Charlie Allnut

african queen

Atticus Finch generally comes top of American movie heroes when the public is polled. His popularity is due in equal measure to his nice character and the influence of Political Correctness. My guess is that he might soon be overtaken in popularity by the main characters in either 12 Years a Slave or Django Unchained. Then again, if white liberals prefer to see an idealised version of themselves on screen than a black hero, then Atticus Finch may remain on top.

I personally find Atticus a bit dull. He is just too perfect to be interesting. He’s a widower who is successfully bringing up two children while holding down his day job of defending the rights of innocent blacks and poor whites. The only inner turmoil we see in him is when he manages to restrain himself from hitting the drunken man who has just spat in his face. I would have much preferred him to punch his lights out. Atticus is a really nice bloke, but he is just too saintly to be interesting.

In To Kill a Mockingbird all black people are portrayed as peaceful, wise and long-suffering. In its day the movie was probably a good corrective to the jaundiced view that some white people had of blacks. Today however the problem is the opposite one and To Kill a Mockingbird was probably too successful in rehabilitating the image of America’s blacks. Nowadays many white liberals seem incapable of conceiving that a black person could ever commit a crime unless driven to it by oppressive whites.

My own vote for the greatest hero in American film would go to Charlie Allnut, Humphrey Bogart’s character in The African Queen. He is genuinely kind but with all the flaws and weaknesses of a real man. Consequently he is far more interesting than Atticus. And if I had to spend a weekend, a month or a year with either man, I would choose Charlie Allnut any day.

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