Friday, June 23, 2017

Award Winners for a REASON: The African Queen (1951)

The African Queen (1951)
starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn

I'm back! I can't believe it's been almost a year since I last posted on this blog. Taking a break from certain things proved to be necessary for my emotional survival this last year. We're had a lot of upheaval at work and just overall stress and the last thing I needed was the additional weight of trying to write movie reviews on a regular basis. But I'm back and willing to give it my best shot.

The basics haven't changed. I'll still be watching and discussing classic film and actors.

However, I've also decided to incorporate modern movies set in the era of old Hollywood. Those can be loads of fun. Like, right now, I'm rewatching Zodiac, which is of course about the Zodiac Killer and takes place in the late 1960s to early 1970s. Not a classic movie, but set in the right era. It'll be a fun expansion since I really do love movies set in the era of classic Hollywood, period.

On to The African Queen from 1951.

Please tell me that everyone has seen this movie at least once?

Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn SHINE in this glorious film that is based off C. S. Forester's book of the same name that I have yet to read, but is on my bookshelf. This movie is actually filmed on location in Africa. Do you know how rare that was in the days of classic Hollywood, to film a movie anywhere other than a studio?

The basic story is this: Katharine Hepburn (Rose) and her brother are missionaries to the Congo in 1914. They've been there for 10 years. World War I breaks out and the little African village they minister to is raided by the Germans and all of the Africans are driven off. The shock of it puts Rose's brother into an early grave and she's left alone until Humphrey Bogart (Charlie Allnut), the captain of a sweet little vessel called the African Queen, shows up on her doorstep. He's been delivering supplies and mail to them for years, but now he takes Rose on as a responsibility to get her to safety. Except that Rose decides they need to destroy a German gunboat named the Louisa that is on a lake far down the Ulanga River. It's a dangerous proposition and Charlie is reluctant to even start, but together the two form an unusual partnership and even end up discovering they are soul mates.

The African Queen is a gorgeous film for two reasons.

First, like I already said, it was filmed on location in Africa.

Second, Humphrey Bogart was never more brilliant as an actor in all his life than in this film. Which explains his Academy Award for Best Actor! He earned it . . . hands down, no arguments. You'll also never see him in any better physical shape. Not a spare ounce of fat on his body anywhere, or on Katharine Hepburn for that matter. The two sparked!

Did you know that filming The African Queen was a welcome break for the actors from the McCarthy Hollywood red scare? Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and Bogie's wife Lauren Bacall were all under fire by the Army-McCarthy Hearings that were nothing more than a glorified witch hunt for communists. So for them, getting away from Hollywood was refreshing, despite the physical trials of a difficult African climate.

While one of the film's benefits was its authentic setting on location another was that it was an independent film, directed by John Huston yes, but funded independently. Not being attached to a major studio gave the actors a bit of breathing room. John Huston approached Bogart first, without any funding at all, and Bogart got Hepburn on board since he'd never acted with her and thought their chemistry might work with the story. The funding came next and the rest, as they say, is history.

While Bogie is the only one to come away from The African Queen with an Oscar, it's a good thing since it was his only one. But it was still an honor for Hepburn and Huston to be nominated in addition to being nominated for "best-adapted screenplay."

It's normal to wonder if your movie is going to be a success or a flop. But I don't think anyone anticipated that The African Queen would be such a phenomenal success. Now 66 years later, fans still marvel at the connection between Bogie and Hepburn and the absolutely stunning scenery as the African Queen floats down the Ulanga River, through white water rapids and sometimes under fire from German guns.

Oh, and by the way, the remastered DVD is AMAZING! You can tell how hard the restorers worked to present modern audiences with the best version of The African Queen that was humanly possible.
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