The African Queen is a 1951 British–American adventure film adapted from the 1935 novel of the same name by C. S. Forester. The film was directed by John Huston and produced by Sam Spiegel and John Woolf. The screenplay was adapted by James Agee, John Huston, John Collier and Peter Viertel. It was photographed in Technicolor by Jack Cardiff and has a music score by Allan Gray. The film stars Humphrey Bogart (who won the Academy Award for Best Actor – his only Oscar) and Katharine Hepburn with Robert Morley, Peter Bull, Walter Gotell, Richard Marner and Theodore Bikel.
The African Queen was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 1994, with the Library of Congress deeming it "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant".
Samuel Sayer and his sister Rose are British Methodist missionaries in the village of Kungdu in German East Africa at the beginning of the First World War in August 1914. Their post and supplies are delivered by a small steam launch named the African Queen, helmed by the rough-and-ready Canadian mechanic Charlie Allnut, whose coarse behavior they stiffly tolerate.
When Charlie warns the Sayers that war has broken out between Germany and Britain, they choose to remain in Kungdu, only to witness Schutztruppe (German colonial troops) burn down the village and herd the villagers away to be pressed into service. When Samuel protests, he is struck by an officer, and soon becomes delirious with fever and dies shortly afterward. Charlie returns later the same day after finding his mine destroyed by the Germans and is being pursued for his supplies, which include gelignite. He helps Rose bury her brother, and they set off in the African Queen.
While planning their escape, Charlie mentions to Rose that the British are unable to attack the Germans due to the presence of a large gunboat, the Königin Luise, patrolling a large lake downriver. Rose comes up with a plan to convert the African Queen into a torpedo boat and sink the Königin Luise. Charlie points out that navigating the Ulanga River to get to the lake would be suicidal: they would have to pass a German fort and negotiate several dangerous rapids. But Rose is insistent and eventually persuades him to go along with the plan. Later, Charlie becomes inebriated and drunkenly insults Rose and her plan; she retaliates by dumping his supply of gin into the river.
Charlie allows Rose to navigate the river by rudder while he tends the engine, and she is emboldened after they get through the first set of rapids with minimal flooding in the boat. When they pass the German fortress, the soldiers begin shooting at them, damaging the boiler. Fortunately, the soldiers are unable to cause more severe damage to the boat due to having the sun in their eyes. Charlie manages to reattach a pressure hose just as they are about to enter the second set of rapids. The boat rolls and pitches as it goes down the rapids, leading to more severe flooding on the deck. They manage to make it through.
While celebrating their success, the two find themselves in an embrace and kiss. Embarrassed, they break off, but eventually succumb to their feelings and fall in love. The third set of rapids damages the propeller shaft. Rigging up a primitive forge on shore, Charlie straightens the shaft, welds a new blade onto the prop and they are off again.
All appears lost when the boat becomes mired in the mud and dense reeds near the mouth of the river. They try to tow the boat through the muck, only to have Charlie come out of the water covered with leeches. With no supplies left and short of potable water, Rose and a feverish Charlie pass out, both accepting they will soon die. Rose says a quiet prayer. As they sleep, exhausted and beaten, torrential rains far upstream gently raise the river's level and float the African Queen off of the mud and into the lake. Once on the lake, they narrowly avoid being spotted by the Königin Luise.
Over the next two days, Charlie and Rose convert some oxygen cylinders into torpedoes using gelignite and improvised detonators. They push the torpedoes through holes cut in the bow of the African Queen as improvised spar torpedoes. The Königin Luise returns and Charlie and Rose steam the African Queen out onto the lake in darkness, intending to set her on a collision course. A strong storm strikes which causes water to pour into the African Queen through the torpedo holes. Eventually the African Queen capsizes, throwing them both into the water. Charlie loses sight of Rose in the storm.
Charlie is captured and taken aboard the Königin Luise, where he is interrogated. Believing that Rose has drowned, he makes no attempt to defend himself against accusations of spying and the German captain sentences him to death by hanging. Rose is found and captured and brought aboard the ship just after Charlie's sentence is pronounced. The captain questions her, and Rose proudly confesses the plot to sink the Königin Luise, deciding they have nothing to lose. The captain sentences her to be executed with Charlie, both as British spies. Charlie asks the German captain to marry them before they are executed. The captain agrees, and after a brief marriage ceremony, there is an explosion and the Königin Luise quickly capsizes. The ship has struck the overturned submerged hull of the African Queen and detonated the torpedoes. The newly married couple happily swim to safety.
