Friday, December 23, 2011

My Favorite Films: The African Queen

My third and final My Favorite Films post in honor of the Humphrey Bogart blogathon is going to focus on The African Queen. I've really been looking forward to writing this post because it's my favorite Bogie film tied with Casablanca, and also because it premiered 60 years ago today in Los Angeles.

Released in 1951 and directed by John Huston, the film takes place in Africa during World War I and tells the story of an alcoholic boat owner (Bogie) who is persuaded by a missionary (Katharine Hepburn) to use his boat to sink a German warship.

There are so many reasons why I love The African Queen. It contains just about every element you'd want in a film (comedy, drama, adventure, romance, etc), it pairs Bogie with Katharine Hepburn, the color cinematography is beautiful and the story remains timeless to this day.

I think Bogie's role as Charlie Allnut really shows his diversity as an actor. Yes, his character is the "tough guy" he was most commonly known for playing, but it's different here because he's absolutely hilarious. The scene where he becomes intoxicated from gin and later when he attempts to imitate a hippo nearly made me fall out of my seat laughing the first time I watched it. Forget Marlon Brando, Bogie rightfully deserved the Oscar.

As with Bogie, this is also my favorite film and performance from Katharine Hepburn. Bette Davis was originally considered for Rose (she later dropped out because of pregnancy), but no one could have played her as well as Hepburn did. I do like Vivien Leigh, but I personally feel that the Academy made the wrong decision in the Best Actress category that year.

One of the best aspects of The African Queen is the chemistry between Bogie and Hepburn. It's so interesting to watch their relationship progress throughout the film- they start out as barely tolerating each other then end up in love by the films' ending. This was the only time they worked together, but they remained close friends for the rest of Bogie's life (she and Spencer Tracy were some of the last people to see him the night before he died in January 1957). 


The film was adapted from the C.S. Forester novel of the same name. I haven't read it, and I don't plan to, mainly because of different endings between the film and the book. If you've seen the (and if you read past the spoiler alert, I'm assuming you have), you know it ends as Charlie and Rose are captured by the Germans and married by the captain before execution. The Louisa then crashes into the remains of the African Queen and the torpedoes explode the ship, allowing Charlie and Rose to flee to the Belgian Congo. The book, however, ends as the Louisa is destroyed and Charlie and Rose go to inform the British Army. Honestly, I don't think I would like the film as much as I do if the ending hadn't been changed. I rarely say this, but I think this is one example of the movie being better than the book.

The African Queen was restored in 2009 for it's first release on DVD in 2010. I hadn't seen the film pre-restoration, but the video linked above shows comparisons between the two versions, and it's amazing to see how much the quality has improved. The color cinematography along with John Huston's direction is beautiful.

Overall, The African Queen is one of my favorite films and I hope it will be remembered 60 years from now just as it is today.

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