14 May 2010

Review: "The African Queen"

I fulfilled my promise to Humphrey Bogart and watched The African Queen. After watching The Maltese Falcon I wondered why Mr. Bogart is so revered. He may have won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in The African Queen, but I still fail to see a special quality in him. Maybe my hopes were too high for this film and maybe I just had trouble with another unbelievable love story. Am I supposed to believe that when a woman is in jeopardy she will undoubtedly fall in love with the man that saves her? The 1951 film costars Katharine Hepburn, who is absolutely one of the grandest stars of Old Hollywood, but I had trouble with her performance. The love story felt very forced and I would have preferred to just watch the adventure and see the two actors develop a strong bond, one that did not need to be labeled as love. The African Queen was directed by John Huston, who directed Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, and I am left to believe that my ideals are in strong contrast to Huston's depictions of this era. There were times that I struggled to continue watching the film, but the final twenty minutes of The African Queen are incredibly exciting and make me wish that a ludicrous love story was only hinted at in a potentially exciting adventure film.

The African Queen is set in 1914 in German East Africa (now Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania) during World War I. Katherine Hepburn plays Rose Sayer, a British Methodist missionary stationed in a small village with her brother Samuel (Robert Morley). Humphrey Bogart plays Charlie Allnut, a boat captain who delivers mail and supplies to the village. Rose and Charlie have a tense and unfriendly relationship. Charlie warns them that a war has started between Britain and Germany, but Rose and Samuel choose to stay in the village. German soldiers eventually attack and set fire to the village. Samuel is beaten when he tries to protest and eventually develops a fever and dies. Upon Charlie's return Rose leaves with him aboard his ship, The African Queen. He tells her that the Germans have a gunboat which patrols the lake, located downriver. Rose's plan is to convert The African Queen into a torpedo boat and sink the German ship, the Louisa. Charlie tells her that the trip downriver is dangerous and practically suicidal. Charlie is originally reluctant but gives in due to Rose's insistence. Their voyage is not easy and the two encounter a great number of obstacles, including an attack from a German fortress, a series of treacherous rapids and mechanical complications aboard ship. After surviving the rapids the two embrace and Charlie makes a comment about telling the story to their grandchildren. It is at this point that I found the slow-moving film became a chore to watch. Their relationship seems forced and unbelievable. The film continues with Rose and Charlie heading towards the Louisa and develop their own explosives to target the German ship. An unfortunate storm causes unforeseen problems and their plan is put into jeopardy, as are their lives.

I remember that my grandma had a copy of The African Queen on VHS when I was growing up. The poster made the film look like an exciting adventure. Yet, like The Bridge on the River Kwai (another film she had that I never watched), there was something about the film that kept me away. I do not feel like I got anything from the film and I feel disappointed. There is not much I can say about the film other than that I did not like it. In the future, if I am ever in the mood for a water adventure, I should just watch The River Wild. Humphrey Bogart may have failed me, but Meryl Streep never has.

My rating: 2 stars out of 4.

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