The African Queen
Airing 10PM EST
When you combine arguably the best actor and the best actress that filmdom has ever seen in one movie, you’ve got, arguably, one of the best movies of all time.
While The African Queen is not my favorite film in the repertoire of its stars, Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn (those would be Casablanca and Bringing Up Baby), I nonetheless find this movie to be, frankly, quite damn awesome. Bogart stars as Charlie Allnut, the dissolute captain of the titular old steamboat, who delivers supplies to villages in Africa in the midst of World War I. When German soldiers invade one such village, resulting in the death of a British missionary, his sister, Rose Sayer (Hepburn), leaves with Charlie to return home. Though the couple are vastly different, each heartily disapproving of the other, they overcome their mutual dislike and a romance develops. But when Rose dreams up a plan to destroy a nearby German ship as revenge for her brother’s death, the drunken captain must overcome his initial reluctance to get involved in order to ensure their success and their very survival.
The film is a noteworthy one in the history of cinema for being one of the first big-budget Hollywood productions filmed almost completely on location, in the heart of the Belgian Congo. And the movie would not have been nearly as effective had the action been filmed in a studio lot with backdrops and painted scenery. At least for filmgoers, it was worth the apparent hell that the stars, director (John Huston), and crew underwent to get the film made–insect infestations, bad water, unappetizing food, illnesses, dangerous wildlife, and constant downpours created difficulties for all involved (including Lauren Bacall, who accompanied husband Bogart on the journey). Still, their suffering resulted in something truly wonderful, because the location, perhaps even more so than the performances, makes this film what it is.
Yet this is not to discount the amazing acting on the parts of Bogart and Hepburn, both of whom are virtually at their peak in this film. After a lifetime of playing gangsters, detectives, and hard-bitten romantic leads, Bogart was moving into the final phase of his career (he would pass away a mere six years after completing this film) and would finally win his only Oscar for this role. Hepburn, who had won an Oscar for one of her earliest roles (in 1933’s Morning Glory) and was perhaps best known for her many deft comedies with co-stars like Cary Grant and Spencer Tracy, would shed the ingenue roles that had been her bread-and-butter for years, ushering in a new phase in her career playing older, world-worn women (and would go on to win her other three Oscars for these types of roles in 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, 1968’s The Lion in Winter, and 1981’s On Golden Pond).
Thankfully, after years of being unavailable, this film will FINALLY be released to DVD in the United States on March 23rd. You can pre-order the single disc edition now; also available is a commemorative box edition featuring many extras, including a reproduction of Katharine Hepburn’s memoirs about the making of the film (The Making of the African Queen: Or How I Went to Africa With Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind). But as March is still a month away, why wait? Make sure you catch this one tonight while you can.
Wins: Best Actor (Bogart)
Nominations: Best Actress (Hepburn), Best Screenplay, Best Director (Huston)