From March 2015 to April 2017, I was writing the monthly Teen Scene column for the website ClassicFlix. My objective was to promote classic films among teenagers and young adults. Due to the establishing of a new version of the website, it’s now more difficult to access to the old version and read the reviews. But, I’m allowed to publish my reviews on my blog 30 days after they had been published on ClassicFlix! So, I decided to do so as you could have an easy access to them. If you are not a teenager, it doesn’t matter! I’m sure you can enjoy them just the same! My tenth review was for the 1951’s classic The African Queen directed by John Huston. Enjoy!
For the Teen Scene column this month we’ll visit a new genre I haven’t written about yet: the adventure film. To represent the genre, I chose The African Queen. Based on the novel by C.S Forester, The African Queen was directed by John Huston in 1951 and is cited as one of the most thrilling and entertaining movies ever made. It has always been a favorite of mine and I’m sure it will become a favorite of yours, as well.
The African Queen takes place during the beginning of World War I. Katharine Hepburn plays Rose Sawyer, an English missionary living in Africa with her pastor brother, Samuel (Robert Morley), for the last ten years. One day, they receive Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) for tea, a Canadian boat captain and owner of The African Queen. Charlie also delivers the mail and packages in the village.
Just before he goes back to his boat, Charlie informs Rose and Samuel that a war between England, Germany and some other countries is starting in Europe. Not a long time after he’s gone, German troops arrive in the village, burning houses and the church. After this sad episode, Samuel, who has been clearly traumatized, becomes strange, lesser and lesser himself. He ultimately dies from a fever one afternoon, leaving his poor sister alone.
The same day, Mr. Allnut is back to the village with The African Queen. When he learns what happened, he tells Rose to come with him: they have to abandon the village before the Germans decide to come back. So, they go away on The African Queen. Mr. Allnut informs Rose that The Louisa – a big German boat containing the biggest gun in central Africa – is patrolling the river to prevent the British counter attack.
Rose has a big project: she wants to go make this boat explodes. Mr. Allnut tries to convince her it would be too dangerous, but her idea is already made. She has the final word and the adventure begins. However, that’s not without problems. They’ll have to face many physical obstacles and some quarrels due to their clashing personalities. Rose and Charlie don’t like really like each other first, but they’ll learn to.
The African Queen had a good reception upon release and won the Oscar for Best Actor (Humphrey Bogart). It was also nominated for Best Actress (Katharine Hepburn), Best Director (John Huston) and Best Screenplay (James Agee and John Huston).
Filmed in beautiful Technicolor, The African Queen grabs attention by being an American film that does take place in the USA, nor in an occidental city, but in the deep African jungle. And yes, a majority of this film was shot in Africa. (Actually, half was shot in Africa, and the other half in England.) For the African shoot, that wasn’t easy, considering the cast and crew were sick all the time except for John Huston and Humphrey Bogart, who didn’t catch malaria, apparently due to their consummation of Scotch.
Shooting it on real location certainly makes it more authentic, similar to the film Mogambo (John Ford, 1953), also shot in Africa. Grace Kelly said she wouldn’t have been part of that film if it had shot in Arizona. When watching the film, it’s amusing to imagine how certain scenes might have been shot, how they manage to come to this excellent result despite the difficulties, etc.
Another aspect that makes The African Queen worth watching is it becomes sort of a Guided tour between the characters and the audience, allowing us to see the nature of Africa: the flowers, trees, and numerous animals like crocodiles, antelopes, monkey, elephant, giraffes, hippopotamus, etc. All of this intrigue makes us curious to visit this hot continent.
I said The African Queen was an adventure movie, but another aspect enhances appreciation is its grouping of many other genres: romance, comedy, drama, etc., all expressed in small, but unforgettable moments. I’m thinking of Charlie Allnut’s character himself for the comedy. One particular moment that inspires laugher involves him imitating a hippopotamus. For the drama, when they are stuck in the mud and think this is the end and for the romance, well, you can imagine what can happen between a man and a woman sailing alone in an uncivilized place. It takes place in Africa, but it’s a Hollywood film after all! And it’s with pleasure that we assist in this romance, because it certainly is one of the most beautiful on-screen love stories.
Humphrey Bogart won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Charlie Allnut and I always thought this was one of his best performances and a very well deserved award. What makes Humphrey Bogart so brilliant here is he illustrates his versatility. Seeing him in this film is indeed different from all his previous detective or gangster roles. In The African Queen, we see a comic and more “relaxed” Bogie. Katharine Hepburn’s performance is great too, but maybe less surprising, since we already know she can play every type of role.
Speaking of Katharine Hepburn, let’s look at her character, Rose Sawyer. The film’s concept of adventure is obviously embodied by her. Her evolution from serious English lady with good manners to adventurous woman is fascinating to see. Rose has passion for adventure, courage, and is never ready to give up. Katharine Hepburn, a strong actress with an anti-damsel spirit, is the perfect actress for this role and her performance is unforgettable.
The African Queen contains many messages, but the main one is: never give up. The film indeed proves to us that miracles happen even in the most difficult of moments. The African Queen is a film that makes you feel strong and gives you the taste for adventure. (I mean, who wouldn’t like to feel as proud as Rose and Charlie?) The African Queen is a movie everybody can appreciate in need for a cinematographic boost.