Rosie Sayers and Charlie Allnut

Rosie Sayers and Charlie Allnut Solve the World’s Problems

These turbulent times. The tinder box globe ignites first here then there, unsteady calm is interrupted by flame throwers, pirates ride in high seas and parliaments, and all populations are furious at government swanking. There really isn’t any good new rock and roll, either.

So I ask myself what I’m missing when I look around. And find a general void of human challenge and ingenuity. A fist shaking at the impossible. Love and adventure being commonplace, flaming every heart.   Scott Carpenter, one of our first astronauts, hardly got a mention when he left us yesterday. A media populated by 30 year olds have no idea what bold adventure means. It is NOT the ‘Likes’ you got on Tuesday.

So I turned to The African Queen.

Katherine Hepburn is far from her most beautiful. She is arch and forbidding. She makes her character push you away. Humphrey Bogart plays a sack of a wasted ruffian whose shoulders are narrow, loose sailor’s pants sag on a flat, unmuscled behind, and he is more innocent Popeye than Casablanca’s smooth Rick. Neither star glistens with massage oils, hints of personal trainer’s biceps, perfect do’s, or sexy wardrobe. Yet they are riveting. You want to be with them. You want to know them. You want to bring them home. You love them.

Hollywood, once, long ago and far away, reflected the world it served, showed us simple heroism in daily gestures of bright good will that altered the course of every life for the better. Evil was recognized, responded to, battled. The enemies of decency were defeated. People with their hearts racing for more and more headed down wild waters without helmets. And that’s why Rosie Sayers and Charlie Allnut are such a thrill to watch because they were us, all we are, all we can be. 

I have a lot of favorite parts of  The African Queen.

The overall delight of watching two people literally transfigured by the actions they take is the real joy for me. It brings out the best in them. This very unlikely pair sure produce the best in each other. That’s what living a life and falling in love can do. Superb script by James Agee who knew a thing or two about living dangerously and getting drunk. And so did John Huston who directed it, from CS Forester’s novel.

Charlie Allnut has been tasked to rise above his usual getting-by nature (“Nature, Mr Allnut (replies Rosie) is what we are put on earth to overcome.”) and has gotten stinking drunk in response.

Charlie is just a happy boater in a lavish laze on his seaworthy African Queen stocked with cases of gin and thousands of cigarettes and an engine he knows and adores.

Rosie gets the idea to turn his boat into a sailing torpedo aimed at the enemy German battleship, The Louisa. It’s the right thing to do for their country in its time of need, the start of WW I. No matter that it takes the improbable shore-hugging craft down uncharted waters of ridiculously dangerous rapids headed for the enemy out there somewhere into the open seas. And oh, Charlie…. you have to invent the torpedoes from what’s on board and what the jungle has to offer, come on, you can do it. So he does. Charlie and Rosie have no advisers. Zero contact with the outside world.  No news of advancing or retreating armies. No looking for help from anyone. Only complete isolation and knowing what’s maybe possible if they live that long.

Charlie’s drunken song is one of the best parts of the movie for me. They also sing it when they’re afloat after The Louisa gets hit by the leisurely African Queen’s torpedoes find their mark, blowing the pair back to freedom moments before they’re hung by the German Navy that captured them. I don’t know who wrote the lyrics but they’re too too divine, impossibly dopey, and brilliant.  The African Queen is a true reality show. There are people out there doing heroic things who stand alone.  We’ve got us a better world than the dolled up fiction we get fed. Just wanted to remind us.

Something like “There was a bold fisherman went out to catch the piggy and it was a highly interesting song that he sang: Twinkie deedle dum Twinkie deedle dee….”

Oh, here’s the original tune sung by Bogie. You’ll love this.

(And a great website, Bogart Tributes, with more of same)

If you get the chance to read the original screenplay by James Agee, it is purely exquisite prose like most things that flowed from his pen. Apparently a huge challenge to the director, who, you can tell by comparing, did not follow all of Agee’s elegant detail. Hepburn wrote a book called something like How I Survived Making The African Queen. She says it was one hell of a rough go. Thanks, all of you. Nice job.


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