Tag Archive: Humphrey Bogart


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If your romance doesn’t break new ground or provide deep and true insight into the relations between man & woman (or whatever your romantic pairings are), your only hope of a watchable film is the spark of real chemistry between your stars. Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing is a fairly conventional “forbidden love” romantic drama, but the chemistry between William Holden and Jennifer Jones was sizzling and it made the film enjoyable despite the melodrama. Similarly, Penny Serenade is typical 1940s romance, but Irene Dunne made you wholly believe her love for Cary Grant (I’ve never believed Cary Grant’s interest in any woman on screen because he’s seemingly incapable of even pretending to be attracted to a woman). The African Queen transcends it’s dime-novel source material thanks to the fierce chemistry of leads Humphrey Bogart (To Have and Have Not) and Katharine Hepburn (Bringing Up Baby).

Director John Huston (perfect as the villain of Chinatown) brings a standard boy’s adventure tale to the big screen but, through sheer technical prowess and wonderful performances all around, pulls a gorgeous, almost lyrical tale of class, romance, and will from such meager starts. With one of the best performances of Bogie’s career (and the one that he would win his Oscar for) and an archetypal Hepburn turn, The African Queen isn’t a great film, but in the world of classic adventure movies, it’s hard to find one with more heart and sheer fun.

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After her minister brother is murdered by German soldiers during the early days of World War 1 outside of their African church, British missionary Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn) is forced to seek passage back to England with the help of rough-edged steamboat captain Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) on the titular African Queen. But, getting back to England will be more difficult than navigating the already dangerous rapids of the African river. Their only path back into British territory involves crossing a lake guarded by one of the most powerful gunboats in the German fleet.

There is nothing exceptional in the storytelling of The African Queen. The central romance hinges on the classic “rough and uncultured man is tamed by the strong-willed high class Lady” theme, and The African Queen plays zero games with that set-up throughout. The adventure is a series of set pieces where our hero and heroine almost lose their life but persevere, and the film doesn’t take many breaks to really allow these characters to breathe though a bit in the middle where Rose finally pours out all of Charlie’s gin that the movie lets you see some of the bite beneath Bogart’s  bark.

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But, The African Queen has to be a textbook example of how sheer filmcraft can overcome a conventional story (that also happens to be well-told despite its familiarity). The Technicolor photography still looks vibrant and beautiful 63 years later. It’s possible that you’ve never truly experienced the color green until you see this film in all of its remastered HD glory. The film’s major action set-pieces are something of a mixed bag because the sections that actually look like they were shot in Africa (much of the film was) make the green screen segments that much more embarrassingly dated and fake looking.

And, of course, Bogart and Hepburn make the most out of roles that are more caricature than character. As Rose Sayer, Hepburn crafts the type of character that I think of when I envision Hepburn (even if I had never seen this film before): strong-willed, middle-aged, spinster-ish with a romantic heart, and fiercer than any man on screen. Hepburn tends to bowl over her male leads with the strength of her personality, but in Bogart’s Allnut, she finally found a man as crazy and stubborn as her, and the emotional pyrotechnics as they match wits made the entire film worthwhile.

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Bogart didn’t live long past the shooting of this film. The African Queen was released in 1951 and he passed away from esophageal cancer in 1957, and part of me suspects that the rough, lean look Bogie has in this film can be attributed to the onset of his illness, and as one of the last great performances from one of Hollywood’s most iconic stars, The African Queen simply can’t be missed. At the end of the day, it never stops being a rousing adventure, but in an era where action movies had artistry, who can rightly complain?

Final Score: B+

 

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When this particular film came in the mail from Netflix, my first reaction was “Finally, a Bogie picture!” I don’t really think Humphrey Bogart is one of the most talented actors of all time, but there’s something about him that simply exudes awesome. He’s the man that every woman ever wanted to be with and every man wanted to be. He’s got the kind of natural stage presence and charisma that only comes once a generation. To add to my level of excitement, To Have and Have Not was his first movie he ever made with his future muse and soul mate, Lauren Bacall, and as legend has it, it was on the set of this film that they fell madly in love. And to top it all off, the script was written by literary great William Faulkner and based off a Hemingway story. Unfortunately, while certain aspects of the film had the potential for greatness, poor pacing and certain scenes that felt like they dragged on for eternity keep this film from achieving the level of other Bogie classics.

To Have and Have Not is the story of American fishing boat captain, Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart), living in French Martinique after the fall of free France during WW II and during the control of the Nazi-backed Vichy. Harry’s life is turned upside down when he becomes caught in the middle of the fight between French patriots and the Vichy regime. Since he’s a rebellious old curmudgeon and doesn’t like being pushed around, he throws his hat in with the patriots despite not having any real stake in the matter. Further complications arrive with the presence of Marie Browning (Lauren Bacall), a thief who catches Morgan’s eye and heart.

Before I delve too deeply into the parts of the film that didn’t work, let me at least hit on the things that were entertaining and kept me engrossed. The chemistry between Bogie and Bacall is absolutely sizzling. If you watch this film and don’t think to yourself “I’m pretty sure those two were getting it on during production” at least four or five times, you either think they’re the best actors on the planet or are blind to simple human attraction. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen two stars with such natural chemistry with one another. It’s no wonder they’re such a beloved Hollywood couple. And Lauren Bacall was a knock-out. She was just dripping with elegance and sexuality. Her “You know how to whistle?” line has become a classic movie quote. Bogie is Bogie and that’s really all I need to say there. Also, in the supporting role of Morgan’s drunken friend Eddy, Walter Brennan was an absolute delight.

However, as entertaining as the film could be in parts, it really dragged in others and there wasn’t enough happening to keep me engaged during prolonged stretches of the film. I actually started to fall asleep around 2/3 of the way through the film and had to take a break and come back and finish it later. I’m glad I finished it because I was able to wrench some value from the film, but I can’t really imagine myself watching this again in the near future. If you’re a Bogie fan, you need to watch the movie for that reason. It’s another step in the evolution of his career. Otherwise, you can leave this one alone.

Final Score: B-