Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The African Queen

It can be hard on the nature to review so many films, but Nature is what we were put here to rise above.

And rise above we do with movies like The African Queen (though the film has a rather astonishing lack of Africans – even for the time period). Ostensibly, this is one of those romance/adventures where the totally unlikely couple find acceptance and love in their differences. Though watching tends to form a different reaction than most of the sappy thrown-together plotlines, where you could never for a moment believe they will last a week out of danger. My roommate commented that this was the first movie he saw where Humphrey Bogart wasn't in charge, and I pointed out that Katherine Hepburn is always in charge. You can believe Mr. Allnut would happily bend his will to Miss Rose for the rest of his life, seeing as how he's a useful, but not a particularly determined man without her. You don't usually get the narrative of the woman being the courage and the driving force in the “danger romance” genre, and even though the movie came out in 1951, it's still refreshing. Rose Sayer may be a bit naive on technical matters, but the only thing that makes her shriek in the entire film is a choking swarm of mosquitoes. In most other “danger romances” you spend half the time wondering if the man's turn-ons include helpless whimpering, blood-choking arm holds, and screaming like an infant. Like I said, it's refreshing that Rose Sayer does none of those things, but is instead, always flawlessly polite and level-headed, even as she actually becomes filthy enough for you to believe she's on a river (as opposed to most heroines, who manage to do perfect winged eyeliner and keep their eyebrows on point during the zombie apocalypse).

Really what the story is about is two people learning to deal with each other, and the understanding leading to love. It isn't too different in basic outlines as the basic “Beauty and the Beast” story, although it's subverted by having “Beauty” cast as an unattractive old maid (which must have been tough work for the makeup department, considering they had Katherine Hepburn to work with), and having the castle setting replaced by a dangerous river surrounded by hostile Germans. It seems like it should be absurd, but maybe because the mains are really so likable, you can't help but get invested in what happens to them. Also, a World War One movie? Stop the presses. There's also the admirable decision to not try to force poor Bogie into doing a Cockney accent (how Charlie Allnut was characterized in the novel). Rewriting him as Canadian helped prevent the kind of dignity loss inflicted on Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. Now if only we would allow actors who can't do accents to retain their original style of speaking and maybe rewrite a little to explain things.

Overall, I really enjoyed this film. It is definitely one I would watch again, and it's a movie I would suggest aspiring filmmakers watch. Your heroine in difficult circumstances does not need to be either brain-rendingly annoying or be unbelievably tough and competent. She doesn't have to know everything to be courageous or admirable, and she doesn't need to shriek and grab the hero to have vulnerability or build up the romantic tension. This is one of the perfect examples of a heroine in danger acting like a capable adult human being, and as such, really deserves the watch.

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