Sunday, July 22, 2012

Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen

Katharine Hepburn received her fifth Oscar nomination after a nine-year gap for playing Rose Sayer, a missionary's sister who falls for Humphrey Bogart's Charlie Allnut in John Huston's classic adventure flick, The African Queen. I'm still wondering how much chance of winning Kate had that year. She was a huge star, a previous winner like Vivien Leigh, she even won her Oscar eighteen years before so she might have had her supporters. Actually, Vivien herself thought that Kate would win her Oscar (which says either a lack of confidence or respect with some false modesty on Vivien's side, I guess). In my opinion, Kate was eventually third as I believe Shelley Winters had the edge over her because of her movie. 

Although The African Queen is a lovely movie, I really don't think that much of it or don't consider it that much of a classic. It's entertaining, well-directed, the dialogues are witty, everything works excellently, I just felt that it was a little bit pale for me and I would have loved some more tension in it. Anyway, Humphrey Bogart gives a funny and charismatic performance, giving his usual self, this time in a comedy, but his Oscar win is still ridiculous, especially considering the earth-shattering performances by Marlon Brando and Montgormery Clift. His win was one of the first ones of those career wins that I still cannot really warm up to. 

I cannot really say more about Katharine Hepburn that I haven't already said here on this blog. I really love her as an actress and especially as a personality since I believe that she was the greatest character in Hollywood that ever lived. No kidding here, I strongly believe that they don't make'em like that anymore. I really can't say such an exciting personality like she was (I guess only Bette Davis could get close to her, even back then). Even when I had issues with her performances or more precisely, I wasn't that taken by her, I always enjoyed her work, mostly because of her killer personality. 

But you know, what can you say about her famous spinster period when her killer real personality was much more rarely present on the screen? The African Queen marks the beginning of that fruitful and successful period for Kate, but it also marks the beginning of the performances of Kate by which I seldom get blown away. In her early and later parts, Kate's always present with her let's-cut-the-bullshit character that I so admire and here she's kind, shy, something that I'm not too crazy about. That being said, she's still an excellent actress who's a real thrill to look at every time, isn't she? 

In a way, she isn't as I never really bought Kate as a shy spinster who gets turned on in the end and who goes through significant changes in her life. I always thought that Kate's early scenes in these spinster movies were kind of artificial and I was always a tiny bit turned off as a result. The problem could be that I always expect the grand, confident Kate Hepburn turning up and yet I'm constantly let down. However, in The African things turn out differently (fortunately). I didn't notice a fake movement from Kate. In fact, I felt that she wonderfully disappeared into her character and (even a greater achievement) the always present Kate Hepburn, the star disappeared and she's able to impress not using her brilliant star personality.

In movies like The African Queen where it's mostly about the two main actors, the outcome depends on the chemistry. And although Kate outacts Humphrey Bogart in a blink, the sexual tension between them is just brilliant and you can see that the actors and the director approached it with lots of humor. In a way, they reminded me of the legendary Clark Gable-Claudette Colbert couple from It Happened One Night. Many explain their relationship as a metaphor of the USA over the great colonising countries like England and actually, you can easily justify this by examining Kate's work here. You just cannot overlook the way the very polite and proper English lady gradually surrenders to the charming, common American because she depends on him in order to survive. And the greatest achievement about this is that Kate makes her performance really enjoyable and entertaining even without this background. However, you cannot ignore the fact that her performance is more than just loveable romcom acting.

Kate also handles the comedy wonderfully and her sharp delivery is a real treat (as usual). She naturally uses her charisma a lot during the movie, but I could feel that she was perfectly aware of the fact that this character needed something more than that and in the end, Rose turned out to be a really layered and kind of fascinating character. I ultimately felt a strong connection to Rose and I was really taken by her emotions: and Kate impresses without the desperate need to seem amazing (that's a trap that Kate tended to get stuck in).

My only complaint could be that Kate went a little bit over the top with showing Rose's emotions for Charlie and it was a bit unbelievable that a repressed spinster turns out to behave when in love just like a schoolgirl. Although that might even have been just an ironic acting decision, I'm not sure about that. However, I'm certain that I never really loved Katharine more than I did in this film. I have been more impressed by her, but I've never liked her so much, that's for sure. The movie and her duo with Bogart might have had a lot to do with that, but quite simply, despite my previously mentioned complaint, I fell for her here as she's just irresistable and I tend to be more forgiving in these cases.

All in all, in The African Queen, Katharine Hepburn gives a wonderful, enjoyable performance that really makes her movie an exciting, interesting and memorable experience. She uses all her charm and talent to create a character, which she makes twice as intriguing as you would expect. She fills the role of the spinster with real spirit, which makes her a welcome presence everytime you see her. And her her chemistry with Humphrey Bogart is indeed perfect. 

What do you think? Please check out my other blog to watch my new experiment that I hope you will all enjoy. 


Michael Patison said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Louis Morgan said...

I liked her here well enough, but just well enough.

joe burns said...

I've seen her, but a really long time ago...

I remember her being pretty good!!!

Anonymous said...

Could I have a link to your other blog? I'd really like to check it out!

dinasztie said...

Marc: IT's hope you'll enjoy! :)

Anonymous said...

I found it really interesting and exciting that your reviewing the Emmys...and ironic that McCarthy won the Emmy for your 2 star perf. What did you think of her in Bridesmaids?

dinasztie said...

Marc: I LOVE Melissa in Bridesmaids, she might just be my pick out of the five. I just thought that show Mike & Molly was TERRIBLE and she couldn't do much in it. Of course, she won for Bridesmaids.

Anonymous said...

yeah, to be honest i didnt like her at first but had grown on me immensely by the second viewing. now id probably give her a 4/5. But Octavia is still my favourite of the nominees.

Anonymous said...

I really don't like this performance that much, I feel it was too fake. I love Katharine Hepburn and the film but I feel she couldn't have done a better job and compared to Leigh's performance she doesn't stand a chance.