Film Review: The African Queen (1951)

Release Date: December 26th, 1951 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: John Huston
Written by: John Huston, James Agee, Peter Viertel, John Collier
Based on: The African Queen by C. S. Forester
Music by: Allan Gray
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley

Romulus Films, Horizon Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“By the authority vested in me by Kaiser William the Second I pronounce you man and wife. Proceed with the execution.” – Captain of Louisa

Seeing two absolute legends like Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn come together in a motion picture is a pretty special occasion, if handled and managed correctly. Being that this was directed by another legend, John Huston, the task was achieved and what we got was one hell of a film.

This is a mix of really emotional drama, romance, war and adventure.

It’s a great mix and it’s executed exceptionally well with the bulk of the film relying on the performances of just two characters, stuck together, traveling down a perilous river, against impossible odds and two personalities that clash quite often.

However, with both characters being strong people and having to rely on each other, they bond. In fact, they fall in love. And while this is a story that’s probably been done to death by now, Bogart and Hepburn did it better than any other onscreen duo that I have ever seen. It’s this bond, above all the other great things, that makes this picture so damn good.

But speaking of the other great things, I thought that all the other actors were good as well. I especially liked Robert Morley in this. He was mostly a portly, often times comedic, British character actor. However, he brought some real gravitas to his role, here. Even though I’ve seen this movie at least a half dozen times, I’m still saddened by his death early on in the picture. Although, without it, the real story doesn’t start.

Additionally, Huston’s direction is perfection. He took the great script and really massaged it into something greater than a less capable director would’ve been able to do. He also pulled out great performances from everyone. Granted, when you have Bogart and Hepburn at your disposal, that might not be too hard.

I love that this was actually filmed in Africa. It gave the movie a real authenticity that it otherwise wouldn’t have had if it was primarily shot in a studio or somewhere like central Florida, which was used as a stand-in for lots of jungle/swamp pictures.

Allan Gray’s score is pretty iconic but it stands strong on its own despite being forever linked with this classic picture.

I only have one real gripe about the movie and that’s the ending. To be clear, I definitely wanted the two main characters to survive and live a happy life together. However, I thought that the way they were saved from their execution was way too convenient, even for 1950s Hollywood. Still, I’m pretty okay with it because these characters should definitely not have had a tragic ending.

For this type of movie, there really aren’t any greater than The African Queen. I’ve seen dozens, if not hundreds, of romantic adventure movies. Unfortunately, for those others, this one takes the cake and probably always will considering how shit the film industry has become.

Rating: 9.75/10

Film Review: The Old Dark House (1963)

Release Date: October 30th, 1963
Directed by: William Castle
Written by: Robert Dillon
Based on: Benighted by J. B. Priestley
Music by: Benjamin Frankel
Cast: Tom Poston, Robert Morley, Janette Scott, Joyce Grenfell

William Castle Productions, Hammer Films, 86 Minutes, 77 Minutes (original cinema cut)

Review:

“You see, it’s an old house. Old and dark.” – Potiphar Femm

William Castle has had many of his films remade in more modern times. But this film of his is actually a remake of an older film from 1932 that starred Boris Karloff.

This is also a really interesting production, as it was made by a legendary American horror director and the British horror studio powerhouse, Hammer. Also, the film is in color, which may be normal for Hammer but it isn’t for Castle.

Like Castle’s other movies, this one mixes comedy into the horror story. I feel like this is the most comedic of his films, though, as it really hams it up and also doesn’t deliver as many scares as The House On Haunted Hill, 13 Ghosts or The Tingler.

This film also didn’t rely on elaborate gimmicks hidden throughout the theater in an effort to create a more “virtual” viewing experience.

With all these differences between this and Castle’s previous pictures, his quality and creativity still flourished. The finished product is a whimsical and amusing movie with a likable cast and a simple but entertaining plot.

I mostly know Tom Poston from seeing him on the ’80s sitcom Newhart when I was a kid. But he was also on a lot of other shows and worked the celebrity game show circuit constantly. The guy was always on my TV but I can’t recall seeing him in an actual motion picture other than this.

Poston has stellar comedic timing, though, and it’s on full display here, as he carries the picture on his shoulders and is in every scene because he’s sort of the audience’s eyes and ears in this weird, haunted house with the crazy family that lives there.

The rest of the cast is very good too, though. I liked the love triangle story between Poston and the two females leads.

Additionally, this has Robert Morley in it and I’ve liked him ever since I first discovered him in Theatre of Blood alongside Vincent Price.

This 1963 version of The Old Dark House is just a great, goofy popcorn movie that’s horror themed but light on scares and heavy on hilarity.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other William Castle pictures, as well as Hammer films from the ’50s through the ’70s.

