The African Queen (1951)
October 4, 2023 3:39 PM - Subscribe

In WWI East Africa, a gin-swilling Canadian riverboat captain is persuaded by a strait-laced English missionary to undertake a trip up a treacherous river and use his boat to attack a German gunship.

After religious spinster's (Katharine Hepburn) missionary brother is killed in WWI Africa, dissolute steamer captain (Humphrey Bogart) offers her safe passage. She's not satisfied so she persuades him to destroy a German gunboat. The two spend most of their time fighting with each other rather than the Germans. Time alone on the river leads to love.

Pauline Kael: Hepburn has revealed that the picture wasn't going well until Huston came up with the inspiration that she should think of Rosie as Mrs. Roosvelt. After that, Bogart and Hepburn played together with an ease and humor that makes their love affair - the mating of a forbidding, ironclad spinster and a tough, gin-soaked riverboat captain - seem not only inevitable, but perfect. The story, set in central Africa in 1914, is so convincingly acted that you may feel a bit jarred at the end; after the lovers have brought the boat, the African Queen, over dangerous rapids to torpedo a German battleship, Huston seems to stop taking the movie seriously.

Nell Russell: If Bogart's role inAfrican Queen is a sample of the best male acting the films could muster up for 1951, it's a small wonder the motion picture industry is viewing television inroads with a wary eye.

Mr. Bogart in a trench-coat and toting an automatic, his usual film accessories, is one thing. Mr. Bogart, minus his shirt and displaying his considerable lack of he-man muscle, is something else. That unfortunate glimpse of Bogie's torso did appear in one scene. Katie's tendency to show her teeth is so pronounced in the earlier scenes in the picture that one can't help for wonder if the toothies all belong to her.
. . .
This writer always has the feeling of Mr. Bogart acting a part rather than creating a character.

Zita Short: Nothing about The African Queen is radical or different but it does find ways to quietly set itself apart from the rest of the pack. I particularly admired the fact that the actors and screenwriters don’t force Sayer and Allnut to despise one another at the beginning of the film. You can sense the fact that they are not entirely comfortable around one another but, like real human beings, they do make an effort to be polite. Most of the tension simmers under the surface and Sayer dutifully bites back snarky comments when Allnut does something that irritates her. When they finally erupt and start going at each other, it actually makes sense. Rather than seeming like two unnecessarily pugnacious individuals who will take any opportunity to browbeat their enemies, they seem like perfectly pleasant adults who have snapped under harsh conditions. Their banter is more entertaining because it seems to come from a place of genuine hurt and frustration. The script sells us on the idea that these two are resourceful enough to work things out, and this means that we root for them to finally get along

posted by Carillon (8 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Really great example of how simple stories can be moving when told well with solid craft! It's not my favorite Bogart or Hepburn film, but it's very solid and interesting. The humor generally feels to me like it comes from the characters and their situations, and you understand why Hepburn's character wants the mission to be such a success.
posted by Carillon at 3:40 PM on October 4, 2023 [1 favorite]

I just re-watched this after seeing it thirty years ago. I still loved it, but the pacing may throw off modern audiences.

But definitely checkout "The Making of the African Queen: Or How I Went to Africa With Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind" by Hepburn. I think it's better than the movie.
posted by Marky at 9:17 PM on October 4, 2023 [1 favorite]

"Mr. Bogart" and "Katie?" Boo, Mr. Long Forgotten 50s Reviewer, boo.
posted by praemunire at 9:36 PM on October 4, 2023 [4 favorites]

That's somewhat on my quoting as she does call him Bogey before that in her review.
posted by Carillon at 10:37 PM on October 4, 2023

Fun fact!
Some of this film was filmed on the island in the Thames where I used to live.
There is a persistent (but almost certainly false) theory that the colonies of ring-necked parakeets in west london are descended from birds released during this filming.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 4:28 AM on October 5, 2023 [2 favorites]

I've always had a soft spot for this film, as it was the first "classic Hollywood film" I remember ever seeing. When I was about eight, a church near where I grew up started having a "summer classic movies" night every other week or so, and for some reason Mom dragged me along to see this. It was just fun.

Now that I'm a bit older I do raise an eyebrow at how easily Rose and Charlie fall for each other, but not so much that I can't just brush it off with "oh, but it's just fun, who cares". ....I have a slightly harder time shaking the idea that Humphrey Bogart is playing a character named "Mister Walnut", which is what I thought they were saying when I was a kid.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:56 AM on October 5, 2023 [2 favorites]

I always found it funny they made Bogart's character Canadian. In the book, he's Cockney and I believe they changed that because as good as Bogart was he wasn't great at accents. But I guess Bogart's New York accent sounded enough like Canadian? Making him from the US would bring in more complicated baggage to the story? The film has great photography by the great Jack Cardiff (probably best known for his work with Powell - Pressburger but he also worked a lot in genre films such as Conan the Destroyer).
posted by Ashwagandha at 8:58 AM on October 5, 2023 [1 favorite]

The thing that gets me on re-watching after all these years is how broken Rose is when she hears her feverish, dying brother admit that he never really wanted her along in Africa. She was his responsibility, so she had to tag along when he failed his studies and volunteered as a missionary by default.
"Not comely among the maidens, but she, too, can be a servant in the house of the Lord. Even for such as she, God has a goodly purpose." The Reverend Samuel Sayer

So with nowhere to go and nothing to show for the years as her brother's assistant, it's no surprise that tackling the German army has such appeal for Rose.
posted by TrishaU at 12:34 AM on October 9, 2023 [1 favorite]

« Older The Great British Bake Off: Bi...   |  All Elite Wrestling: Dynamite:... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments