In the U.K. over the past weekend we have been celebrating our first Bank Holiday weekend of the summer – and you know what that means? More classic movies on T.V. It seems like the perfect time for television stations to put on a matinee for people to reminisce about yesteryear, I’m an oldie at heart so I welcome a black and white noir over a Transformers/Avengers/Captain America (they are depressingly all the same to me) action nonsense any day.
Unfortunately I only managed to catch one film on ‘MORE 4’, but it is considered an absolute classic, starring two of cinema history’s most prolific actors, in fact they were both listed as the ultimate screen legends of by AFI – Humphry Bogart and Katherine Hepburn in ‘African Queen’ (#17 in 1998, #65 in 2007). The announcer even stated that “You don’t get more A-lister” than these two when introducing the movie directed by the equally iconic John Huston. So I was definitely hyped up, this is going to be great I thought. So I sat down just before midday on a lazy Sunday morning to watch two veterans act their heart out.
The thing that strikes me most about the movie is that it is a lot more vintage than it seems, maybe because it is shot in Technicolor or maybe because it was shot on location outside the States or Europe which was unusual for 1951. It was made only a year after ‘All about Eve’ and ‘Sunset Boulevard’ which seems like a lifetime ago when you watch it. Perhaps the modern feel is contributed to the fact that the black actors (or extras) where not playing domestic staff which is what they seemed to have done in most films pre-1960.
The movie is made well; I particularly like the opening scene where Hepburn and onscreen brother Robert Morley who are missionaries unsuccessfully attempt to get local villages to sing hymns with them. They are cramped in a hot and stuffy ‘church’ with traditional tribal wear on and it is evident they don’t know any English and are there against their own will. The noises they make whilst trying to ‘sing’ is pretty horrendous but the scene is striking as Huston’s close shot of the tribal people who are half naked is a complete contrast to the pristine English middle class demeanour of Hepburn and Morley. It is ironic that these people who are ‘trying’ to help attempt to shoot them later in the movie. The film must have opened audiences in 1950s America to a whole new culture they’d never experienced.
It nice to see Bogie in a colour film, one of the few he did before his untimely death a few years later and he thoroughly deserved his Oscar, surprisingly his only one – perhaps the Academy felt guilty about not giving him one for ‘The Maltese Falcon’ or ‘Casablanca’ so they felt obliged to give it this time. If they gave one to Sinatra it was only right that the founder of the Rat Pack got one too. Nevertheless the film has cemented it’s self as one of the most culturally significant movies of all time, beautifully shot with superb acting – it definitely deserves its place on the AFI 100 movie list.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that parts of the film were shot at Isleworth Studios, which is my home town in London and now sadly a block of flats. I told my family about this and my brother said Bogie and Hepburn “where probably chilling in a café somewhere down the road”. A thrilling thought!
Watch Bogart win his Best Actor Oscar