“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
“Well I ain’t sorry for you no more, ya crazy, psalm-singing, skinny old maid!”
Great pairings of legendary actors are almost always a reason to see a movie. Even if the story and direction aren’t that great, seeing two heavy weights go toe to toe is pretty much guaranteed to be worth your time. And that is the main reason I was pumped to see The African Queen. It’s reputation as a classic isn’t as strong as a lot of movies on this countdown, but the combination of Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn is hard to not get excited about.
It’s the First World War, only Rose (Hepburn) and her husband don’t know it yet. It takes a while for news to reach their isolated African plantation. And when it does arrive, it’s via the African Queen, a dilapidated old riverboat, captained by a dilapidated old booze hound named Charlie (Bogart). When the Great War does make its way into Rose’s world, her husband dies of a heart attack and she has nowhere to turn, until Charlie arrives in the African Queen.
Rose has soon convinced him to turn his boat into a giant torpedo and take it on a kamikaze mission to sink a German gunboat that has been patrolling a large lake downriver. At first getting on each other’s nerves, you’ll never see it coming, but these opposites soon attract and things get saucy.
There have been movies in this countdown that I don’t really like, but I kind of get why they’re there. I might think A Clockwork Orange is one of the worst things ever committed to celluloid, but I can’t argue with its iconic status and impact on cinema. But The African Queen might be the first entry in the AFI 100 that I really like, while questioning its place here. The acting’s great and it’s really well made, it just doesn’t feel high end enough to be here for prestige reasons, or visceral enough to be here for pure impact reasons, or career defining enough for either lead to be here as some great milestone in their careers.
The African Queen is funny and sweet and easy on the eye. It’s also slight and broad and a little corny. I recommend seeing The African Queen, it’s a very easy watch. I just don’t think it belongs on this AFI list of the greats.
Best Actor – Bogart
Best Actress (Hepburn nominated, lost to Vivien Leigh for A Streetcar Named Desire)
Best Director (Huston nominated, lost to George Stevens of A Place in the Sun)
Best Adapted Screenplay (nominated, lost to A Place in the Sun)