Monday, July 11, 2011

The African Queen (1951)

Seen: At the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, restored 35mm print.

Hepburn and Bogie: The Dynamic Duo! Set in 1914 and based on the book by CS Forester, John Huston's The African Queen is an exciting trip down the Ulanga river filled with thrills, romance, near-death experiences, British patriotism, and healthy dosages of tea. When German soldiers ransack the East African village where Rose (Katherine Hepburn) and her brother Reverend Sayer (Robert Morley) are preaching the "Good Word", Rose escapes with raffish boat captain Charlie (Humphrey Bogart), whose supply boat The African Queen is carrying explosives and food. Rose plots to take revenge against the Germans by crafting torpedoes out of items on the boat and ramming it into the Louisa, a massive German battleship stationed on the lake where the river ends. Charlie reluctantly agrees to her plan, and the two share a dangerous and eye-opening adventure down the river.

Packed with beautiful scenery, fantastic performances, and one very thick-skinned boat, The African Queen is a joy to watch for most of its running time. Hepburn is ballsy and a bit self-righteous, Bogart is rough and adorably talkative. Most of the story focuses solely on them, and they are more than capable of carrying the film with charisma to spare. The other star is the Queen itself, a 30ft-long steamboat with enough quirks and bottles of gin to make it downstream in one piece. The script is primarily dramatic, but laced with cute comedic moments and sarcastic zingers, and plenty of adventurous action. Also: monkeys!

What keeps me from all-out loving the film is its tendency to feel too dated sometimes. The jungle photography is beautiful, though sometimes bordering on a 50's nature documentary, and several of the most thrilling moments are set against that old-timey moving screen background effect, which of course takes away from the realism they'd achieved with most of the on-location shooting. Some of the humor is a little hokey, as well. And the early scenes with the East African tribe trying to learn Christianity are a little strange.

These are of course minor complaints, as overall The African Queen is fantastic!


Pair This Movie With: It may well put you in the mood for a people-falling-in-love-over-a-road-trip movie, which I do enjoy. It Happened One Night started it, The Sure Thing continued it. Many others fit this category.

Further Reading: Check out Raquelle's post about the film- she saw it at the Brattle as well! It's got photos!


  1. The early scenes with the tribe are indeed weird, but they make me laugh uproariously. Love Kate and Bogie in this, and I appreciate it even more because Kate almost died shooting it. Everyone got sick with dysentery and other diseases except for Bogey and Ford...because they weren't drinking water, just rum.

  2. Hard to believe this was Bogie's only Oscar win. This should've been his second after 'Casablanca,' but then, given that he beat Brando in 'Streetcar,' maybe this was the apology Oscar.

  3. Andrew: I know it's crazy they could even finish shooting this movie! I do love that Huston and Bogart only drank alcohol the whole time.

    Rich: Ah I know I hadn't realized he'd never won an Oscar for anything else until I saw this. It's surprising but I guess a lot of people whose talent is easily recognized now aren't always rewarded during their time. Didn't Hitchcock never win anything?

  4. It's been a very long time since I've seen this and I've just rediscovered a book about the making of the movie which a guy I knew from my old record store hangout gave to me along with other books.

  5. I still need to see this. Off to Netflix I go...