The African Queen (1951), or The Power of Technicolor

15 02 2009
I dont think Bogart was so muscular and tall...

I don't think Bogart was so muscular and tall...

Hello, all! Before we begin, I’d like to thank Johnny G, a close confidant of mine, for giving me this recommendation. Out of the hundreds of classic movies I’ve seen, this one has thus far escaped my grasp. But no longer! Thanks, man! The African Queen is a 1951 adventure story. Simple as that. It does not need to be complicated when the two main characters are played by Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn.

Samuel and Rose Sayer are British siblings living in German-occupied East Africa in good-ol’ 1914, during the first World War. They are prim and proper missionaries working in a small village doing the work of (sigh) God. They get their supplies from loud-mouth gruff Canadian tugboat captain Charlie Allnut. He is a rogue, and they barely tolerate him enough to get the supplies from him and walk away. One day, he warns them that German troops are marching their way and that they should get out while the getting is good. The Sayers stick around instead, and unfortunately the Germans indeed come their way. They destroy the village and take all the villagers away to help the war effort. The Sayers are witness to this, and when Samuel protests, they beat him nearly to death. Rose, aghast, watches helplessly as he takes a fever and dies after this brutal assault. Shortly after this, Allnut returns to find the smoking husk of the village and poor Rose all alone. After helping her to bury her brother, he takes her on his ship, the African Queen, and they go off on an odyssey through a winding tropical river in search of a German gunboat that is blockading the area from not only British troops entering but them escaping. Can they escape from the jungle hell that seeks to destroy them? Can they get through the German gunboat and allow British troops into the area to take on the evil Germans? And can they stand each other for long enough to do any of this?

This is our second Humphrey Bogart classic on this site, the first being The Big Sleep. The two movies are similar in dynamics, but there is one big difference between that movie and this one, and that is COLOR!!!! This was one of the first 50’s-era Technicolor films that really pushed the boundaries of what was possible for the medium. I mean it is COLORFUL! It almost hurts your eyes to watch this one on a newer television set because it just bursts through the walls of your eyeballs and says, “All right, you bastards, no more black-and-white! You are going to see colors more vivid than real life!” That would be the only thing, and I mean the only thing, that this film has in common with yesterday’s review, I Know Who Killed Me.

What a romantic film! Set in the rough and wild world of war-time Africa, this John Huston epic has it all; action, adventure, romance, humor, and lots of mile-a-minute dialog. I’d be willing to say that America had never made such an action-packed movie before this. This one just busts down all the doors and gets into your nervous system. You become very involved with these two people, Allnut and Sayer, because of the claustrophobic nature of the jungle and the fact that after the village incident the camera wisely stays stuck to them. You are taken away with the current of the river and feel the romance of the unknown as they are living it.

John Huston is a legend, and I’ll gush about him at a later date. But for now, I’ll say that on this movie, at least, he is at the height of his powers. He knows just what to do to make Bogart and Hepburn shine. Like a master at work, he is meticulous in keeping the rapport between the leads sharp and the enticing jungle world always on the move. There are sharp rapids, waterfalls, and tons of Germans hell-bent on destroying these two, and the hits just keep on coming but all the while you can tell that through all this, despite their outward feelings, Allnut and Sayer are fond of each other’s company.

Bogart and Hepburn are great together. I think even better than his relationship with his actual wife Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep. I say that because of the character dynamics and the sheer amount of time they spend together. Their relationship was one of professionalism, two greats who knew on the inside they were great and were not afraid to let loose with their on-screen relationship to get the best performances for the camera. Sayer is just so damn proper and Allnut is just so damn cavalier that it just works. Bogart would later say that he was proudest of this performance out of his many classics. If I were him, I would say the exact same thing.

One final note; this is a hard to find movie. The DVD is not out in region 1 yet! I couldn’t believe it, but it’s true! They have some Korean all-region DVDs you can purchase on Amazon, like I did, and the transfer is cheap but effective. Or you can watch the whole thing starting here on Youtube. There, don’t say I never did anything for ya!

So I know a lot of people have excuses not to sit down and watch these classics, the most prominent being the most baseless; “I don’t like black-and-white movies, they’re boring!” To which I reply usually, “Are you a fucking toddler? Seriously, are you four years old? Do you need pretty colors to keep you entertained? Well go sit in a closet with a strobe light and a sit-and-spin then, instead of bugging me with your pettiness.” So now, with this beautiful colored gem, there is no excuse. Go watch it. I even gave you a Youtube link, damn it! I give this movie 9 1/2 brutally assaulted missionaries out of 10. A high recommendation!

See you tomorrow for another viewer recommendation, A Clockwork Orange!