Skip to main content

Now that I've had a taste of it I don't wonder why you love boating.


The African Queen
(1951)

The film that bagged Humphrey Bogart his Oscar, and generally regard as an unqualified classic. I’m not sure its reputation is really justified, however. The African Queen coasts along happily enough under the star power of Bogart and Katherine Hepburn but the construction is so lightweight it would float away without them.

Nevertheless, John Huston received dual Oscar nominations (for directing and co-adapting C. S. Forester’s novel with James Agee). On neither front is it the director’s most memorable work. The story takes place at the beginning of WWI, and the opening section suggests a film with a bit more bite than transpires. Hepburn’s Rose and Robert Morley’s Samuel are British missionaries working in German East Africa. When German soldiers burn down their village, Samuel’s mind is afflicted and he dies. It’s interesting to see Huston taking in the bored villagers attending the missionaries’ church service, and Samuel’s preoccupation with a colleague who has climbed the Methodist career ladder more quickly than he.

But that wit soon absents itself; Rose is bundled aboard Charlie Allnut’s (Bogart’s) titular boat, ostensibly heading for safe harbour. But she hatches a hare-brained scheme to destroy a German gunboat, the Queen Louisa. To reach it downriver, they must negotiate treacherous waters. During which time romance inevitably blossoms.

As soon as Rose’s plan is revealed, it’s clear that this is going to be a fantasy romance set against an unlikely (for Hollywood) real location. The events of Forester’s novel are very loosely based on a true story, but the function of the attack on the Louisa in the film is purely to provide a trajectory for the narrative and a source of conflict between the odd couple; there is little weight given to the dramatic moments; even when rapids are surfed, the boat comes under fire or execution is imminent. There’s a knockout line at the climax, from the extremely dry Louisa captain (Peter Bull, who was most memorable as the Russian Ambassador in Dr. Strangelove), but mostly the dialogue lacks sparkle.

And, it has to be said, Rose and Charlie are much more interesting characters when they’re at loggerheads. Once they are canoodling the boat trip becomes almost insufferably sweet. There’s some enjoyment in seeing Hepburn essay Rose’s midlife sexual awakening, and Bogart slightly at a loss without the crutch of hardboiled cynicism to rely on, but it only stretches so far.

Huston meanders with the film as much as the featured river. Consequently, the jarring mismatches between the location filming in Uganda and the Congo (problematic and eventful, eventually inspiring Clint Eastwood’s White Hunter Black Heart) and the studio work in England, replete with ropey rear projection (highlighted all the more by the choice to shoot in colour), distract the attention. It may seem like a shallow criticism (and it probably is), but it’s inevitable if the romance between Rose and Charlie fails to completely captivate you.

Although an atypical role for Bogey, this is far from the best of his six collaborations with Huston. Likeable but inconsequential, it says something that giving The African Queen only faint praise seems tantamount to slaughtering a sacred cow. I always laugh heartily at the clip of Charlie used in Road to Bali, however.

*** 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

If you never do anything, you never become anyone.

An Education (2009)
Carey Mulligan deserves all the attention she received for her central performance, and the depiction of the ‘60s is commendably subdued. I worried there was going to be a full-blown music montage sequence at the climax that undid all the good work, but thankfully it was fairly low key. 

Alfred Molina and Olivia Williams are especially strong in the supporting roles, and it's fortunate for credibility’s sake that that Orlando Bloom had to drop out and Dominic Cooper replaced him.
***1/2

Can you close off your feelings so you don’t get crippled by the moral ambiguity of your violent actions?

Spider-Man Worst to Best

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

I should have mailed it to the Marx Brothers.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
When your hero(es) ride off into the sunset at the end of a film, it’s usually a pretty clear indication that a line is being drawn under their adventures. Sure, rumours surfaced during the ‘90s of various prospective screenplays for a fourth outing for the whip-cracking archeologist. But I’m dubious anyone really expected it to happen. There seemed to be a natural finality to Last Crusade that made the announcement of his 2007 return nostalgically welcome but otherwise unwarranted. That it turned out so tepid merely seemed like confirmation of what we already knew; Indy’s time was past.

What, you're going to walk in there like it's the commie Disneyland or something?

Stranger Things 3 (2019)
(SPOILERS) It’s very clear by this point that Stranger Things isn’t going to serve up any surprises. It’s operating according to a strict formula, one requiring the opening of the portal to the Upside Down every season and an attendant demagorgon derivative threat to leak through, only to be stymied at the last moment by our valorous team. It’s an ‘80s sequel cycle through and through, and if you’re happy with it functioning exclusively on that level, complete with a sometimes overpowering (over)dose of nostalgia references, this latest season will likely strike you as just the ticket.

How can you have time when it clearly has you?

Dark  Season 2
(SPOILERS) I’m not intending to dig into Dark zealously, as its plotting is so labyrinthine, it would take forever and a day, and I’d just end up babbling incoherently (so what’s new). But it’s worth commenting on, as it’s one of the few Netflix shows I’ve seen that feels entirely rigorous and disciplined – avoiding the flab and looseness that too often seems part and parcel of a service expressly avoiding traditional ratings models – as it delivers its self-appointed weighty themes and big ideas. And Dark’s weighty themes and big ideas really are weighty and big, albeit simultaneously often really frustrating. It came as no surprise to learn of the showrunners’ overriding fixation on determinism at work in the multi-generational, multiple time period-spanning events within the German town of Winden, but I was intrigued regarding their structural approach, based on clearly knowing the end game of their characters, rather than needing to reference (as they put it) Post-It…

Doesn't work out, I'll send her home in body bag.

Anna (2019)
(SPOILERS) I’m sure one could construe pertinent parallels between the various allegations and predilections that have surfaced at various points relating to Luc Besson, both over the years and very recently, and the subject matter of his movies, be it by way of a layered confessional or artistic “atonement” in the form of (often ingenue) women rising up against their abusers/employers. In the case of Anna, however, I just think he saw Atomic Blonde and got jealous. I’ll have me some of that, though Luc. Only, while he brought more than sufficient action to the table, he omitted two vital ingredients: strong lead casting and a kick-ass soundtrack.

You're always sorry, Charles, and there's always a speech, but nobody cares anymore.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)
(SPOILERS) To credit its Rotten Tomatoes score (22%), you’d think X-Men: Dark Phoenix was a travesty that besmirched the name of all good and decent (read: MCU proper) superhero movies, or even last week’s underwhelming creature feature (Godzilla: King of Monsters has somehow reached 40%, despite being a lesser beast in every respect). Is the movie’s fate a self-fulfilling prophecy, what with delayed release dates and extensively reported reshoots? Were critics castigating a fait accompli turkey without giving it a chance? That would be presupposing they’re all sheep, though, and in fairness, other supposed write-offs havecome back from such a brink in the past (World War Z). Whatever the feelings of the majority, Dark Phoenix is actually a mostly okay (twelfth) instalment in the X-franchise – it’s exactly what you’d expect from an X-Men movie at this point, one without any real mojo left and a variable cast struggling to pull its weight. The third act is a bi…