Monday, 15 February 2021

Mubi Monday: The African Queen (1951)

Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in a dramatic adventure classic with a great helping of romance, I knew I was in for a treat when I finally settled down to watch The African Queen, a film I had been wanting to get to for many years already. And a treat it was.

Bogart is Charlie Allnutt, the captain of a riverboat in Africa. When the country is affected by WWI, Charlie tries to get himself out of the way, but ends up assisting a missionary named Rose (Hepburn). Rose has other ideas, however, and tries to persuade Charlie to turn his boat into a vehicle that can launch a torpedo at an enemy ship. Both Charlie and Rose have to survive rapids, enemies who may get them in their sights, and one another.

Based on a novel by C. S. Forester, The African Queen is an ideal mix of two great characters plunged into a situation that will have you rooting for them from start to finish. The script, by James Agee and director John Huston, sets up the situation easily enough, whizzes from one big moment to the next (big in terms of action or character beats, not necessarily big in scale), and delivers a third act that manages to be bother rewarding and ever so slightly surprising. There are one or two big coincidences, especially during the very last scenes, but the film is so wonderful and enjoyable throughout that it feels earned.

Huston treats his stars well, even doing his best to try making them look glorious as the conditions wear them down and make them look the worse for wear. He knows that they are capable of selling everything they are supposed to be going through, even if the special effects around them vary from sequence to sequence.

What is there to say about Bogart and Hepburn? Thanks to the script and their status in cinema, they work together in one of the best onscreen pairings ever. None of their chemistry develops naturally from the unfolding events, although they're supposed to, but nothing is ever in doubt because it's Bogart and Hepburn. Of course they'd be attracted to one another, and that makes it much easier to believe that their characters would be attracted to one another. Robert Morley has a good few minutes onscreen, and there are others who take part in the second and third act, but the movie needs nothing more than the two leads.

Like so many other films that have been celebrated over the decades, The African Queen has retained the great reputation it has for one simple reason. It IS as good as everyone says it is. And I encourage everyone else to treat themselves to a viewing of it as soon as possible. You won't regret it.


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