Three for the Price of One

December 11, 2009

I watched the film The African Queen for the first time yesterday, and very enjoyable it was too.

Now, alongside Robots and Accordions, this blog celebrates good writing, and the screenplay had that in abundance.  I was particularly taken by a scene near the beginning of the film where Katherine Hepburn’s character kneels at the bedside of her brother.  He’s going mad, having just seen the Germans destroy the village where he works as a missionary, and he is reliving his past life.  Whilst his sister listens, he talks about how he must pass his exams tomorrow in order to become successful in life.  If he doesn’t pass, he resolves to become a missionary and in that way perform the Lord’s work.  He decides, that being the case, he will take his sister with him, wherever he is sent.

There’s a really nice example of the writer’s craft in the above scene:  many different bits of information being conveyed by one monologue.  First, there is the brother’s madness, which is distressing for his sister and the viewer.  Second, we get see a little of the brother’s back story.  And thirdly, there is the look of hurt on Katherine Hepburn’s face when her brother describes her as ‘not a comely woman’.  All that emotion conveyed in a couple of sentences.

I love this sort of economical writing, I’d rather see it than overblown prose any day. Three for the price of one.