John Huston Blogathon: The African Queen
“Just listen to this stomach of mine. Way it sounds, you’d think I had a hyena inside me…Ain’t a thing I can do about it.
Things take a turn, with the war breaking out between Germany and England, a troop of German officers raid the African village, raze the huts, take the natives as prisoners and the Reverend is brutally assaulted. Charlie had earlier given hints of the incident to come, being the more worldly wise person. However the Rev’s belief that a “good shepherd doesn’t desert his flock, when the wolves are prowling” make him stay back. Something that proves fatal for him, and leaves Rose alone. Huston’s own value system as a agnostic, comes through here, showing that mere religious faith does not really work in times of war. Charlie feels that it is better to stay out in the village, till the war is done. His view is based on what he knows, the fact that they have to encounter dangerous rapids, a German fortification and most important of all, a 100 ton German warship called the Louisa.
If we were to fill those cylinders with that blasting gelatine and then fix them so that they would stick out over the end of the boat, and then run the boat against the side of a ship, they would go off just like a torpedo, wouldn’t they?…We could, what do you call it, get a good head of steam up, and then point the launch toward a ship and just before she hits, we could dive off. Couldn’t we?
However Rose for all her prim and proper manner, seems to be one resourceful, street smart woman when confronted with a crisis. Especially the part where she suggests to Charlie to create the torpedoes, that could be fired at the Germans. I guess the most fascinating part of African Queen, is that both Charlie and Rose, are extremely strong characters, though opposite in other aspects. Prim and proper she may be, but Rose is no damsel in distress, she is a woman, with a mind of her own, some one who is street smart and quick thinking. And for all his gruff, appearance, Charlie is the more laid back person, preferring to stay away from the war, till things cool down. In fact Charlie feels that Rose’s hair brained plan, is suicidal to the core.
Rose: How do you know? You’ve never tried it.
Charlie: I never tried shooting myself in the head, neither. The trouble with you, Miss, is, you, you don’t know anything about boats!
I’ve only known such excitement a few times before – a few times in my dear brother’s sermons when the spirit was really upon him.
Rose however loves the adventure, the thrill of going down the white river rapids, fills her with excitement. Somehow i feel it was also her repressed feelings coming into the fore. The thrill of the adventure, the freedom of the open spaces, provides her with a kind of liberty, which she rarely experienced before. To me Rose would be one of the finest female characters ever created, a prim, proper Missionary ,with a blithe, free spirit, seeking to explore the world. It is clear that she is the more daring person, compared to Charlie. It is not that Charlie is a coward, he is more of a realist, having experienced enough. Rose on the other hand is the wide eyed, enthusiastic women, experiencing her first flush of freedom, and looking to enjoy every bit of it, regardless of the dangers. Charlie by now is exasperated with her, and in a drunken outburst, rants at her, when she calls him a liar and a coward.
Ooooh! Coward yourself! You ain’t no lady. No, Miss. That’s what my poor old Mother would say to you, if my poor old Mother was to hear you.
Also i guess Charlie’s hatred towards Rose, is the fact that she is in control of the boat, he considers his own domain. The upstart outsider, who is now dictating terms to him, something hard for him to digest. But like in most movies, the opposites begin to love each other. Charlie feels its great to have “a lady with clean habits on board. It sets a good example.” The sequence of events where Charlie tries to reform himself, and Rose responding with stony silence, is brilliant, with Rose giving out the classic clincher. Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.
For adventure movie buffs, The African Queen, contains enough scenes to satiate the hunger. One of the best being the one where the boat faces an attack from the German fortification, Charlie repairing the hose under enemy fire, immediately followed by the best pictured scene in the movie, The African Queen, going on a perilous journey through the rapids. And yeah after they navigate the rapids, both the leads, embrace and kiss passionately, either out of love or sheer relief, on making it through. The following romantic scenes, sizzle with a brilliant chemistry between Bogart and Hepburn, with an under current of sexual tension running all through.
The African Queen, has everything a matinee lover seeks- romance, adventure, humour, action and drama. Huston blends the elements in the perfect proportion, making sure none of the elements hog the whole space. And of course the performances from the two leads make it what it is. Humphrey Bogart is brilliant in a role, that was tailor made for him, slipping into the role of Charlie Allnut, with relish and gusto, and getting a deserved Best Actor. It is ironical though he was not even nominated for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, by far the more better performance. Katherine Hepburn, ever the aristocratic lady, provides the perfect foil to Bogey’s rough and ready attitude, imperious, aloof, street smart, romantic by turn, making for the perfect Rose. All in all, an evergreen classic that still retains it’s appeal.