The African Queen (1951)

“I don’t know why the Germans would want this God-forsaken place.”

‘The African Queen’, directed by John Huston in 1951, is an American adventure movie starring Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. Hepburn plays Rose Sayer, a Methodist missionary in German East Africa in the 1910s. When war breaks out, Sayer escapes her village after it is ransacked by Germans and takes refuge on board a dilapidated steam launch captained by Charlie Allnut, played by Bogart. Allnut is rough, coarse and fond of alcohol, the complete opposite of Sayer, but as they navigate down the river trying to avoid the German forces, romance develops. It’s a simple story of occupation and escape, with broad characters and lightly comedic dialogue. The performances are pitched perfectly, and the two lead roles are extremely likeable.  Where ‘The African Queen’ stands out, however, is in the use of real locations in Uganda and the Congo for half the film. This gives the film a sense of being grounded that balances the romance on board the boat. Bogart plays slightly against type as the vulnerable, earthy Allnut, but this works perfectly and won him an Academy Award. There are touches of melodrama when the boat is wrecked and the characters are captured by the Germans, but these scenes don’t feel unbalanced by the earlier romantic comedy, rather complemented.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s engaging and thrilling, but watch it for the chemistry between the two leads, and for a simple story ‘decorated’ with humour and personality. It would make an interesting double bill with ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ for reasons stated in that review.

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