The African Queen may have earned Humphrey Bogart his only Oscar for Best Actor but this adventure film is one of the best films ever made.
Bogart teams up with Katharine Hepburn in the adaptation of C.S. Forester’s 1935 novel. After celebrating Summer Under The Stars in August, TCM is devoting Thursday nights September to Bogie. In another universe, it’s possible that George Raft would have done High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon for John Huston and Bogie’s career would be different. We’ll never truly know what could have been! Both films proved to be game-changers for the actor and the rest is history. Without the latter, Bogie doesn’t star opposite Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, one of the greatest films ever made in cinematic history.
Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn) and Samuel Sayer (Robert Morley) are both British missionaries in the village of Kungdu in German East Africa. It’s probably not the best time to be British and in German territory especially since World War I just started between the two countries. In fact, African Queen mechanic Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) comes to warn them about the war starting. You’d think they would leave, right? They stay put and Samuel pays for this decision with his life after the Germans destroy the village. Charlie and Rose bury him before leaving on his steamboat.
Königin Luise is a German gunboat that patrols the lake downriver. British plans for attack are on hold until something happens with the boat. Rose comes up with the idea to turn Charlie’s boat into one that could launch a torpedo and sink the gunboat. It’s a bold and risky idea but it just might do the job. However, Charlie needs to be persuaded before ultimately agreeing with Rose.
The hardest part of the journey is navigating the river’s rapids. Rose enjoys it so much that she wants to do it again! Lucky for her, there are more sets of rapids. Unfortunately, too many of them will do major damage to the boat. In fact, they get stuck in the mud while trying to evade the Germans. They accept their fate with the belief that they’ll die. The weather has other things in mind because a heavy storm lifts their boat out of the mud and onto the lake. After this reprieve, they start making plans for their attack in a few days. Unfortunately for them, another storm heads their way. Separated and later reunited on the German boat, it’s a matter of getting their story straight. But will it be enough to save their lives?
It was rare for a Technicolor film to shoot on location in Africa at the time, what with the equipment and all. Ultimately, filming in Congo and Uganda helps to give the film an authentic feeling although they mix up the studio and rapid footage for safety purposes. Even at this, they shot some of the rapid footage while utilizing miniature models in the studio tank. With stars of their stature, there was no way that the studio would let them in the rapids.
They do make changes in the adaptation. For one, Bogart’s Charlie is now a Canadian. He wasn’t about to attempt the Cockney accent. It’s for the best as the performance earned him his only Oscar win. The other thing is the portrayal of the Germans. A lot happened between the novel’s publication in 1935 and the film’s production in the early 1950s. Because of this, the Germans sentence both Charlie and Rose to death in the film rather than release them outright.
Fun fact: The African Queen would later inspire the Jungle Cruise attraction at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. The attraction would later inspire the film starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt. It’s been some time since watching the Disney film but they both make for a nice double feature. I meant to watch this one a while back for its 70th anniversary but never could fit it in with my schedule.
The African Queen is one of the greatest films ever made and remains a one of the gold standards for the adventure genre.
DIRECTOR: John Huston
SCREENWRITERS: James Agee & John Huston
CAST: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, with Robert Morley and Peter Bull, Theodore Bikel, Walter Gotell, Peter Swanwick, Richard Marner
United Artists released The African Queen in theaters on December 26, 1951. Grade: 4.5/5
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