100 Days, 100 Movies: The African Queen (1951)

Day three of my ongoing project to watch all +100 movies on the AFI 100 Years 100 movies list, which lists the greatest American films of all time (or up to 2007 at any rate)….sorry this post is late. I do have a life. It’s not all movies and blogging and unspeakable glamor. ;P

So, The African Queen. IMDB page here. #17 on the 1998 list. #65 on the 2007 list. It’s interesting how only ten years can make such a big difference in the rankings.

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Synopsis from IMDB: “In Africa during WW1, a gin-swilling riverboat owner/captain is persuaded by a strait-laced missionary to use his boat to attack an enemy warship.”

I might get some flack for this one. Liked it. Didn’t love it. (Although I do love that poster. I don’t remember Bogie EVER being that muscular. Was that a scene I missed? LOL.)

The African Queen is an odd film. It was, for its time, very ground-breaking I think. It’s a small film at heart and yet it is set in an epic context. What I mean is they had all of Africa to play with, WWI is gearing up, Germans, the Jungle, romance, adventure (see posture above). Yet much of the film is this very quiet character piece about two people stuck on a boat who fall in love.

I guess I was just expecting MORE. It’s SO understated, underplayed. The romance is very sweet but it feels rushed. It feels like the characters got together before the movie was even half over. (I just looked. They sleep together at 60 mins in. The movie is 105 mins. 57% through the movie the romance is basically resolved). And, you know, the moment they’re together solidly as a couple that pretty much kills half the tension.

I’m going to get all writerly for a minute here, bear with me…when you’re writing a story you want conflict on every page, conflict coming at your hero from every direction. External conflicts (in this case, the Nazis, the river, misfiring explosives, etc) but you also want internal conflict. In this case, that would be the will they or won’t they of the romance plot. In the romance genre, which this movie is I think, you want the resolution to both conflicts to come as close together as possible. They get together as a couple and then they defeat the Germans. Not, they get together as a couple and forty minutes later they blow the Germans up. Part of this might be old-fashioned story-telling. Nowadays, we’re all about pacing, pacing, pacing. But I can’t really grade this thing on a curve. I only have my modern frame of reference to judge and, for me, the pacing just didn’t work.

Another thing was that when I hear the word “classic” I think greatness on every level. Butch and Sundance had Redford and Newman giving the performances of their careers. I’m not sure there’s anything I’ve seen either of them in where I liked them more. That wasn’t the case for me with The African Queen. These were good performances but…meh, for me. Bogie was much more appealing in Casablanca. Hepburn didn’t have her usual sparkle.

Still, problems aside, I did like the film. It’s a good adventure yarn, and the romance has several achingly sweet moments.

What did I learn from this movie? At least for modern audiences, the resolution to the internal conflict can’t be too far in advance of the resolution to the external conflict. Also, on the positive side, you can get some really great moments by using contrasts. What I’m thinking of is the ending where they’re about to be hanged by the Germans and Bogie asks the German captain to marry them . A wedding at a hanging where the bride and groom are about to be dead. It was adorable and quirky and funny. A really great moment.

Can I see why this movie has become a classic? Not…really. Bogie and Hepburn have given better performances. I didn’t feel like they had really great chemistry together. The plot was a good yarn, though, and the ending was pretty killer. A good movie, for sure. But a classic? I don’t think so.

Favorite part? Oh, the wedding scene for sure. I also love the part where Rosie dumps all of his booze into the river. She does that with such great sass. She doesn’t sparkle much in this movie, but she practically twinkles in that scene.

Overall Rating: *** (I liked it)

For tomorrow: The General, starring Buster Keaton. A silent film. Won’t that be fun!

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One thought on “100 Days, 100 Movies: The African Queen (1951)

  1. Pingback: 100 Days, 100 Movies: The Beginning | Beth Matthews

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