01 April 2010

The African Queen

I think this might be a movie whose reputation preceded it a little too well. Bogart's only Oscar, National Registry, color film shot on location (with clunky Technicolor cameras! in Africa! in 1951!) by the great John Huston, famous romance between Bogey and Hepburn, famously rough shooting conditions, not to mention the movie's longstanding unavailability on DVD (it recently came out both on DVD and BRD, which is how I saw it) -- I think it all added up to more hype than the poor movie could live up to. It definitely wasn't bad, at all, but I don't think this would make my list of Top Ten Bogart films. The decision to act is far too hasty, the descent into love too smooth and bump-free (c.f. the rocky romance between the gruff sailor and the prissy journalist in Lifeboat... very rare I give points to Hitchcock over Huston for characterization!). Plus, the stakes seemed inverted. The river, the leeches, the gin, the rapids, the engine, the rain: these all seemed legitimate and threatening, but they were tangents, side quests, nuisances along the path to victory. The actual confrontations with the Germans, both at Shona and against the Louisa, these feel too calculated, too easy, honestly a little bit ridiculous. And I've already said, there really was no hesitation on the parts of Rosie and Charlie, no regret or missteps. Once they kissed awkwardly they were as good as married -- in that 1951 movie way where "married" equals "completely frictionless and essentially one soul with two bodies and a lot of pet names."

Huston made the world real, though, and Bogart did his damnedest-best to inhabit a very complex but un-Bogart character, which is always a pleasure to watch. Seeing him play dumb, gassy, and meek is kind of fun, and they really made use of his awkward teeth and slightly goofball grin. Still, Treasure of the Sierra Madre has Bogart playing the other end of the spectrum of un-Bogart-esque, wherein he is cruel, charmless, and creepy, and that's also John Huston and that I believed more than this. Maybe because it lacked the hamstrung romance. Huston seems better at manly adventures and urban male psyche stories than he does at believable love stories. Or at least the stuff I've seen. Anyway, I've rambled, and criticized a classic harshly, but it was good and I'm glad I've seen it. It just got stuck in the massive shadow of its own legend, and frankly I've seen all these players do better, is all.

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