything spectacular.
Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn are both tremendous actors, but here it just seems like we rely on their star power to tell the story for them, instead of the actual plot.
It's a short movie, a quick movie...or it should be. It has a small cast and such a slight plot that it could have shaved off half an hour easily.
What we are left with is just the legacy. "The African Queen" will continue to be well-known, if only for the wrong reasons. It's not a great movie, it's not even that enjoyable.
It is a snapshot of the cinematic world at a certain time in history and I think we can all be thankful that films got a lot better.
Posted by Micah Jones