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Genre: Classic, Romance, Adventure
Country: United States
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Katherine Hepburn, Robert Morley, Peter Bull, Theodore Bikel, Walter Gotell, Gerald Onn, Peter Swanwick, Richard Marner
Director: John Huston
Run time: 105 minutes
DVD distributor: Paramount Home Entertainment
Special feature: Embracing Chaos: The Making of The African Queen
The African Queen is one of the most over-rated movies of all time. The American Film Institute comes out with these lists every year, the 100 Greatest American…whatever…of all time. The best movie songs, the best actors and actresses, the best thrillers and romances and so forth. The very first one, more than ten years ago, listed the 100 greatest American movies of all time. The African Queen was 17th. Not to say it’s a bad movie. But the 17th best American movie ever made? Hardly.
The African Queen is a good movie. That’s it. It’s far more historically significant than it is “great”. That’s for a couple of reasons. Back to the AFI for a moment, in their “100 greatest stars” list, they ranked Humphrey Bogart the #1 actor of all time, and Katherine Hepburn the #1 actress of all time. The African Queen was the first, and only, screen pairing of the two, coming fairly late in both their careers.
The African Queen, with surprising box office success, marked the resurrection of Hepburn’s career (she had recently been deemed “box office poison”) and began her extremely successful run of films late in her life. Without this film, and those that followed (through On Golden Pond many many years later) she would not be the icon she is today.
Another historically significant aspect of The African Queen is that it was Bogart’s only Best Actor Oscar win. That being said, he deserved one long before this, for Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon and countless other movies. This was more of a “lifetime achievement” Oscar, the way Paul Newman got his for The Color of Money and Sandra Bullock got hers for The Blind Side. Frankly, there were three other Oscar nominees (Montgomery Clift in A Place In The Sun, Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire and Fredrich March in Death Of A Salesman) who were better in 1951.
Also, the fact that the movie was shot by John Huston in Africa, which was almost unheard of at the time, and some intrigue involving the Hollywood blacklist and some other factors made the making of The African Queen almost as interesting as the movie itself. The story of that journey is told in the one-hour documentary Embracing Chaos, which is featured on the new DVD as well.
The fact that The African Queen is just now coming to DVD is a story in itself. This is the last movie on the AFI’s top 100 list to make it to DVD, and it has been a long wait. I was hoping for a little more bonus material. Embracing Chaos is fascinating, and it adds an awful lot to this DVD edition, but I was hoping for something along the lines of the Centennial Collection, where Paramount has been re-releasing classic films with a ton of special features. The African Queen deserves more special features.
This movie holds up well. It’s just two people on a boat for the bulk of the picture, but the fact that it’s Bogey and Hepburn is terrific. The fact that they’re both middle-aged and don’t exactly still have matinee idol looks is not just interesting, but refreshing. And the sense of adventure is still palpable. I maintain that this is not one of the 100 greatest American movies ever made. But The African Queen is still very good. And the release of this film on DVD, March 23rd from Alliance Films, is still a very big deal.