The sensational Crystal is hosting a blogathon dedicated to the talents of icons Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. I was more than happy to join in and celebrate the fineness of these two stars. For my celebration of Miss Hepburn, I decided to review the excellent adventure that is The African Queen. The next review for Spencer Tracy will be of Broken Lance.
The African Queen
- Humphrey Bogart as Charlie Allnut
- Katharine Hepburn as Rose Sayer
- Robert Morley as Reverend Samuel Sayer
Filmed largely on location in well documented circumstances and benefiting from the direction John Huston and pairing of Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, The African Queen is high adventure that remains evergreen and always exciting.
It is 1914 in German East Africa and prim spinster Rose Sayer is along with her Reverend brother Samuel working as missionaries with a local village. With the First World War occurring at this point, uncertainty rises and escalates when the Germans set upon the village and burn it down. An injured Samuel submits to fever and quickly dies, leaving Rose devastated. Hope comes in the unlikely form of gin-swigging and uncouth tramp steamer owner Charlie Allnut; who delivers supplies to many villages and has met Rose before. Taking pity on her, he takes her aboard his steamer, known as The African Queen. Immediately, the two clash over a difference of opinion and anything they can. Rose is a well-bred, respectable lady who doesn’t take kindly to Charlie’s man about the world behaviour, while Charlie finds his lay about lifestyle challenged by a woman he considers prissy and obstinate. As they continue down the river, their bickering temporarily stops as Rose unusually suggests helping the War effort. Knowing that a German patrol ship blocks any path or form of attack later down the river, Rose suggests fashioning some of Charlie’s supplies into an array of combatants in order to sink the ship. Charlie thinks the idea is ridiculous at first, but getting to know Rose, agrees to her terms. Thus resumes the sniping and arguments as their journey to adventure is fraught with hot weather, dangerous tides and animals. Over this time of surviving the river, Charlie and Rose begin to fall in love, after much reluctance to acknowledge such feelings.
John Huston is the captain of this movie and his maverick spirit is never far from view. Choosing to shoot largely on location in Africa posed difficulties, but his sense of fun and blend of adventure, romance and humour is ideally pitched and depicted to such a loving degree. The initial set up is well done, but The African Queen truly gets going once both Rose and Charlie are on the eponymous boat and the oil-water dynamic sets in. Observing them clash due to different upbringings and divides is what gives The African Queen its playful spirit that no amount of time can diminish. Their impulsive plan to thwart the Germans is daring and the stuff of a Boy’s Own Adventure; ranking it for me as definite must see movie for anyone who hasn’t yet had the pleasure of viewing this classic. We have so many memorable moments to entertain here including riding through the rapids, Rose applying a multitude of salt to Charlie’s leech infested body and the overall journey down the river are just some of the highlights from this gloriously engaging adventure. There’s nary a dull moment as the script and energy keep things bubbling at a nice, exciting temperature. The African Queen is practically a roller coaster on water, with every turn bringing with it gorgeous views, multiple dangers and romance for our two principal characters. The location shooting, which has been extremely well documented for its tribulations, that ultimately added with the flavour of the film, make it adventure and fun of the highest denomination. A grand but always puckish score is the great accompaniment for Rose and Charlie down the river.
Humphrey Bogart collected an Oscar for his winning portrayal of a rough and ready but dissolutely charming captain. With his cheeky grin and gruffness being offset by the fact that he’s really a decent guy underneath it all, Bogart makes the role his own. Katharine Hepburn is equally as excellent with a blend of uptight primness and burgeoning spiritedness that is most accomplished. Hepburn is sharp, strong yet vulnerable and full of life, a mix that she inhabits with vigor. Watching as Rose emerges from her refined nature to becoming a lively heroine of resilience is a great thing and completely down to the greatness of Katharine Hepburn and her talent. And watching the chemistry between the two as they bristle and bicker, before coming to love the other is just another string in the movie’s impressive bow. It’s a shame these two stars didn’t make any other movies together as their chalk and cheese personalities would have been well served if given the chance. Robert Morley appears briefly as Rose’s brother, whose death fills her with a desire to help the War effort in her own way.
The African Queen is fine movie making and a deserved classic that has lost none of its original charm or fun factor. If you haven’t seen it, I implore you to do so for its adventure and pairing of Bogart and Hepburn.