Hepburn and Bogart in a publicity still for the film.
Production censors objected to several aspects of the original script, which included the two characters cohabiting without the formality of marriage (as in the book) and some changes were made before the film was completed. Another change followed the casting of Bogart; his character's lines in the original screenplay were rendered with a thick Cockney dialect but the script had to be completely rewritten because the actor was unwilling to attempt it. The rewrite made the character Canadian.
The film was partially financed by John and James Woolf of Romulus Films, a British company. Michael Balcon, Honorary Adviser to the National Film Finance Corporation, advised the NFFC to refuse a loan to the Woolfs unless the film starred John McCallum and Googie Withers, rather than Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn as the Woolfs wanted. This was clearly partial as Balcon was favouring his former Ealing Studio actors. It was only due to the Woolfs' personal intervention that they persuaded the chairman of the NFFC, Lord Reith, to overrule Balcon and the film went ahead. The Woolf brothers provided £250,000 and were so pleased with the completed movie that they talked John Huston into directing their next picture, Moulin Rouge (1952).
Much of the film was shot on location in Uganda and the Congo in Africa. This was rather novel for the time, especially for a Technicolor picture that used large, cumbersome cameras. The cast and crew endured sickness and spartan living conditions during their time on location. In an early scene, Hepburn was playing an organ but had a bucket to vomit in at her feet because she was often sick between takes. Bogart later bragged that he and Huston were the only members of the cast and crew who escaped illness, which he credited to not drinking any water on location but instead fortifying themselves from the large supply of whiskey they had brought along.
About half of the film was shot in the UK; the scenes in which Bogart and Hepburn are seen in the water were all shot in studio tanks at Isleworth Studios, Middlesex. These scenes were considered too dangerous to shoot in Africa. All of the foreground plates for the process shots were also done in studio. A myth has grown that the scenes in the reed-filled riverbank were filmed in Dalyan, Turkey. But Katharine Hepburn's published book (p. 118) on the filming states 'We were about to head... back to Entebbe but John [Huston] wanted to get shots of Bogie and me in the miles of high reeds before we come out into the lake...". The reeds sequence was thus shot on location in Africa (Uganda and Congo) and London studios.
Most of the action takes place aboard a boat – the African Queen of the title – and scenes on board the boat were filmed using a large raft with a mockup of the boat on top. Sections of the boat set could be removed to make room for the large Technicolor camera. This proved hazardous on one occasion when the boat's boiler – a heavy copper replica – almost fell on Hepburn. It was not secured to the deck because it also had to be moved to accommodate the camera. The small steam-boat used in the film to depict the African Queen was built in 1912, in Britain, for service in Africa. At one time it was owned by actor Fess Parker. In December 2011, plans were announced to restore the boat. Restoration was completed by the following April and the African Queen is now on display as a tourist attraction at Key Largo, Florida.
Because of the dangers involved with shooting the rapids scenes, a small-scale model was used in the studio tank in London. The vessel used to portray the German gunboat Königin Luise in the film was the steam tug Buganda, owned and operated on Lake Victoria by the East African Railways and Harbours Corporation. Although fictional, the Königin Luise was inspired by the German First World War vessel Graf Goetzen (also known as Graf von Goetzen), which operated on Lake Tanganyika until she was scuttled in 1916 during the Battle for Lake Tanganyika. The British refloated the Graf Goetzen in 1924 and placed her in service on Lake Tanganyika in 1927 as the passenger ferry MV Liemba, and she remains in active service there as of 2015.
The name SS Königin Luise was taken from a German steam ferry which operated from Hamburg, before being taken over by the Kaiserliche Marine on the outbreak of the First World War. She was used as an auxiliary minelayer off Harwich before being sunk on 5 August 1914 by the cruiser HMS Amphion.
A persistent rumour regarding London's population of feral Ring Necked Parakeets is that they originated from birds that escaped or were released from the filming of this movie. This claim was initially considered dubious though it was given more credence when a zoologist admitted her grandparents fed them.
The African Queen opened on December 26, 1951 at the Fox Wilshire Theatre in Beverly Hills, in order to qualify for the 1951 Oscars. Its New York City opening was on February 20, 1952 at the Capitol Theatre.
