Each week, this column will cover one film on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American films of all time, covering my thoughts on the film and whether or not I think it belongs on the list. You can also see my personal ranking here. This week’s film is #65 on the list: The African Queen (1951).
Humphrey Bogart was only nominated for three Oscars in his career, which is surprising considering he’s considered an icon of Old Hollywood. But although the Academy didn’t give him the recognition many would argue he deserved—finally awarding him his sole Oscar for The African Queen several years before his death—the American Film Institute places four of his films on their list and ranked him as the greatest male screen legend. The African Queen pairs him with Katharine Hepburn—who ranked #1 on the AFI list of female screen legends—for an adventure across the Ulanga river in an effort to sink a German gunship that threatens British forces during World War I. Though this may sound like the set up for an action adventure, the actual meat of the story involves a budding romance between the leads. In many regards, it feels reminiscent of It Happened One Night, with Hepburn filling Claudette Colbert’s role as the prim and proper woman on an adventure and Bogart serving as the more down-to-earth everyman akin to Gable. Unfortunately, though, the characters are far more one-dimensional and less charismatic, making the romance between the two feel artificial and forced. The actors admirably attempt to sell the emotional connection through body language, but the writing fails the talent involved. Except for some very dated green screen effects during some of the action sequences, it’s a beautiful film to look at, and the light, comedic tone makes it enjoyable for the most part, but the story is a romance at its core, and in that regard, it doesn’t succeed.
Does It Belong on the List?
Definitely not. Bogart and Hepburn both have other much better films represented on the list, and the list might be better served with a more modern romance of an unlikely pairing. My personal vote would be for Buffalo ‘66.