Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The African Queen

The African Queen; adventure, USA/ Uganda/ Congo, 1951; D: John Huston, S: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley

World War I, east Africa. Rose and her brother Samuel are British missionaries who try to bring Christianity to the natives. One day, the German soldiers torch the village, recruit all natives and kick Samuel in the head, who subsequently dies. Left alone, Rose boards a small boat, "The African Queen", navigated by the drunk Charlie Allnut, and persuades him to drift down the river and sink the German battle ship Louisa. A storm sinks their boat and they are caught by the Germans. However, the Louisa still accidentally slams into the "The African Queen" and sinks, thereby saving Rose and Charlie.

This humorous adventure by master director John Huston is not quite a classic, yet it remained unforgotten for finally ensuring Humphrey Bogart his first and only Oscar for best actor, who is truly excellent as the semi-sleazy semi-cynical hero Charlie. The first third is excellent, feeding off the simple story that is 90 % set on the boat, setting up a charming 'kammerspiel' just between the two protagonists, but the better half is definitely Bogart - some of his lines are simply hilarious because you never know if his character is sincere while drunk or just plain cynical ("It's a shame they killed that reverend" or "Look at those crocodiles, waiting for their supper!"). The movie revolves just between them and works - for instance, a character who dies some 10 minutes into the film is billed third on the credits after Hepburn and Bogart - whereas Huston gives a few covert satirical jabs aimed at colonialism, mostly in the opening credits where Samuel and Rose are trying to convert the natives to Christianity but the Africans just "mumble" gibberish while singing a psalm or fight over a cigarette outside the improvised church. However, the story is rather disproportionate for sympathising Rose's revenge and showing the Germans in black and white perspective, which isn't that charming, whereas the storyline exhausts itself by in the end just getting reduced to Rose and Charlie pushing the boat through the mud or getting attacked by mosquitoes, and the semi-open ending doesn't really circle out the film either. Huston still directs with a sure hand, though, and some moments of interaction are simply harmonious nonetheless.


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