Reception and box office
Contemporary reviews from critics were mostly positive. Upon the film's premiere, Edwin Schallert of the Los Angeles Times wrote that it "should impress for its novelty both in casting and scenically," and found the ending "rather contrived and even incredible, but melodramatic enough, with almost a western accent, to be popularly effective." Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called the film "a slick job of movie hoodwinking with a thoroughly implausible romance, set in a frame of wild adventure that is as whopping as its tale of off-beat love ... This is not noted with disfavor." Crowther added that "Mr. Huston merits credit for putting this fantastic tale on a level of sly, polite kidding and generally keeping it there, while going about the happy business of engineering excitement and visual thrills."
Variety called it "an engrossing motion picture ... Performance-wise, Bogart has never been seen to better advantage. Nor has he ever had a more knowing, talented film partner than Miss Hepburn." John McCarten of The New Yorker declared that "Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart come up with a couple of remarkable performances, and it's fortunate that they do, for the movie concentrates on them so single-mindedly that any conspicuous uncertainty in their acting would have left the whole thing high and dry." Richard L. Coe wrote in the March 8, 1952 edition of The Washington Post that "Huston has tried a risky trick and most of the time pulls it off in delicious style. And from both his stars he has drawn performances which have rightly been nominated for those Academy Awards on the [20th]."
Harrison's Reports printed a negative review, writing that the film "has its moments of comedy and excitement, but on the whole the dialogue is childish, the action silly, and the story bereft of human appeal. The characters act as childishly as they talk, and discriminating picture-goers will, no doubt, laugh at them. There is nothing romantic about either Katharine Hepburn or Humphrey Bogart, for both look bedraggled throughout." The Monthly Film Bulletin was also negative, writing: "Huston seems to have been aiming at a measured, quiet, almost digressive tempo, but the material does not support it, and would have benefited by the incisiveness his previous films have shown. In spite of Hepburn's wonderful playing, and some engaging scenes, the film must be accounted a misfire."
The film earned an estimated £256,267 at UK cinemas in 1952, making it the 11th most popular movie of the year. It earned an estimated $4 million in US and Canadian theatrical rentals and $6 million worldwide.
It currently holds a 98% "Certified Score" on Rotten Tomatoes based on 44 reviews, with an average rating of 8.75/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Perfectly cast, smartly written, and beautifully filmed, The African Queen remains thrilling, funny, and effortlessly absorbing even after more than half a century's worth of adventure movies borrowing liberally from its creative DNA.".
Awards and honours
American Film Institute recognition
- Rose Sayer: "'Nature,' Mr. Allnut, is what we are put into this world to rise above." – Nominated
AFI has also honored both Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn as the greatest American screen legends.
The film has been released on Region 2 DVD in the United Kingdom, Germany and Scandinavia.
The British DVD includes a theatrical trailer and an audio commentary by cinematographer Cardiff in which he details many of the hardships and challenges involved in filming in Africa.
Prior to 2010, the film had been released in the United States on VHS video, laserdisc and as a region 1 DVD. Region 1 and Region All DVDs are available and distributed by The Castaways Pictures, and have English and Chinese subtitles available with no other features. It is not clear if these are authorized or not.
2009 digital restoration
In 2009, Paramount Pictures (the current owner of the US rights) completed restoration work for region 1 and a 4K digitally restored version was issued on DVD and Blu-ray on March 23, 2010. The film was restored in its original mono soundtrack from original UK film elements under the sole supervision of Paramount, and had as an extra a documentary on the film's production, Embracing Chaos: The Making of The African Queen. According to Ron Smith, vice president of restoration for Paramount Pictures, the major factor that led to the holdup was difficulties locating the original negative. Romulus Films and international rights holder ITV Studios were acknowledged in the restoration credits.
ITV released the restoration in Region 2 on June 14, 2010.
Adaptations to other media
The African Queen was adapted as a one-hour radio play on the December 15, 1952 broadcast of Lux Radio Theater with Humphrey Bogart reprising his film role and joined by Greer Garson. This broadcast is included as a bonus CD in the Commemorative Box Set version of the Paramount DVD.
On 26 March 1962 The Dick Powell Theater aired episode 27 of its first season called Safari which was based on the story with James Coburn and Glynis Johns as Charlie Allnut and Rose Sayer.
