Movie Notes: The African Queen (1951)

OK, I promise to lay off the movies for a while after this one. I discovered the pastime of movie-watching rather late in life and now I’m finding it hard to tamper down my enthusiasm.

The African Queen was directed by John Huston. It stars Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart.

I had heard of Hepburn and Bogart before but never seen them. I thought they were both supposed to be beautiful, like true Hollywood stars. However, they are actually quite ugly, especially Bogart. And old. Hepburn undergoes a Betty-la-fea transformation in the movie and becomes beautiful by the end. Unlike today’s makeovers, hers isn’t achieved with makeup and clothes. The movie is set in Central Africa during WWI, and both stars look sweaty and grimy the whole time. It’s only through acting that Hepburn transmits the transformation of going from being a dried-up spinster to a happy woman who has reclaimed her sexuality.

Hepburn and Bogart are both excellent actors. Unfortunately, Bogart couldn’t do a Cockney accent, so from a Cockney boatman – which would have made so much sense in the movie – he was turned into a Canadian.

I’ve been thinking about why I like these old movies so much and now I realize it’s because they aren’t hectoring me. Today’s movies remind me of what Hepburn’s character is at the beginning of the film: preachy, humorless, ridiculous, and barren. Even Frozen 2, whose biggest audience is aged 3, reads like a syllabus in a course titled “The Evils of Whiteness and Colonialism” at some rich-kid college.

In The African Queen there are some cartoonishly evil Germans but that’s the extent of the movie’s political message. Very good movie. I’m glad I found it.