The African Queen (1951)

The African Queen is one of those classics that many people like. Surprisingly I’ve never even seen it on TV although Hollywood classics are regularly shown on Sunday afternoons. I didn’t expect anything because other than that it’s set in Africa during WWI I knew nothing about it. After having seen it, I know that it is rather a screwball comedy than a war movie as such. Nevertheless I enjoyed watching it. It is entertaining and the actors are excellent. Being a bit of a Humphrey Bogart fan I had to watch it sooner or later.

September 1914, German Eastern Africa. Missionary Reverend Samuel Sayer and his prudish sister Rose (Katharine Hepburn) live on a farm isolated from any other colonists. They are regularly visited by Charlie Allnut who owns a crummy boat, the “African Queen” and travels up and down the river, bringing the mail and other things. He is boorish and has very obviously an alcohol problem.

When the war in Europe breaks out, the colonies are drawn into it as well. German troops burn down the mission and the Reverend dies soon afterwards. Allnut passes by on his boat and helps Rose to bury her brother and takes her with him on the African Queen. They face a very long, difficult and dangerous journey down the river and on top of that Rose is determined to help the war effort. She suggests, Allnut should construct a torpedo and that they should then attempt to sink a German warship, the Luisa.

As is to be expected their trip down the river is more than adventurous. Torrential rains, rapids, mosquitoes and German posts make the journey very daunting. What is worse for Allnut is the fact that Rose supervises him and throws away his brandy. She wants him to behave and at first they bicker and quarrel constantly. After several days on the boat and many dangerous adventures they get closer and end up falling in love.

What an unlikely couple they make. What I liked is the fact that Rose is the inventive and courageous one. Although she doesn’t exactly look like an adventurer, in her long skirts, hat and with her prissy little manners, she is quite gutsy after all. Something else that makes this movie memorable is the fact that it reminds us that the Germans used to have a few colonies as well. One tends to forget that as they lost them all during WWI.

It’s an adventure story and a very amusing tale in which two very different people on a shabby little boat, fall in love and successfully fight a whole crew of a warship. It certainly is an early version of adventure romances like Romancing the Stone.

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Casablanca (1942)

Cinema doesn’t get much better than this.  Casablanca is one of the truly outstanding movies, a movie to watch and re-watch.

It is not, in the strict sense of the term, a war movie, that’s obvious, it’s a war-time movie or, if you like, a war romance.

It is one of the movies I have seen the most. At least four times. One of the viewings was a mixed bag as it was the Technicolor version. Casablanca is the prototypical black and white movie. The Technicolor version was really outrageous and sacrilegious. So watch out, if you have never seen it, the original Casablanca must be b/w.

Casablanca tells a tragic love story but more than that it’s incredibly atmospherical, it has some of the most famous movie lines, a haunting tune and two great actors, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman at their best.

Rick and Ilsa met years ago in Paris, at the beginning of WWII. We see their love story in flashbacks. When Rick decides to leave Paris with Ilsa, she simply doesn’t show up at the train station.

Years later they meet again in unoccupied Morocco. Rick is the hardened and cynical owner of one of the most popular bars in Casablanca. All sorts of people visit or hide in his establishment. Pretty much like all sort of people have come to Morocco for various reasons, most of them however hoping to get a visa for the US. There are also some nasty German characters swarming the premises.

When Ilsa and her husband appear in Rick’s bar, this is a shock for everyone. What happened in Paris, why did she not turn up and what does she want now? Ilsa and her husband try to get to America.
Will Rick help her or not? Will she leave her husband?

It is hard to imagine that anyone hasn’t seen this movie but, just in case, I’m not going to tell anything more.

Rick’s character is one of my favorite movie characters. I like the dialogue in Casablanca a lot. Rick is very cynical but has a point. He also illustrates that while women tend to get depressed, men tend to start drinking when life is too rough. He is one of those great monosyllabic movie characters with a “Don’t-you-dare-to come-too-close” attitude. I think it is precisely Rick’s character and Bogart’s great acting that prevent this movie of an unhappy love triangle to become mushy.

A movie like this would be unthinkable nowadays for many reasons. One can be summed up by the term “esthetic of smoking”. Not that I smoke but smoke rings look good in black and white movies, they add some mystery, just like fog.