A 1977 television film continued the adventures of Allnut and Sayer, with Warren Oates and Mariette Hartley in the lead roles. Though intended as the pilot for a series, it was not picked up. An elliptic commentary on the making of The African Queen can be found in the 1990 film White Hunter Black Heart, directed by Clint Eastwood. The African Queen was part of the inspiration for the Jungle Cruise attraction at Disneyland in California. Imagineer Harper Goff referenced The African Queen frequently in his ideas; even his designs of the ride vehicles were inspired by the steamer used in the film.
The African Queen
The boat used as the African Queen is actually the 35-foot (10 m) L.S. Livingston which had been a working diesel boat for 40 years; the steam engine was a prop and the real diesel engine was hidden under stacked crates of gin and other cargo. Florida attorney and Humphrey Bogart enthusiast, Jim Hendricks Sr. came to own the boat in 1982 in Key Largo, Florida. After falling into a state of disrepair following the death of Hendricks Sr. in 2001, the vessel was discovered rusting in a Florida marina in 2012 by Suzanne Holmquist and her engineer husband, Lance. The couple have since repaired and refurbished the ailing ship and opened it up to tourists and film enthusiasts, providing cruises around the Florida Keys aboard the famous vessel.
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- ^ a b "The African Queen (advertisement)". Los Angeles Times: Part III, p. 8. December 23, 1951.
First world showing – Wednesday, December 26
- ^ Rudy Behlmer, Behind the Scenes, Samuel French, 1990 p. 239
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- ^ Strictly, as civilians engaging in military activity without being members of an armed force, the two should have been considered to be francs-tireurs rather than spies. That, too, would have made them liable to execution; the Imperial German Army executed thousands of alleged francs-tireurs in Belgium and France.
- ^ McCarty, Clifford (1965). Bogey: The Films of Humphrey Bogart. Cadillac. p. 161.
- ^ "University of Virginia Library Online Exhibits – CENSORED: Wielding the Red Pen". virginia.edu.
- ^ Sue Harper & Vincent Porter, British Cinema of the 1950s: The Decline of Deference, OUP, 2007, p.12
- ^ Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, University of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p. 46
- ^ Web Designer Express and Web Design Enterprise. "History of the African Queen". The African Queen.
- ^ Cosgrove, Ben. "Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn Filming 'The African Queen,' 1951". TIME.com. Archived from the original on July 1, 2013.
- ^ Embracing Chaos: Making ‘The African Queen' a documentary film
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- ^ "MichaelBarrier.com -- Interviews: Fess Parker". michaelbarrier.com.
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- ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-08-08. Retrieved 2013-08-25.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- ^ Details on the Königin Luise
- ^ "Nature Studies: London's beautiful parakeets have a new enemy to". 8 June 2015.
- ^ Sarah Knapton (9 June 2018). "Britain's parakeets really did come from set of The African Queen, says zoologist, after admitting her grandparents fed them". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
- ^ a b Crowther, Bosley (February 21, 1951). "' The African Queen,' Starring Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, at the Capitol". The New York Times: 24.
- ^ Schallert, Edwin (December 27, 1951). "Star Duo in Unique Joust with Jungle". Los Angeles Times: B6.
- ^ "The African Queen". Variety. December 26, 1951. p. 6.
- ^ McCarten, John (February 23, 1952). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. p. 85.
- ^ Coe, Richard L. (March 8, 1952). "Hepburn-Bogart Team Is A Honey". The Washington Post: B5.
- ^ "'The African Queen' with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn". Harrison's Reports: 207. December 29, 1951.
- ^ "The African Queen". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 19 (217): 15. February 1952.
- ^ Vincent Porter, 'The Robert Clark Account', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol 20 No 4, 2000 p495
- ^ "COMEDIAN TOPS FILM POLL". The Sunday Herald. Sydney. 28 December 1952. p. 4. Retrieved 9 July 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
- ^ "Top Grossers of 1952". Variety. 7 January 1953. p. 61.
- ^ Arneel, Gene (June 29, 1960). "Huston: 'Me For Li'l Budgets'". Variety. p. 19. Retrieved February 13, 2021 – via Archive.org.
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- ^ Kirby, Walter (December 14, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 54.
- ^ The Imagineers (1996). Walt Disney Imagineering – A Behind the Dreams Look at Making the Magic Real. Disney Editions. p. 112.
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