Nature, Mr. Allnut, Is What We Are Put Here To Rise Above: The African Queen (1951)

I has been roughly six full years since I have decided film to be my biggest passion in life and since then I have seen a variety of films and sought out both the masterworks of film, as well as obscurities and absurdities in between, always taking very seriously the earnest suggestions of individuals along the way.  During the first six months or so of my endeavors I was strongly encouraged to watch The African Queen by a person whose love for classic movies and John Wayne seemed to assure that I would enjoy this work very much.  At the time, however, The African Queen was very much out of print and quite hard to come by and it was something I had always hoped to visit but never remembered to go out of my way to obtain a copy for, which to view.  In the past year, however, copyrights appear to have changed and not only is this lovely film available in both DVD and Bluray formats, it is now also watch instantly on Netflix, making this long unavailable classic open to a whole new generation of burgeoning cinephiles, and this is a gift of a film, with value extending well beyond its more than a half-century of age.  At once a war, romance, travel and religious film, paired with problematic commentaries on gender and colonization, The African Queen is nothing short of cinematic perfection and the commitment to stellar acting on the part of both stars Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart quickly snatch viewers into the world of the film, never allowing their hold to loosen, even in some of the films most over-the-top and unbelievable moments.  I can now understand why the individual who recommended this movie was so adamant that I see it immediately, and while it only took me six years to get around to doing so I am completely grateful for the initial recommendation, it is quite obvious that films like The African Queen in all their earnestness and mass appeal only come along one in awhile its newest reemergence only speaks to its historical place and the necessity of it being revisited many times, both in regards to the growingly masterful of oeuvre of John Huston, whose films are always a pleasant surprise to me, as well as a fine piece of film regardless of time or place.

The African Queen primarily focuses on two characters, the first being Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn) a devout woman of the Methodist faith who, along with her brother Samuel (Robert Morley) have taken it upon themselves to bring the name of Jesus Christ to the native peoples of Africa, even going so far as to build a church in their village.  The second character is the carefree Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) who is willing to do anything to make money and assure the livelihood of himself and the functionality of his dear ship The African Queen.  Yet when the village is attacked by enraged Nazi's Samuel dies and the only persons left surviving, along with a few villagers who quickly flee are that of Rose and Charlie, who begrudgingly become companions in an attempt to escape the inevitable return of the German soldiers.  Using The African Queen as a means of navigation they travel down river, aimlessly until Rose suggest that they use the oxygen tanks on board, as well as other supplies to exact revenge upon the Nazi warship called the Louisa.  Charlie at first is dismissive because he associates his livelihood with the boat and sees Rose as a prudish simpleton, hoping only to escape their situation and unload her as quickly as possible, yet as many a story note, confined cohabitation can lead to forced intimacy, whether it be their need to get out of the rain or the necessary task of removing leeches off of a half-naked body, at some point animosity turns into admiration and eventually becomes adoration and Rose and Charlie eventually find themselves in the throws of passion, as best they could be shown circa 1951.  With a new drive and the companionship of one another the two take upon their journey to torpedo the Louisa, a task that proves a failure due to rain and unforeseen bouts of tumultuous water. They are at this point captured by Nazi sailors who have them set to hang, only to be saved at the very last moment by the sunken African Queen and its bunches of compressed air, which help to destroy the ship and afford Charlie and Rose an escape to safety.  They are shown swimming away in what can only be assumed to be a happy future together.

This film exudes sexuality, but that is not to to say that it is graphic or visually erotic, in fact, it exists entirely within the realm of metaphor and manages to use the sexualized image to a degree that would cause one to think of early surrealist work by Luis Buñuel.  Take for example the scene where Rose must clean herself in the river, it is not a scene of nudity, but certainly is a modest one by the standards of the era.  Viewers, however, share the same ability to see Rose as Charlie does, often only seeing her foot or hand peak above the boat or out of the side of the water.  It is a point of curiosity that has a certain degree of sexual curiosity about it, affirmed by Charlie looking way from Rose as she boards the boat, but as he does so his gaze become almost nearly direct with the viewer, allow those watching to see his eyebrows raise and eyes move about, clearly imagining what is occurring behind him, as do the viewers, because he blocks their line of sight.  Gaze is problematized because viewers are forced to ignore the next layer, while relating to the confrontation of Charlie's gaze which is reflecting the request for modesty on the part of Rose.  Nonetheless, the entire scene is frothing with sexual tension, only to be heightened by moments of removing leaches from Charlie's body, or the "release" of all the gin, which proves to be the upswing in regards to Charlie who takes a new liking to Rose despite being initially frustrated at her actions.  Other minor moments of Charlie repairing the boat, or Rose salting Charlie's leech bites have degrees of sexual tension, all leading up to the moment where they drown themselves in passion, working in unison to repair the boat motor, a choreographed moment of such intimacy that it is impossible to ignore, and should anyone be unsure about this, the monsoon scene that affords the two the final lift out of the river, undoubtedly, affirms their passion for one another, even if on an incredibly metaphorical level.  I mean, one could even see their swimming way from the exploded Louisa as a post-intercourse moment of ecstasy.  This of course is one reading, but a grounded one that I cannot help but support.

Key Scene:  The hanging scene is surprisingly jarring visually and reminded me of the very real crime that was going on during the particular period in which the film was set.

This well worth owning, but can easily be watched via Netflix.  For those who, like myself, will instantly fall in the movie, the bluray can be obtained for relatively cheap.

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