The African Queen (1951, John Huston)

As I started The African Queen, I wondered what the hell John Huston ever did to earn him such a good rep. Maybe it was The African Queen.

Besides the amazing cinematography, the film’s laid out beautifully. Get Bogart and Hepburn in a boat together, in WWI Africa, and see what happens. The film starts looking like a documentary. I can’t think of any other Hollywood production that treated native Africa with any regard and I think it threw me off a little. Jack Cardiff’s cinematography and the British accents–Bogart seems kind of like guest-star in the first bit, doesn’t he?–also threw me. Then, about thirty-six minutes in, I started to get it.

The ending, of course, makes the film. Most films are made by the ending, no matter when they were made. Kind of like how a novel sort of needs a kick-ass close too. Well, not sort of at all. The most interesting aspect of The African Queen is the romance. Besides that Bogart was probably closer in age to Hepburn then he was to any previous love interests (except maybe Mary Astor) sets Queen apart. While, yes, younger female actors could hold their own against older men, somewhere after Faye Dunaway (and Michelle Pfeiffer?) they’ve lost that ability. A point that has nothing to do with The African Queen.

It’s a great film. I can’t believe Vivien Leigh (for Streetcar) beat Hepburn for this one. Wow. Vivien Leigh beat Eleanor Parker for Detective Story that year too. You know, I remember when I used to (this is the early-to-mid 1990s) get pissed when someone good lost the Oscar to someone bad. How bad must it have been when four good people lost to one ham? I suppose people didn’t care that much back in 1952, but still….

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Huston; screenplay by James Agee and Huston, based on the novel by C.S. Forester; director of photography, Jack Cardiff; edited by Ralph Kemplen; music by Allan Gray; produced by Sam Spiegel; released by United Artists.

Starring Humphrey Bogart (Charlie Allnut), Katharine Hepburn (Rose Sayer), Robert Morley (Rev. Samuel Sayer), Peter Bull (Captain of the Louisa), Theodore Bikel (First Officer of the Louisa) and Peter Swanick (German Army Officer).


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Boys’ Night Out (1962, Michael Gordon)

Ah, the 1960s sex comedy. I guess Hollywood was ecstatic to be able to use the word sex in a film back then. Actually, watching the film, I thought it was later, maybe 1966. But it couldn’t have been, because Kim Novak wasn’t making films in ’66 (according to IMDb). Kim Novak has always gotten a bad rap (I thought Maltin said she’d never delivered a natural performance, but that’s not the case according to IMDb’s reprint of his bio of her, so it was probably Ebert). Kim Novak’s a good actor. She comes out best in this film, though Garner has a few good moments and Tony Randall does an interesting precursor–in body language–of Niles Crane.

The film is mildly amusing, not particularly good or well-made. William Bendix is in it for a bit as a bartender and he’s great (Bendix is usually great). These “sex comedies” didn’t understand how to construct a good conclusion, even though the romantic comedy conclusion had been in place since the mid-1930s. It’s like they forgot them for a bit and you got stuck with bad endings, without rising music and such. The “morals” of the film–the intent on the husband’s part can translate, after he gets caught, into a better marriage–are incredibly offensive, another aspect of the “sex comedy,” one best exemplified by A Guide for the Married Man.

The 1960s are an incredibly odd period of cinema (not just American). They didn’t quite know what to do–Lolita was the same year as Boys’ Night Out and the same studio too. You had two forward-moving film movements, both arguably aimed at the mass market, both building on what came before, but one a little bit less self-aware (the sex comedy). Odd how it all worked out. I wonder if there was ever a specific breaking point where the pendulum got stuck….

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Gordon; screenplay by Ira Wallach, based on a story by Marvin Worth and Arne Sultan, adapted by Marion Hargrove; director of photography, Arthur E. Arling; edited by Tom McAdoo; music by Frank De Vol; produced by Martin Ransohoff; and presented by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Kim Novak (Cathy), James Garner (Fred Williams), Tony Randall (George Drayton), Howard Duff (Doug Jackson), Janet Blair (Marge Drayton), Patti Page (Joanne McIllenny), Jessie Royce Landis (Ethel Williams), Oscar Homolka (Dr. Prokosch), Howard Morris (Howard McIllenny), Anne Jeffreys (Toni Jackson), Zsa Zsa Gabor (Girl with boss), Fred Clark (Mr. Bohannon), William Bendix (Slattery), Jim Backus (Peter Bowers), Larry Keating (Mr. Bingham) and Ruth McDevitt (Beaulah Patridge).


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Henry Fool (1997, Hal Hartley)

I remember seeing Henry Fool years ago, but I remembered it being laugh-out-loud funny. This era, my 1999 film-watching era, is highly suspect to me now. It’s pre-Traffic, I suppose.

I’ve tried watching Hartley since. No Such Thing was a particularly terrible experience… or however much of it I saw.

And for most of Henry Fool, I was moving between some low rating, one to one and a half, in line with movielens. What’s important–what’s funny–when you’re twenty isn’t necessarily funny when you’re not. I used to think Mallrats was good, for example.

Henry Fool, which I’m hardly writing about because it’s 2:03 in the morning and I’m tired, does something amazing. It takes one hour and forty-five minutes of one to one and a half star material and then spends twenty-five minutes turning it all into three and a half star material. I’m not aware of a film that becomes so notable so quickly. I really don’t think it’s been done since or before….

Too bad the other Hartley I tried was such a momentous failure. But see Henry Fool. If only for the Parker Posey’s great performance.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written, directed and produced by Hal Hartley; director of photography, Michael Spiller; edited by Steve Hamilton; music by Hartley; production designer, Steve Rosenzweig; released by Sony Pictures Classics.

Starring Thomas Jay Ryan (Henry Fool), James Urbaniak (Simon Grim), Parker Posey (Fay), Maria Porter (Mary), James Saito (Mr. Deng) and Kevin Corrigan (Warren).


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Berlin Correspondent (1942, Eugene Forde)

Fox did the best 1940s propaganda films. Cranked them out, I imagine. I’ve only seen a couple others and then Hitchcock’s awful effort, Saboteur.

Berlin Correspondent might steal its name from Hitchcock’s excellent Foreign Correspondent but that’s about it. Foreign is sort of globetrotting. Berlin is… Berlin-trotting. Dana Andrews is great, as Dana Andrews usually is, and the female lead is decent: Virginia Gilmore. She did very little, but she’s kind of like the Fox-variant of Jane Wyman. Sig Ruman shows up in a funny part and there’s a great Nazi bad guy (Martin Kosleck, a native German who left when the Nazis came into power).

Berlin Correspondent runs almost seventy minutes and is never boring. The film asks the audience to accept a great deal of stupidity, but it’s fine. We invest in the performances and the promise of an amusing diversion. It’s a film that exemplifies the lost genre of a good way to waste some time….

(Though I did have schoolwork to do, so I didn’t actually have any time to waste).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Eugene Forde; written by Jack Andrews and Steve Fisher; director of photography, Virgil Miller; edited by Fred Allen; music by David Buttolph; produced by Bryan Foy; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Virginia Gilmore (Karen Hauen), Dana Andrews (Bill Roberts), Mona Maris (Carla), Martin Kosleck (Captain von Rau), Sig Ruman (Dr. Dietrich), Kurt Katch (Weiner) and Erwin Kalser (Mr. Hauen).


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