The African Queen
Release year: 1951
Director: John Huston
Writers: James Agee, John Huston, John Collier, Peter Viertel, C.S. Forester (novel)
Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Robert Morley, Peter Bull, Theodore Bikel, Walter Gotell
Ratings: 1 Oscar: Best Actor (Humphrey Bogart). 3 Oscar nominations: Best Actress (Katharine Hepburn), Best Director, Best Screenplay.
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #44, week 15 2015
When WWI brings German soldiers to the village where Rosie (Katharine Hepburn) and her brother (Robert Morley) are doing missionary work Rose needs to get away to safety. The only way is by travelling with ‘The African Queen’ whose captain is the ungodly Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) who is a bit too fond of his gin in Rose’s opinion. But the cold feelings between the two opposites slowly change to warmer feelings as they embark on a dangerous journey down the river.
The part that earned Humphrey Bogart (Casablanca, 1942) his only Oscar is also one of his warmer characters showing more smiles than his usual hard-boiled types. Whether this contributed to his victory is doubtful, as the performance he delivers is one of a person who goes through not only a transformation from hopeless to hopeful, but also through despair, fear and joy; a performance that is a pure pleasure to watch and which is matched by his leading lady, the magnificent Katharine Hepburn (Bringing Up Baby, 1938). Her Rosie is a character who closely resembles Hepburn herself: head strong, independent and with a strong personality. When we first meet the two leads their differences could not be more obvious from the relaxed Alnutt sipping gin reclining on his boat to Rose pedalling the organ like her life or the souls of the listerners depends on it. Though Alnutt clearly does his best to behave around her, her disgust is obvious making it clear how desperate she must be to accept his help and company. The change in their relationship is directed with a subtle hand by Huston (The Misfits, 1961), who often worked with Bogart, and the development of their feelings is convincing and feels real. One can only imagine how difficult filming on location in Africa at that time was, but the movie looks beautiful with one stunning shot after another and it is imaginable that some of the excitement and strain protrayed by the characters are only enhanced from the experiences they must have endured during filming. Though it starts and ends as a war movie, a long middle part is dedicated to the tender story of Rosie and Charlie and even when that story moves slowly at times, it is never boring but sweet and touching. In the end the Germans, the war and the climax becomes less important than what you witness on board ‘The African Queen’. A beautiful, gripping and tender love story told in unusual surroundings.
Katharine Hepburn was disgusted with the amount of alcohol John Huston and Humphrey Bogart drank during the time in Africa and drank only water herself. Bogart has later said: ‘All I ate was baked beans, canned asparagus, and Scotch whisky. Whenever a fly bit Huston or me, it dropped dead.’ Hepburn suffered from a severe bout of dysentery.
The African Queen sank and had to be raised twice during filming the movie. Lauren Bacall who accompanied her husband on set is quoted as saying: ‘The natives had been told to watch it and they did. They watched it sink.’
The African Queen was actually the L.S. Livingston, which has been a working steamboat for 40 years. It is now docked next to the Holiday Inn in Key Largo, Florida, just off US Highway 1.
Picture copyright: UIP