In the early 1950s the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, tried something old. Like many another venue for productions of Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Shaw, the Brattle had become a film house in the early 1950s. But it was a film house unlike any other. It had a rear-screen projector, rather than the standard setup that beamed movies on a screen above the audience. And it had owners who believed that the past could be more alluring than the present.In April of 1957, the Brattle screened Casablanca (1942), 15 years after it had come out and 3 months after Bogart died. Kanfer goes on to show how the posthumous cult of Bogie starts at the Brattle and spreads across the country gathering followers along the way. Having seen Casablanca (1942) at the Brattle and having seen The African Queen (1951) , another Bogie film, there too, I think this is pretty darn cool. It makes me love the Brattle more than I do already.
For a whole week, the Brattle showed a restored 35mm print of The African Queen (1951) starring Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart and directed by John Huston. In cases like these, I'm glad I haven't yet devoured all the great classics because I got to experience viewing The African Queen for the first time on the big screen. Not having seen it in its previous condition, I can't tell you how the restored print compares however I can tell you that I saw was strangely beautiful. A Technicolor film showing dirt and grime in all its glory.
The trifecta of Huston-Hepburn-Bogie just works. The director and the two stars were a scrappy trio. Hepburn had an adventurous spirit and her natural mischievousness made her a perfect fit for playing Rose Sayers. Stefan Kanfer says that Hepburn enjoyed hanging around heavy drinkers John Huston and Humphrey Bogart. Perhaps because she was in a long-term, albeit extramarital, relationship with hard drinker Spencer Tracy and knew what to expect. Hepburn didn't drink much on set herself but maybe she should have. She believed in drinking lots of water and ended up getting very sick after ingesting contaminated water. Huston & Bogie staved off the sickness by sticking to the booze. Perhaps Bogie's portrayal of the gin-loving Charlie Allnut was easy peasy for him and perhaps the sober version of Charlie, after Rose throws away all his liquor, required a little more work. It all comes together to make one beautiful picture.
I enjoyed this film very much. I was a bit thrown off by that first scene in the church when all the native Africans are trying to mimic the sounds of an English hymn as Katharine Hepburn and Robert Morley try to sing eloquently over their drones. It did set up the comedy aspect of the movie though. While Rose and Charlie are in a lot of danger, it's a very light-hearted movie. Because there is such a strict focus on those two characters you get plenty of time to understand them, care for them and laugh at their wild antics. While this film was also screened at the Somerville Theatre, I'm glad I watched it at the Brattle, the so-called originating point of the cult of Bogie.