Beat The Devil, and The African Queen
Went jogging again this morning. Didn't do as well as yesterday, probably due to jogging two days in a row. Too much impact on my shins (have I mentioned that I've had shin splint problems - or something very similar to them - in the past?), so I made it about 2/3ds of the way and then had to walk for a little while. On the plus side, my thigh which I pulled on Tuesday is holding up pretty well. It's a little tender when I'm stretching it specifically, but it's fine when I'm jogging.
The centerpiece of the day was going to the Stanford Theatre to see a couple of Humphrey Bogart films. I think the only Bogart films I've seen before are Casablanca (a deservedly classic film) and The Maltese Falcon (a little disappointing; the story seemed rather simplistic, and felt like it was sharply pared down from the book, although I haven't read it).
First up was one of Bogart's last films, Beat the Devil (1954; Bogart died in 1957). Bogart plays Billy Dannreuther, an American who with his wife, Maria (Gina Lollabrigida, hamming it up left and right), has thrown in with Peterson, O'Hara, Major Ross, and Ravello (Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, Ivor Barnard and Marco Tulli, respectively), a quartet of swindlers bent on buying land in Africa which contains huge uranium deposits. While waiting for the boat from Italy to Africa, they meet a British couple, Gwendolyn and Harry Chelm (Jennifer Jones and Edward Underdown), and Billy and Gwen fall in love, while Maria and Harry, well, sorta-kinda fall in love, maybe.
The crux of the plot involves Gwen's penchant for embellishing her and her husband's background sending the swindlers into a panic, leading to stressful situations played for humor. The treat here is the acting, as everyone does a fine job of handling the comedy without being too broad (except perhaps for Lollabrigida, and occasionally Morley, although Morley admittedly has a pretty terrific expression of pure shock). Special mention must be made of Mario Perrone as the ship's purser, whose enthusiastic expressions and lively delivery of some of the film's better lines make him stand out despite a small role. Plotwise, it's not entirely clear for a while who's up to what for a while, where Billy stands with respect to his employers, and where the two "marriage-swapping" couples really stand with respect to one another, which leads to further amusing confusion.
It's overall a fairly amusing film, although the story is essentially pretty trivial and doesn't hang together all that well. A decent way to spent a couple of hours.
A much better film is The African Queen (1951), which features hardly any other characters besides Bogart as Charlie Allnut, captain of the African Queen, a riverboat in west-central Africa in 1914, and Katharine Hepburn as Rose Sayer, sister to a missionary (Robert Morley, again) to whose mission Allnut delivers mail regularly.
When World War I breaks out, German troops sweep through African villages to round up workers and soldiers for their cause. When the Sayers' town is swept, the Reverend soon dies of shock. Charlie and the Queen arrive at the village and pick up Rose, and then go to hide from the Germans. But then Rose has an idea: If they head downstream (past rapids and a German fort) they might be able to turn the Queen into a torpedo to destroy the German ship Louisa guarding the lake near the river's mouth. After some persuasion, Charlie agrees to help, and the film is the story of their trip down the river and developing relationship.
Filmed in color, The African Queen features some utterly beautiful shots of the African wilderness, complete with wildlife. Although not up to present-day standards, the technology used to cut the backgrounds behind the actors is impressive given the era, and the camera work is overall superb.
Bogart and Hepburn are outstanding. Charlie is a rough-and-tumble guy who nonetheless tries to treat ladies as ladies. Rose begins as an upstanding, devout old maid, but turns out not to be a prude and to really enjoy the adventure. She and Charlie complement each other's strengths. Both actors handle these internal contradictions very well, with Bogart perhaps making it look a little easier than Hepburn. And intriguingly, neither actor looks his best in the film: Bogart spends most of the film with a decidedly scruffy look, while Hepburn really looks quite old and conveys extremely different body language from, say, Holiday. The backgrounds are more glamorous than the stars.
The film's plot and script is very solid until the end, when it misses out on a fairly believable ending (which need not have been tragic with just a little work) in favor of something that's basically pretty silly (if romantic).
Overall, though, this is a terrific film and not to be missed!