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Movie Critique - The African Queen

For review of all movies starring Humphrey Bogart, go here.

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: A mixture of comedy, adventure and romance, not limiting to the age factor of the characters, making it a wonderful production. 

The African Queen is a 1951 British-American adventure film starring Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley, Peter Bull, Walter Gotell, Richard Marner and Theodore Bikel. Directed by John Huston, and produced by Sam Spiegel with uncredited support by John Woolf. It is adapted from 1935 novel of the same name by C. S. Forester, distributed by United Artists in USA.

Movie is set in 1914. When Samuel Sayer (portrayed by Robert Morley) is killed by the German colonial troops at the beginning of World War I, mechanic of the steam launch African Queen, Charlie Allnut (portrayed by Humphrey Bogart), gives shelter to Rose Sayer (portayed by Katherine Hepburn), Samuel's sister, aboard his ship. Escaping the German troops, they get tangled in a plot of war and treachery. 

First time I had heard of this film was in the 2009 Unhallowed Ground, eighth book in the Harrison Investigation Series by the paranormal author Heather Graham when I read it in 2018. Graham's characters watch this film in one scene. Finally two years later I got to watch the film.

Screenplay for the film was written by James Agnee and John Huston along with uncredited writing support from John Collier and Peter Viertel. Filmed in technicolor by Jack Cardiff. Production Code mandated several changes in the film that deviate slightly from the book. 

I recently watched another one of Bogart's film directed by John Huston - the 1948 American western adventure The Treasure of Sierra Madre. His direction has only become better since the 3 years that film released. This film however since being filmed at the actual locations - Congo and Uganda in Africa - had caused a lot of cast and crew to fall sick during the shooting.

In fact the filming of the movie also became a dangerous adventure for the cast and crew in reality. The tempers were very short as a result of the natural locations of Africa that the cast and crew had difficulty in adapting to - the heat, the mosquitos, poisonous snakes, murky water, all contributed to the sickness and short tempers of the cast and crew. As of the death of Theodore Bikel on July 21, 2015, all the cast involved in the film have passed away. 

Humphrey Bogart won his first and only Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Charlie Allnut in the film, making him the last man born in the 19th century to win an Oscar as a leading man. He is a gruff and heavy-drinking skipper of the ship, The African Queen, in the film. 

This is Katherine Hepburn's first color film. She loved Africa so much that it shows in every frame in the movie. She is a prim American missionary stuck in a German colony in Africa in the film. In the midst of the dark overcast of the war in the plot line, the banter between Charlie and Rose gives a certain comic relief that if not present would have made this a dreary documentary type film. 

Interestingly enough, in the 1942 American romantic film Casablanca, Bogart's character Rick Blaine talks about how a ship's captain can marry people. And 9 years later his character Allnut gets married to Hepburn's Rose Sayer in this film by a ship captain.

The film was originally planned by RKO in the late 1930s to launch Charles Laughton and his wife Elsa Lanchester but it didn’t work out as the studio was against a middle-aged couple's romance. In 1940s Warner Bros. secured the rights on the book from RKO to have Bette Davis and John Mills in the lead cast which again didn’t pan out.

So when John Huston bought the rights from Warner Bros. in late 1940s, with Bogart and Hepburn agreeing to the roles, all the pieces fell into place in forming this successful venture. Changing the focus from a middle-aged romancing couple to a middle-aged adventure craving couple perhaps cinched it for Huston. At the time of the film, Bogart was 51 and Hepburn 44 - truly middle-aged adventurers.

The opening credits roll out on a view of the jungle through the camera lens with no background music except the sounds of the jungle animals and birds. 

One thing that came across loud and clear was how every country in the world took advantage of Africa and its many tribal people. Very sad how humans can be so cruel to other fellow humans when they don’t understand them or their culture. 

A mixture of comedy, adventure and romance, not limiting to the age factor of the characters, making it a wonderful production. What more do you want in a film that has become a classic! I really hope this is not going to be remade. Watch for two giants of the silver screen giving back a giant of a masterpiece!

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. John and James Woolf of Romulus Films, a British company, partially financed the film. The success of this film made them have John Huston direct another film for them a year later, the 1951 British drama Moulin Rouge.

b. The film was adapted to a one-hour radio presentation by Lux Radio Theater and broadcasted on December 15, 1952 with Humphrey Bogart reprising his role, joined by Greer Garson who played Hepburn's Rose Sayer.

c. Dick Powell Theater also adapted the story for its episode 27 of the first season with James Coburn and Glynis Johns playing the role of Charlie Allnut and Rose Sayer which aired on NBC TV on March 26, 1962.

d. A 1977 TV film of the same name was released with Warren Oates and Mariette Hartley in the lead roles of Allnut and Sayer.

e. The restored African Queen is now on display as a tourist attraction in Key Largo, Florida. 

f. SS Konigin Luise, the name of the German ship in the film was the name of a real German steam ferry.

g. This is the film debut of Theodore Bikel who portrayed the role of the First Officer of the Königin Luise in the film. 

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. Spain is mentioned in the list of countries that were involved in war. But Spain was never at war in the 1910s. 

b. Reverend Sayer's coat is unbuttoned when he and Rose kneel down to pray. But the next scene when they are attending to the African man, his coat is completely buttoned up.

c. When the Reverend is hit by the German soldier with the rifle butt, his face is swollen and bruised. But a little while later his face is smooth with no bruises or swelling. 

d. The position of cigar in Charlie's hands and mouth changes places in subsequent scenes several times.

e. Charlie is seen with his undershirt and long underwear and without them in several subsequent scenes all through the film.

f. When Rose is trying to get into the boat after her bathing it is clear that she is naked. However when Charlie comes to help her we can see that she is wearing long women's underwear. And her clothes are not dripping wet either instead only damp.

g. Charlie uses a black gaffer's tape to mend the hose on the boiler. But these tapes were first made by Johnson & Johnson in 1942. How could they have been available in 1914 when the movie was set in.

h. At one point when Charlie is checking the propeller underwater you can see that Bogart's toupee moves showing the bald head.

i. The smear on Charlie's forehead disappears as soon as he gets up from lying down.

j. Several scenes used body doubles for the cast and in one case voice double too. For instance, instead of Robert Morley as the reverend here you can see a body double tending the burnt gardens; Stunt double or miniatures used in the long-shots when the boat is getting over the first rapids; Charlie's voice while mimicking hippos is not Bogart's.

k. Equipment visible in several scenes - a boom mike seen in the scene of the first evening aboard The African Queen when Rose is having her tea; boom mike visible on Charlie's white cap after repairing the propeller.

l. Crew members of the Konigin Luise throw away stuff from the ship once it gets hit. One of the thing they throw is a cat. Unsure if it was intentional or by mistake.

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