Combustible Celluloid
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With: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley, Peter Bull, Theodore Bikel, Walter Gotell, Peter Swanwick, Richard Marner
Written by: James Agee, John Huston, based on a novel by C.S. Forester
Directed by: John Huston
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 105
Date: 12/23/1951

The African Queen (1951)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Grace Boat

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Following the disappointing financial performance of his movie version of The Red Badge of Courage, director John Huston redeemed himself with this successful and critically acclaimed classic. Huston hired the noted film critic James Agee — who had raved about Huston's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre — to write the screenplay based on C.S. Forester's novel. Huston's frequent star Humphrey Bogart plays Charlie Allnut, a hard-drinking captain of the steam boat of the title. Katharine Hepburn plays Rose, a missionary in South Africa who hitches a ride with Allnut after her brother (Robert Morley) is killed. On route, she decides that they must attack and sink a German gunboat that has been causing trouble. Allnut isn't too excited about this dangerous plan, but she's far too stubborn to be convinced otherwise. During their journey, they face many hardships, argue a great deal, and of course, fall in love.

Shot in beautiful Technicolor by the great Jack Cardiff (The Red Shoes), Huston's storytelling is beautifully fluid, with the two expert performances driving things (Bogart won a long-overdue Best Actor Oscar). Huston received a Best Director nomination, and shared a screenplay nomination with Agee, while Hepburn snagged the fifth of her twelve career nominations. But the behind-the-scenes stories are almost more harrowing. Huston shot on location in Africa, using unwieldy cameras, in rough conditions that caused most of the cast and crew to fall ill. (According to legend, Huston and Bogart staved off malaria by remaining drunk much of the time.) Several books and documentaries tell the story, but Clint Eastwood's fictitious account, White Hunter, Black Heart (1990) is especially excellent.

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