Celebrating Great Films

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The African Queen

The African Queen#136 at time of writing.

This film starts off slow, and shows its age, but give it twenty minutes and you're strangely hooked. The bulk of the story is taken up with the witty banter between Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart's characters while they meander down an African river to avoid - and then pursue - German soldiers during World War I.

There are many wonderful exchanges while Rose Sayer, the high-minded missionary, is brought gently down to earth by Charlie Allnut, the gin-swilling water-rat. A fine balance is achieved between comedy, realism and romance. This role deservedly won Humphrey Bogart the only Oscar of his career.

Behind the scenes, to show her disgust with the amount of alcohol that John Huston (the director) and Humphrey Bogart consumed during filming on location in the Congo, Katharine Hepburn drank only water. As a result, she suffered a severe bout of dysentery.

Duck Soup

Duck Soup#147 at time of writing.

Wow, I've never seen so many cringeworthy jokes reeled off without taking a breath. The whole film is one long stream-of-consciousness comedy routine from the Marx Brothers, particularly Groucho, with a vague bit of film weaved around it. By the time you get around to laughing at one joke, you've already missed five more.

Yes, this is not a serious film. The man has grease paint for a moustache for goodness' sake. The action moves from set piece to set piece without worrying too much about gelling it all together, delivering so many hideous puns and ridiculous slapstick that it is probably illegal in Utah.

There's no reason I can fathom for this film being called "Duck Soup". One rumour has it that Groucho Marx offered the following explanation: "Take two turkeys, one goose, four cabbages, but no duck, and mix them together. After one taste, you'll duck soup the rest of your life." That rumour fits in perfectly with the film - irreverent, irrelevant and punnier than a punnet of pundits.