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'The African Queen' - Bogart, Hepburn and the Little Boat That Could

Love and Leeches on a Little Boat

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating


Charlie and Rose

The African Queen

(c) Paramount Home Video

The only movie matchup of screen legends Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, The African Queen is a classic adventure movie and a grown-up love story, with a little bit of travelogue and a dollop of wartime propaganda.

Hepburn is a prim spinster with a spine of steel, and Bogart is the unkempt captain of a little supply boat, the African Queen, when World War I reaches the remote villages of colonial Africa. Watching this unlikely pair survive a treacherous river trip, attempt a daring wartime attack and fall into a charming, late-life love affair makes for a splendid movie.

The Plot

Rose Sayer (Hepburn) and her clergyman brother are missionaries along the Ulanga-Bora River in German East Africa in 1914, when war is declared. German soldiers kidnap the village men, burn their thatched huts and drive out the women and children. Her brother dies in shock and despair, his mind gone. Bogart's Charlie Allnut rescues Rose from the ruins in the African Queen, intending to sit out the war somewhere safe from the fray.

But the determined Rose hatches a plan to take the shabby little boat down the wild river, past a German fortress, and onto Lake Victoria. Once there, she wants to torpedo a German warship patrolling the lake, using mining supplies aboard the African Queen. The astonished Charlie resists, arguing "there's death a hundred times over" on the river.

But Rose insists...and bit by bit, Charlie bends. They battle fierce rapids, make ingenious repairs to the old boat, flee insect swarms, and even brave huge leeches as they pull the boat through swamps.

Do they make it? I wouldn't dream of spoiling it for you.

The Cast of 'The African Queen'

Hepburn was 44 when she made The African Queen and the film marked her graduation to roles for mature, older women. Her mild, almost absent-minded delivery as she proposes her daring plan is nicely underplayed. And there's a wonderful moment after their first night as lovers when the very proper Rose shyly asks "Mr. Allnut" what his first name might be.

At 52, Bogart delivered what might be his most relaxed, natural and powerful performance. No slick detective here. He's a grubby, earthy man whose stomach rumbles uncontrollably at tea with the missionaries, and his face when Rose pours his beloved gin bottles into the river is a sight to behold. He's coarse and funny, yet manly and utterly steadfast. (The performance garnered his only Best Actor award after many snubs from Oscar for earlier roles.)

Robert Morley gives a heart-wrenching performance as Rose's broken brother. And of course, the African Queen herself is a member of the cast, a scrappy little 30-foot boat with a ragged canopy and a sputtering motor Charlie always meant to fix. By the end of the movie you're cheering as much for the battered little boat as for Charlie and Rose.

The Director

John Huston was one of Hollywood's greatest directors, known for his temper and flamboyance, and he did things big. This film alone was a remarkable achievement. The story of Huston making the film has itself been captured in Clint Eastwood's barely fictionalized movie White Hunter Black Heart. And Hepburn later wrote a book: The Making of the African Queen, or How I went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind.

'The African Queen' - the Bottom Line

The African Queen is a stirring adventure, with a love story that will touch all but the most cynical viewers. It draws powerful, nuanced performances from two of Hollywood's greatest stars. A must for fans of Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn and the movies of John Huston.

Recommended For You

If you liked The African Queen, you may like other Humphrey Bogart movies and Katharine Hepburn films, including The Philadelphia Story, Desk Set and Bringing Up Baby.

Just the Facts:

Year: 1951, Color
Director: John Huston
Running Time: 105 minutes
Studio: United Artists
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