Richard Lutz dips into the week’s tv schedules and points to the best movie on your flatscreen.
The African Queen (Wed, Ch4, 13.05) is almost as famous for its behind-the-camera stories as its on-screen final cut.
Stars Humphrey Bogart, Katherine Hepburn and director John Huston took off for Stanleyville in The Belgian Congo in 1950 to shoot the classic movie along with Bogart’s young wife Lauren Bacall along for the ride.
Everyone took care of their health and carefully downed all their medicines in their river camp while they filmed. Bogart and Huston drank constantly and the pair say the Scotch was the only reason the whole crew got sick- except them.
Hepburn only drank water and was continually ill with dysentery. She had to have a bucket just off screen to attend to her continual needs.
But she was professional enough to persevere in this film that had a riverboat captain called Charlie Allnut (Bogart) ferry prim missonary Rose Sayers (Hepburn) upriver in WWI Africa.
Not only was Hepburn a trooper but wise enough, despite her illness, to take advice. Huston didn’t like her initial martinet performance and one night (possibly after a tincture or two) told the star to copy Eleanor Roosevelt. ‘It was the best advice I ever received.’ she confided in her autobiography.
The result is a lovely film, based on a CS Forester novel, about two lonely souls who learn to love and care for each other as they doggedly win over every obstacle that 1950’s Hollywood can throw at them: storms, rapids, leeches, getting lost in reed beds (actually shot in Turkey) near drowning (in a movie studio water tank) and killer insects (filmed on a plate glass super imposted over the footage).
Co star Robert Morley, playing Hepburn’s brother, wisely eschewed the offer to travel upriver in Africa for the shoot. He had all his scenes filmed in London. Needless to say, he didn’t get sick either.
Hollywood dickered with other stars to play the roles: David Niven, Charles Laughton and John Mills were almost picked for the role of Allnut. Bette Davis and Elsa Lanchester were rumoured to be in the mix for the Hepburn turn.
But Bogart thankfully got the contract and received his only Oscar for this movie which shows him older, more vulnerable and quietly funnier than his usual hardman roles. He was fifty when it was completed. Hepburn puts in a star turn, now iconic, as the stern God fearing spinster who warms, slowly, to the hard bitten but loveable riverboat boss. It’s a memorable, old fashioned, good humoured adventure movie. But never tired nor out of date.
Screengrab takes a break and will return before Christmas