#34) The African Queen (1951)
OR “Crocs & Krauts”
Directed by John Huston
Written by Huston & James Agee. Based on the novel by C.S. Forester.
Class of 1994
The Plot: Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn) is a British missionary with her brother (Robert Morley) in 1914 German East Africa. While delivering mail to them, boat captain Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) reveals that Britain has entered into war with Germany. No sooner does the news get to them that German soldiers arrive and burn their village. Rose escapes with Charlie aboard his boat, the “African Queen” of the title, and starts sailing down the Ulanga River. When they learn of a German gunboat blocking their only way to freedom, Rose hatches a plan to full-on MacGyver the African Queen into a torpedo boat and sink the Luise. Charlie is hesitant at first, but along their journey the two learn to respect and, dare I say, love each other.
Why It Matters: Interestingly, the official NFR entry for this film only gives us the plot and mentions how difficult the on-location shooting in Uganda and the Congo was.
But Does It Really?: I’m calling this one a “minor classic”; not nearly as iconic as some of the cast or crew’s other works, but memorable and enjoyable nonetheless. The film’s major pro is that they actually filmed in Africa, and it looks breathtaking in Technicolor. Bogart and Hepburn are both lovely, and ultimately I found myself caring about what happened to them. While “African Queen” might not rank as high as some other classics, it deserves a place in the Registry. Besides, a trip down the rivers of Africa with two of Hollywood’s greatest is a fun way to spend two hours.
Everybody Gets One: Professional Englishman Robert Morley and future Tevye Theodore Bikel (though I suspect Bikel has a few more up his sleeve++). Interestingly, this is the only film on the Registry for either Bogart or Hepburn to be filmed in color**.
Wow, That’s Dated: Umm…those aren’t flies. Those are animated arrowheads. You did so well faking everything else.
Take a Shot: This is also a good drinking game movie. The African Queen is referenced occasionally, but consistently, throughout the film.
Seriously, Oscars?: The film received only four Oscar nominations; Director, Screenplay, Actor and Actress. Humphrey Bogart won his only Oscar for this film. Hepburn gives the better performance, but Bogie was overdue and is serviceable at playing one of the era’s favorite pieces of Oscar bait; an alcoholic who redeems himself. The film lost in its other categories to fellow NFR entries “A Place in the Sun” and “A Streetcar Named Desire”. “The African Queen” missed out on a Best Picture nomination because the Academy needed to make room for this swords and sandals crap.
- It was during filming in Uganda that John Huston learned that his wife Enrica gave birth to their second child together; a daughter named Anjelica.
- This has got to be one of the rare movies where Hepburn sings. Next stop, Coco!
- It’s a shame the sound guy didn’t get a nomination for making Bogie’s weird stomach noises.
- HE’S CANADIAN!? In what universe is Bogie Canadian?
- I don’t know how I feel about Allan Gray’s score in this film. When they first embark on the river, we get music that’s a little too jaunty for two characters fleeing the Germans. Then in the next scene Rose sees Charlie’s gin bottle and the score gets way too dramatic. What is happening?
- Even when Bogie shaves he has a five o’clock shadow.
- How did neither of them get shot while passing the German fort? There were about 10 guys shooting them down. Where they all former Imperial Stormtroopers?
- Sorry Charlie, gaffer’s tape wasn’t a thing back then.
- And then they embrace and suddenly the film has more innuendo than a Hitchcock picture.
- During the scene where Bogie is imitating the hippos and monkeys, I really wanted them to flash across the screen “Academy Award Winning Performance”.
- I’d like to point out that during filming Bogart was 51 and Hepburn was 44. If you remade it today neither of them would be a day over 25.
- While the ending is a huge deus ex machina, I must admit it is still quite satisfying.
- Unless I missed something, this is one of the rare films set in a jungle that doesn’t include this sound.
- While designing Disneyland, Harper Goff used this film as the main inspiration for Adventureland’s Jungle Cruise attraction. Now if only that ride had a scene where you get shot at by German soldiers.
- Uncredited co-writer Peter Viertel turned his experience on location into the somewhat fictionalized novel “White Hunter Black Heart”. In 1990, the book became a film, starring Clint Eastwood attempting (and failing) to imitate John Huston.
- Katharine Hepburn also wrote a book about filming: “The Making of the African Queen, or: How I Went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind”.
- Hepburn would play essentially the same part 24 years later opposite John Wayne in the “True Grit” sequel “Rooster Cogburn”.
- The film spawned a 1977 TV sequel/potential pilot starring Warren Oates and Mariette Hartley. It’s so obscure I couldn’t even find a clip of it on the internet. All I could find were these promo photos on eBay, one of which had zero bids.
- As for the African Queen herself, the boat used during filming was recently refurbished and is a fully operational tourist attraction in Key Largo, Florida.
** 2017 Update: Ms. Hepburn has one other color film now: “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner“.
++2018 Update: And so he does. Theodore Biel also appears in “My Fair Lady”.