After I finally sat down to watch The African Queen, the I immediately wondered why it had taken so long to check it off my list. I loved it. It’s the kind of film that feels tailored to me: action and adventure down the wild jungle rivers of Africa with a surprisingly welcome bit of romance.
Rose (Katharine Hepburn) is a British missionary in Africa with her brother in the early twentieth century. Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) is a steamboat captain who brings them mail and news, including that Germany and Britain are at war. By the next time Allnut visits, Germans have burned the village to the ground and Rose’s brother is dead. Taking pity on the lady, Allnut takes her with him on the river. Seeing he has a load of explosives and old canisters of gas, Rose gets an idea to make torpedoes and attack a German ship. The river journey ahead of them is long and treacherous, but along it they may find strength in each other and even love.
This film quickly becomes a thrilling ride of an adventure. In fact, it’s rumored that Walt Disney was inspired by The African Queen to create the Jungle Cruise ride. All along the river are wild animals, bugs, Germans and white water rapids. The rapids scenes are hair raising moments that make you hold on and release you into euphoric celebration alongside our characters. It’s so much fun!
Inside the boat, there is at first tension between Charlie and Rose. She, being so straight-laced, despises the way he drinks and he, being more laid back and not the happiest drunk, gets annoyed with her stuffiness easily. When Rose pours all of Charlie’s gin into the river, the scene rivals Pirates of the Caribbean for angry “Why is the booze gone?” moment. But after a close call down the rapids, which Rose handles like a champ, a spark is lit between them.
For the next scene or two, the nervous emotion between our leads is electric. In my mind, it rivals some of the greatest love scenes in its sweet and awkward sincerity. By the time their new found love and attraction is out in the open, it’s just as much an uplifting relief for the audience as it is for the characters.
The African Queen was nominated for four Academy Awards and won only one. It was nominated for best screenplay, John Huston for director, Katharine Hepburn for best lead actress and Humphrey Bogart won for best lead actor. In my mind, this is the best film of 1951. Okay, I’ll let it tie with A Streetcar Named Desire, but I finally understand how Brando didn’t win that Oscar.
Bogart is so energetic and endearing throughout the film. He seems to channel a bit of Buster Keaton’s character in The General in the way that he is so in tune with The African Queen. I love how Bogart gets up on the side of the boat and kicks the boiler with both feet to fix it. The early scene with his stomach growling is subtly hilarious and makes his character softer than his bristly face would suggest. His gin swilling side in the beginning of the film is wonderfully rough, yet gels well with his more lovable side later in the film. In the end, it may have been Bogart’s ridiculous hippo impression that sealed that Oscar envelope.
If you enjoy action, adventure, romance, Bogart and Hepburn (and who doesn’t?) you absolutely must see The African Queen. Honestly, go now, it’s on Netflix Instant. I imagine children will eat this movie up, with all the fun and thrilling moments journeying down the river. They’ll probably get a kick out of the random b-roll of wild animals edited in and the adults can enjoy unforgettable performances by Bogart and Hepburn.
“Never say die. That’s my motto.”
I’m glad you feel the same way about this film that I do. The b-roll of animals did seem off to me at first, but i think it fits in better seeing it on bluray. And it was actually filmed in the heart of africa, something you dont see much of anymore these days.
I bet this would be stunning on bluray. I’ve heard a few stories about the filming in Africa, including that most of the crew got sick from drinking the water, except for Bogart and Huston who drank whiskey. Not sure how accurate that is, but makes for a good story.
I love this film too! So much fun. I haven’t seen it in a while but it’s one of my favorites.
My favorite part is when they get married and I forget who says it but someone says something like “till death do us part which will be in the next few minutes.” Lots of funny moments in this film.
I’m always conflicted about best actor for this year. On one hand, Brando was magnificent in Streetcar and his is a more impressive performance, but on the other hand I believe that this is Bogart’s best performance (that I’ve seen). He disappears into the character and has great chemistry with Hepburn (who is also fantastic here). It probably also helped that he’s a much more likable guy than Stanley Kowalski!
I agree Hunter, this is the best performance by Bogart that I’ve seen as well. And to compare Charlie Allnut to Stanley Kowalski, they’re night and day! I too enjoyed all the funny moments throughout the film, so fun!
It’s funny — I was just talking about this film on another blog, and now I can’t remember where. If I find the post, I’ll link to it.
This is one of my favorite movie romances, because it’s part of a much bigger story, not just “will so-and-so ask whoever to the prom?”
And, wow, does it show what movie stars can do. Like Sleuth (the original) it’s basically a two-hander almost all the way through, and that’s just fine.
Oh, and to the Brando/Bogart question, in general (not always, but in general) if there are two outstanding acting performances in a year in one category, and one is by a veteran who is well liked in the community and who has never won, and the other is by a young actor who’s just starting out, the veteran will get it. It’s actors voting, after all, and think of all the great performances where Bogart didn’t win.
A much more extreme example was John Wayne winning for the True Grit. Far from his best performance, but you know people were thinking about those better performances when they were voting for him.
Good point, Brando was the young-gun and Bogart was much more seasoned at the time. To break a close race, go with the veteran. I haven’t seen all of True Grit with John Wayne, so I can’t weigh in heavily there, now I’ll have to catch it. Please do share the link if you find it.
I still remember the shock when Lauren Bacall was assumed to be the inevitable winner one year, and then she lost (to Juliette Binoche, if I remember correctly). It was clear that everybody (including both actresses) had just been sure it was Bacall’s year.
If you’re going to see True Grit, I’d recommend the more recent version, by the Coens, which is excellent. Not to run down the original, which is good, but in this case (IMHO) the remake is better.
I admit to my shame that I’ve never seen this. Now, though, I think I’ll give it a shot!!!
Do it, Rodney!