An oldie but a goodie, 3.5 readers.
In WW1 era Africa, British Methodist missionaries/brother and sister Sam and Rose Sayer (Robert Morley and Katherine Hepburn) run a religious village in Kungdu. Alas, fighting breaks out between the Germans and British and then Germans will have nothing English in the region they control, so they burn the settlement down.
Sam dies from the shock of it all, leaving Rose with no one to depend on other than Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart), a gruff, gin soaked riverboat captain who occasionally stops by to deliver the settlement’s supplies.
Charlie agrees to deliver Rose to safety on his junky boat, the African Queen. The two are the original odd couple. Charlie swigs booze and uses coarse language, much to the dismay of prim and proper, super religious Rose.
At first, the two hate each other. Charlie looks at Rose as a pampered woman who wants to boss him around and make stupid moves that could get them killed, that she’s basically always been cared for and could never fend for herself so she should pipe down and let hnm be in charge.
Rose looks at Charlie like he’s a shaved baboon, that he can’t stop swigging gin for two seconds and he’s probably a pervert who wants her lady parts even though she’s covered in like twenty layers of clothing despite the hot African sun.
By the mid-point of the movie, the duo braves crocodiles, killer bugs, river rapids, murderous Germans and through it all, they start to grow rather fond of each other.
It is here where the film excels. If the African Queen were to be remade today, there would probably be a five minute softcore scene where Channing Tatum bends Margot Robbie over a railing and has his way with her.
Here, we see Charlie and Rose kiss and then cut to the morning. Maybe they humped. Maybe they didn’t. Honestly, given that it is a 1951 movie about 1914, they probably didn’t hump. The kissing was enough for two people who just met in those days.
The film’s greatness as a love story comes through the fact that they portray love through, whodjthunkit, actual displays of love rather than banging scenes.
Charlie and Rose hated each other. Now they dote upon one another. They call each other “sweetheart” and “darling.” Charlie learns that Rose likes tea so he never lets her cup go empty. Rose learns to trust Charlie more and doesn’t assume that everything he does is a rouse to get under her twenty layers of clothing.
They work together to get the African Queen downriver. They fight over who should do a dangerous duty, each demanding to risk their lives to spare the other, ultimately deciding to do it together when neither will back down.
It all culminates in a strangely touching scene when they are captured by Germans. Sentenced to hang, they make one last request, that the German captain marry them. They seem very happy in this instant, despite the fact that certain death is imminent.
I won’t spoil what happens next. However, I think this film does more to display true love than what we see today, both on screen and perhaps even in our own relationships.
True, sex is the ultimate comfort. It is the best experience that a human body can feel. On screen, we like to see good looking people bone so we can imagine being one of them. Off screen, we look for partners who arouse us.
But it’s the times between sex that determine whether or not a relationship will last. Do you call your other a pet name reserved only for him/her? Do you hold their hand? Tell them you love them? Talk about the life you want to build together? Get them a cup of tea and feel it is a blessing you have someone to get a cup of tea for rather than be made someone is making you get them a cup of tea?
These are all signs of long lasting love. In 1951, the director of this film wasn’t able to show you that Charlie and Rose were in love by having them bone. So instead, they showed all the things we all wish we had in a partner. Ultimately, it all boils down to unconditional love, displayed through affection that is offered freely and never has to be asked for.
Because of this, I can picture Charlie and Rose moving away after their adventure and settling down together. Meanwhile, all of these couples who meet and instantly bang in the throws of passion probably only last until they find someone else to bang.
Somehow, we all lost sight of what day to day love is. Too much sex. Not enough love.