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Thursday, 30 August 2012

Classic Film Review: The African Queen (1951)

Starring Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, The African Queen tells the story of a bereaved missionary and a riverboat captain who plan to use their small boat to sink a German warship during WWI. Rose Sayer (Hepburn) is out for a little revenge after her brother was all but murdered by German soldiers as they passed through their village. Although rather prim and proper, she is very determined and concocts a plan that leaves her new companion Charlie Allnut (Bogart) completely astounded. They aim to get to the distant lake where the boat patrols - only white water rapids, a German fort overlooking the river, bugs, crocodiles and thick reeds stand in their way.

I'm not sure I can explain how much I enjoyed this film. Although the opening section with Rosie's brother (Robert Morley) preaching and singing with a group of natives didn't much appeal to me, as soon as Allnut mentioned the war in passing things sped up. After the brother's death, Allnut returns and agrees to take Rosie with him on his boat, despite their differing personalities. This personality clash leads to some amusing moments - particularly when Rosie pours every single bottle of Allnut's gin supply into the river - but they eventually realise they've come to like each other during their adversity. This ramps up the tension as love complicates their plan.

The narrow focus of this film could potentially make it boring. After all, the majority of the action takes place on a very small boat. However, Hepburn and Bogart's combined abilities, along with some wonderfully directed action moments make it as tense as any film I've seen from this era. Rosie's tenacity is unflagging and very believable while Allnut's change of heart is well constructed too. It's a classic tale of opposites attracting while their world collapses around them. It builds to a stunning conclusion which I won't spoil but felt fitted the characters and the film perfectly.

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