The African Queen

Like many of the films I see for my New Year’s Resolution Old Movie Challenge, The African Queen (1951) with Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart is a film I’d never seen. I knew the basics that Hepburn played Rose Sayer, a straight-laced missionary and Bogart, a salty, undomesticated sailor, but I had no idea why they’d be on a journey together.

So it was news to me that Hepburn was a missionary, working in Africa with her brother who dies as a result of an attack by the Germans in WWI. The Germans burn the village down and her missionary brother goes crazy and dies from the effect. Bogart plays Mr. Allnut, who travels in a rusty boat known ironically as the African Queen, bringing mail and supplies to miners and the mission. Mr. Allnut is rough around the edges, but always polite to Rose, whom he always addresses as “Miss.” (It isn’t till halfway through the film that they find out each other’s first names.)

When Allnut sees that Miss is all alone, and vulnerable when the Germans invariably return, he takes her on to his rust bucket, the African Queen. He expects to take her to safety somehow and is shocked by her cockamamie idea that they should go along an impossibly dangerous route till they come to the lake where a German war ship is. Then she figures they can rig up some DIY torpedoes and ram the African Queen into the German ship to fight for her country, Great Britain. They’ll jump overboard at just the right moment and swim to safety.

Allnut has the sense to see the lunacy of her plan, but lacks the rhetorical skills to convince her of the futility. Has any Hepburn character ever been convinced to follow someone else’s plan?

Thus onward they go, and along the way they get drenched, barely survive the rapids and, as you’d expect, fall in love.

The film pulled me in, though at first I thought this particular pair of opposites might not attract. What I liked is that Allnut really respected Rose and that the film wasn’t a mere series of scenes where the opposites bicker. Once they’d overcome the initial obstacles, and saw each others’ strengths, they formed a real team. The main conflict was the arduous journey and finally the Germans. At times luck, rather than pluck got them through, but as Rose was a missionary, the Hand of God ought to be a force in the story.

Note:

  • Hepburn insisted the film be shot in Africa and as a result the crew endured hardship after hardship just like the characters did. See this post.
  • Someone’s bought and restored the African Queen used in the movie and you can arrange a canal or dinner cruise on it.

 

 

In a Better World

In_a_better_world

The Danish film In a Better World caught me by surprise. Compelling and intense, it weaves together the stories of Anton, a doctor who works for an NGO like Doctors without Borders in Africa and his family in Denmark and Christian, a boy who moves to Denmark after his mother dies. Anton’s son Elias is a victim of bullying until Christian defends him. The two boys become friends, but Elias is troubled by Christian’s violent streak. Christian believes might makes right and takes pleasure in revenge and plotting. He doesn’t know when to stop or that the unexpected can make a plot go awry in terrible ways.

Anton lives part of the year in Denmark, where he tries to reconcile with his wife Marianne, and part of the year in war-torn Africa where women are sliced open by a Chieftain called Big Man. Anton is a highly ethical man who tries to live non-violently and to teach his son the same.

Lonely and fascinated by Christian, Elias is too weak to refuse and stop his friend from his escalating violence. The film depicts the consequences of missing fathers.

 

I liked the film’s tone and the opportunity to travel to two new settings, Africa and Denmark. Roger Ebert criticized the film for cutting between the two cultures of Africa and Denmark, however, as someone who splits her time between cultures I found no problem with that choice.