The African Queen (1951)

Cinematography Jack Cardiff
Directed by John Huston
In Africa during World War I, a gin-swilling riverboat captain is persuaded by a strait-laced missionary to use his boat to attack an enemy warship.
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entertaining but overrated
11 February 2005 | by tolbs1010 (Los Angeles) – See all my reviews

The African Queen is an entertaining film done in grand old Hollywood style, and it is probably the most conventional movie John Huston ever made. It’s surprising though that people can call this movie one of the greatest of all time considering the hokey (and at times unbelievable) script and the awkward lack of chemistry between Bogart and Hepburn. Actually, that lack of chemistry creates some strangely funny moments which change the tone of this adventure story–sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. The two are never really believable as the characters they are playing, but they are still fun to watch as a couple of stars chewing up the scenery.

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Bogart’s Academy Award for this performance is obviously a Revlon choice in that it makes up for his being overlooked for at least 10 better performances that he gave prior to this one. Huston’s direction seems to lose focus in the last 10 minutes or so and the ending is very abrupt, but overall the film is briskly paced and painless. Also worth noting is the wonderful use of African locations as photographed by master cinematographer Jack Cardiff. If you want to see a better film with similar themes, check out Huston’s far superior Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison.

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Don’t Take This One For Granted

10/10
Author: gftbiloxi (gftbiloxi@yahoo.com) from Biloxi, Mississippi
3 June 2005

THE African QUEEN is probably one of the most widely available films in the world, on sale in the electronics department of virtually every major retail chain, a commonplace at every rental counter, frequently seen on television. It is hard to imagine any one in the western world, especially in the United States, who has not seen the film at least once–and probably more than once. And so we take it for granted.

That is a mistake. Based on the famous C.S. Forester novel, which it follows quite closely, THE African QUEEN is the simple story of pragmatic river-rat Charlie Allnut (Bogart) and high-minded Methodist missionary spinster Rose Sayer (Hepburn) who are thrown together by chance when German troops sweep through Africa during World War I. Once safely aboard his beat-up riverboat “The African Queen,” Allnut desires nothing more than to dodge the Germans until war’s end; Rose, however, determines to strike a blow against the Germans by sailing the boat downriver to attack a German battleship.

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There are so many fine things about this movie that they are hard to innumerate. Filmed on location in the Congo, the cinematography is remarkably fine without being obtrusive; the script, which is at once subtle and very purposeful, has a remarkably natural tone; the two stars–who play the vast majority of the film alone together–give justly famous performances; and Huston’s direction is so fine that we never feel even the slightest hint of directorial manipulation. As an adventure, it has a sense of realism that most adventure stories lack; as a character study it is remarkably detailed and finely wrought; as a love story, it is quite touching without engaging in common sentimentality. And it can be enjoyed by many people of diverse backgrounds and ages without the faintest qualm.

If you haven’t seen THE African QUEEN in a while (or heaven forbid never seen it at all) don’t take it for granted thinking you’ll catch it sooner or later. Sit down with the film and watch it with fresh eyes. You’ll be amazed.

Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer.

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Bogie Deserved It

Author: Brian Washington (Sargebri@att.net) from Los Angeles, California
14 January 2004

To me this film will always be the validation of Humphrey Bogart’s long and distinguished career. His portrayal of the hard drinking Charlie was what made this film what it was. Also, he showed just how great an actor he was when he was able to match up against the woman who is generally considered to be the greatest actress in film history, Katherine Hepburn. Also, this film will always be recognized for having the perfect mix of action, romance and comedy and it will always be a classic.