Film Review: Theatre of Blood (1973)

Also known as: Much Ado About Murder (working title)
Release Date: March 16th, 1973 (Toronto premiere)
Directed by: Douglas Hickox
Written by: Anthony Greville-Bell, Stanley Mann, John Kohn
Music by: Michael J. Lewis
Cast: Vincent Price, Diana Rigg, Ian Hendry, Robert Morley, Madeline Smith

Harbour Productions Limited, Cineman Productions, United Artists, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Where could my doggies have got to?” – Meredith Merridew, “Why, there they are both, baked in that pie. Whereof their mother daintily hath fed, eating the flesh that she herself hath bred.” – Edward Lionheart

This is one of my favorite Vincent Price films and I guess it’s odd that I haven’t reviewed it yet, which means I haven’t watched it in nearly half of a decade or possibly longer.

Every time I watch this, however, I’m reminded as to just how good it is and how great he was in it. This is a movie that really showcases Price’s range, as he plays an actor in the film and thus, takes on several different personas, as he’s a serial killer that commits murders based off of different plays he was featured in.

The story has a very similar structure and style to the Dr. Phibes movies while also being kind of like Madhouse, another film where he plays an actor. It’s almost like a weird merger of the two but still pretty original and neat to watch play out onscreen.

Price’s Lionheart was a once great actor that has been besmirched by his critics and has had his life ruined because of it. He’s thought to be dead but the truth is, he’s just gone mad and has a legion of homeless derelicts willing to help him carry out his revenge plot. He also has an unusual assistant that has an interesting twist once the film reaches its climax.

The movie is really creative in how each murder plays out. Like Dr. Phibes, each of his victims is faced with some sort of elaborate, gimmicky fate. It’s very much the same but the general theme of the revenge kills is different.

Price really gave this film his all and ups the ante quite a lot. Most importantly, it appears as if he was really enjoying making this movie because he hams it up with gusto but then delivers his more serious lines with a cold boldness.

I also really enjoy Diana Rigg in this and she really helps to carry the film even though Price doesn’t need any help. It’s just kind of cool seeing these two immensely talented people putting in such very strong but very different performances.

Theatre of Blood is just a really good movie, especially for those who adore Vincent Price. But I also think it’s one of the films that can serve as a gateway to the guy’s work for those young pups who might not be as familiar with him.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other horror films starring Vincent Price, especially Madhouse and the two Dr. Phibes movies.

Film Review: Beat the Devil (1953)

Release Date: November 24th, 1953 (London premiere)
Directed by: John Huston
Written by: John Huston, Truman Capote
Based on: Beat the Devil by James Helvick
Music by: Franco Mannino
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Peter Lorre, Robert Morley, Bernard Lee, Peter Sellers (voice, uncredited)

Romulus Films, Dear Film, Santana Pictures Corporation, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Time. Time. What is time? Swiss manufacture it. French hoard it. Italians squander it. Americans say it is money. Hindus say it does not exist. Do you know what I say? I say time is a crook.” – O’Hara

I decided to check out Beat the Devil because a description I read for it referred to it as John Huston’s parody of his own movie The Maltese Falcon. Since this also starred Humphrey Bogart, I was intrigued to see what exactly that description meant.

Well, that description was terrible, as this isn’t a parody of one specific film, it is actually a crime comedy with adventure and romance thrown in. And while that description was bullshit, the movie is not. It was mostly amusing and fun.

Overall, it didn’t quite hit the mark for me but it wasn’t dull and it was cool seeing Bogart ham it up a bit with Robert Morley and Peter Lorre, along with Jennifer Jones and Gina Lollobrigida.

The story is actually about an ensemble of people stranded in Italy while trying to get to Africa. All of them are shifty types that are trying to lay claim to a property that is believed to be rich in uranium. So it’s definitely not a straight parody of The Maltese Falcon, other than it has the same director, two of the same stars and has some criminal scheming and twists.

In the end, I was disappointed by this being very different than how it was sold to me. It was still refreshing and kind of unique. I liked the camerawork, the on location shooting and how this felt like you were in a genuine space with these actors, whom are usually surrounded by lavish, indoor sets on big budget sound stages.

Beat the Devil wasn’t a waste of time and it’s kind of charming.

Side note: Bogart got into a car accident during production and lost some teeth; so he had a hard time speaking. Therefore, up and coming actor, Peter Sellers, was brought in to record dubbed dialogue for Bogart while he was having trouble adjusting to his lack of canines.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Humphrey Bogart films of the time, most notably his film-noir work.