Film #65 in FilmExodus’ AFI 100 Movies
Every week FilmExodus does a review/analysis of a different cinematic masterpiece from AFI’s 100 Movies 2007 updated list. For a complete overview and how you can participate, click here.
The 1951 film, The African Queen, is based on a 1935 novel by C. S. Forester. A brilliant writer, he is probably best known for his Horatio Hornblower series. As you may or may not know, I am an omnivorous reader and Forester is one of my favorites with his Hornblower series ranking high. Usually I will always say the novel which inspired the film is better. This actually is the one exception to that rule that I can think of where the movie is better than the book in my opinion.
Please, please, please, if you have the opportunity to see it on a big screen, SEE IT! My future husband and I saw it at the Biograph Theater in Chicago when we were dating (a long time ago) at a revival. The scenery is such that you need the big screen as it imposes itself almost as if it was another character in the movie. The setting itself is one more important reason why this movie is great, so please see it on the big screen if you get the chance.
The story setting is at a very interesting point in time, right at the beginning of the first World War, the war to end all wars. The story, novel, and movie all had a lot of tensions that battled against each other.
War – Countries were at war, Britain vs. Germany. Who will take control of Lake Whittelsbach? This is in a colony and Britain and Germany both “held” colonies in Africa. Who will strike a patriotic blow in the far reaches of the empire along with getting a bit of revenge for her brother’s death?
Class – There was still a heavy class system in place so you had your educated upper class even though this would include poor religious folks like the Sayers, along with the uneducated working class, Allnut. Enter the poor missionary brother and sister (Samuel played by Robert Morley and Rose Sayer played by Katherine Hepburn) who can barely breathe the air in the same room with Charlie Allnut played by Humphrey Bogart. Katherine sticks up her nose so much in the opening that one wonders what would fall into it. And watch her upper lip in a curl that is more sneer than anything else. After WWI class became less important.
Gender – Man vs. woman. Freed by the death of her brother, Rose Sayer becomes a force to be reckoned with and starts her and Charlie Allnut on a journey that will test both of them. Lower class, uneducated, heavy drinking Charlie Allnut vs educated Missionary spinster woman who knows a lot but has in many ways always lived a sheltered life under her brother’s protection. (After WW1 women got the vote in England. Much of this is credited to how acted during WWI taking up the slack in all areas on the home front, but also on the front line or near them in hospitals. Women became an important voice from then on.)
The River and the Boat – The boat which seems to be held with gum and hairpins is at conflict with the river (its rapids and falls) and the river inhabitants (hippopotami, insects, leeches, etc.)
The movie has two of my favorite actors in it: Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. The chemistry between these two and how they fall in love with each other along with the totally thoughtfulness of each toward the others is what makes this movie. John Huston directed it, Jack Cardiff filmed it. Writers who had something to do with the script (either credited or uncredited) included: CS Forester, John Huston, Peter Viertel, James Agee and John Collier.
The whole production was so epic that two books were written about it and one of which was also made into a movie. Peter Viertel wrote White Hunter Black Heart based on his experience on the project. This was made into a movie with Clint Eastwood. Katherine Hepburn wrote The Making of the African Queen, or: How I Went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind. I heartily recommend both of these as they are just fantastic reads.
I will not spoil this by detailing the plot, I can only urge you to watch it. I hopefully will have inspired you to see this movie.
For trivia on the film, click here.