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A successful mixture of comedy, character and adventure

10/10
Author: Righty-Sock (robertfrangie@hotmail.com) from Mexico
28 August 2005
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

“The African Queen” was Bogart’s fourth film to be directed by John Huston and his performance in it was very likely the best in his career as well as one which finally won him an Academy Award… He beat out Marlon Brando, who was heavily favored to win for “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

The screenplay by Huston and the celebrated movie critic-writer, James Agee, matched Bogart with Katherine Hepburn in what amounted to a two-star tour de force in a deeply touching romance linked to adventures and heroics…

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Bogart and Hepburn were delightful as they infused their personal conflict with a warmth, humor, and tenderness rarely seen in films… Mixing comedy and adventure, it was a two-character film, in which Hepburn gave a fine demonstration of her ability to develop within a role… The sensitive interaction between her and Bogart (in an unfamiliar guise) undoubtedly benefited from her many films with Tracy…

Bogart was given a rare opportunity to demonstrate his range as an actor, more than holding his own opposite the formidable Hepburn… He played many scenes with maximum effectiveness, down impossible rapids, where he becomes covered with leeches and suffers a severe fever attack, his drunk scene where he rebels against Hepburn and mocks her high-blown speeches, and the tender moments in which he realizes he’s fallen under her bewitching spell…

Filming of ‘The African Queen_, 1951 (14)

“The African Queen” was not an easy film to make, most of it being done on location in the insect-infested, suffocatingly hot and humid African Congo… But the result was a brilliantly entertaining film, a successful mixture of comedy, character and adventure…

Love Isn’t Just For the Young

10/10
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
18 June 2005

The African Queen is a significant historical film in two respects. Along with King Solomon’s Mines it was the first American film to show the real Africa to the American public. Previously our ideas about Africa were gleaned from studio backlot jungles created for Tarzan films and the like. The African Queen changed all that, no cheap studio sets would do any more.

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But also, The African Queen dealt with romance among mature adults in their forties. A ne’er do well river pilot on a ramshackle boat and the spinster sister of a missionary, thrown together by the circumstance of war.

Humphrey Bogart, our intrepid river pilot, makes a scheduled stop to deliver mail to the mission run by Robert Morley and Katharine Hepburn. And he breaks the news to them that World War I has started. Almost as soon as he leaves them, German troops from East Africa come to call. Bogie comes back and he finds Kate with her dead brother. They bury him and skedaddle. And while skedaddling they conceive of a cockeyed plan to help in the war effort.

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To say what it is and what happens would spoil the story, but let me say this. The original opening of the film with Bogart coming in as church services are being conducted for a few hundred uncomprehending native Africans is Director John Huston’s comment on the usefulness of the lives Morley and Hepburn have led up to that point. What Hepburn and Bogart accomplish by the end of the film makes up for the waste that was Hepburn’s life.

But The African Queen is a great romance as well. Bogart became a great romantic star in Casablanca and he upholds the tradition here, winning an Academy Award for Best Actor. Katie Hepburn doesn’t seem to miss her usual partner Spencer Tracy not a bit, the part of Rose Sayer is a perfect fit. As was remarked, they’re going to have stories to tell their grandkids.

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When I watch The African Queen I’m reminded of what Bogart’s friend Frank Sinatra sang in one of his best ballads about how Love Isn’t Just For the Young. Kate and Bogie sure prove it here.

Out of Africa with Bogey and Kate

9/10
Author: gaityr from United Kingdom
6 February 2002

This is one of those films whose special effects and scenery must have been astounding at the time (1951), but which seem mediocre at best today. BUT, and that’s a big ‘but’, this does not detract from the greatness of the movie overall. The scenery truly is beautiful, for one thing–and the direction and cinematography is great.

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However, what truly makes this film a classic, and deservedly so, is the performances given by the lead actors. For their one film together, Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn pull out all the stops. Bogart is crude, dirty and a low-life river-rat with a heart of gold. He gives the Oscar-winning performance of his lifetime. Hepburn is prim and prissy, but always manages to win us over with her radiance and vulnerability, as well as that core of steel and strength she lends to all her on-screen characters. He’s charming, in his way; she’s achingly beautiful in hers. You can’t help but warm to Charlie and Rosie, and truly, genuinely root for them to get together.

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The ending is predictable; all ‘opposites-attract’ romance adventure stories are. You know without a doubt that the sunset will be there for Charlie and Rosie to ride off (or swim) into together. But you still hurt when Charlie hurts; and you still smile like a fool when he sees Rose, and when he tries to explain her forthrightness away by jungle fever. You believe the love, and that’s what the African Queen is all about.

Oh, and the gin and leech scenes, of course. Those are brilliant, as everyone else here has already mentioned! 😉

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