by Judy Geater
There’s no mistaking the fact that ‘The African Queen’ was made on location – with all its breathtaking scenery, shot by Jack Cardiff in the most vivid Technicolor. I was lucky enough to see John Huston’s great film on the big screen when it was rereleased a few years ago, which was a memorable experience. And yet, how merciless the baking sun and bright colours are to the faces of the ageing Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart.
According to the featurette included on the UK Blu-ray, Bogart asked Cardiff not to do anything to make him look good, saying he had “worked to get this face”. Hepburn never looks remotely glamorous either, and is so painfully thin that you flinch when at one point Bogart sneers: “You skinny old maid”.
They’re not at all the sort of couple who would normally take centre stage in a major Hollywood romance, and you can see why studios were nervous. Or can you? Looking at it now, the sheer pace of the adventure seems as if it would always have guaranteed the film’s success. One threat and action sequence segues into another, as they shoot down the rapids or battle a plague of insects or leeches, showing the way forward to the non-stop blockbuster films of subsequent decades.