[Join your host, John Holliday, in the review column "A Movie A Week" as he shares his spoiler-free thoughts on our collection of DVD / Blu-ray titles.]
What if I recommended a wartime romantic adventure with a cast of basically two who don't possess guns, aren't very affectionate, and are rather inactive? Sounds like a contradiction in every way but it's exactly the movie I'm suggesting. The "two" in the cast are Hollywood giants and their natural charm and chemistry more than make up for the expected, yet missing, elements of the genre. So sit back, hang on (not too tightly), and enjoy the jungle cruise.
It's 1914, near the beginning of World War I, in German East Africa where Rose (Katharine Hepburn) and her brother are missionaries of a small village. This is the starting point for the adventure on the battered steamboat from which the movie gets it's name, The African Queen. It's captain, Charlie, is played by Humphrey Bogart in a role that's vastly different from his smooth-talking characters in 'Casablanca' or 'The Maltese Falcon'. He's a smiley, gruff ex-machinist from a nearby mine that now delivers mail and supplies to the village. When the Germans march through and set fire to the huts, Rose's brother becomes delirious and dies of a fever leaving her alone in the jungle. Her only choice is to depart with Charlie to as far as the Queen can take them.
Charlie explains to Rose the suicidal path down the treacherous river that opens to the German gunboat, the Louisa. He attempts to come up with a plan but Rose insists that they convert the African Queen into a giant torpedo and ram it into the Louisa, jumping overboard before impact. He knows their chances of making it to the enemy boat are slim but even Bogart can't reason with a woman. Somewhere between the white-water rapids, gunfire from a German fort, and all the obstacles the jungle provides, Charlie and Rose can't help but begin to fall for each other. The liklihood of a lasting relationship is still dependant on the showdown between a blockade ship and the shabby little vessel, the African Queen.
I would have really like to see a lot more adventure in this adventure movie. The African elephants, crocodiles, lions, and hippos that are barely seen and often heard would have been great antagonists but the only animal attacks we get are from a swarm of insects and a few leeches. The most dangerous peril to continuously clash with the plans for the African Queen are the river rapids and the personalities of Charlie and Rose. Their opposing backgrounds, her love for religion and his love for gin, could turn even a relaxing gondola cruise into an enthralling thrill ride. Knowing that Bogie and Hepburn where close on set emphasizes the talent behind their performances which earned him his only Oscar.
Too much concern for shooting on location in Africa was probably the cause for most of my gripes with the movie. The production is infamous for it's difficulty as noted by bouts with dysentery by the entire cast and crew. Except for Humphrey Bogart and John Huston due to their heavy drinking of imported Scotch whiskey. Aside from not being the grand adventure I expected (like Disney's Jungle Cruise ride that it inspired) the characters these cinematic legends have created carry this film proudly on their shoulders in a way that no other actors could. That's why I give The African Queen:
What movie would you like to see John review next week? Your suggestions are always welcome at: firstname.lastname@example.org