In The African Queen, when fighting breaks out in Africa during World War I, a boat captain and a missionary take the treacherous path down the river.
Charlie (Humphrey Bogart), the Canadian captain of a small steamboat named The African Queen travels up and down the Ulanga river delivering supplies and mail. After a stop in the village of Kungdu visiting with missionarie siblings Samuel (Robert Morley) and Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn), Charlie notifies them that German troops were on the move. Soon after, Germans attack and Samuel dies from fever. Charlie comes back and helps Rose bury her brother and the two take off down the dangerous river towards the lake, where the German gunboat, Queen Louisa, is stationed. While Charlie and Rose are very different and can’t seem to stand each other, their travels bring them closer together as they plot to blow up the Louisa.
The African Queen was new to me and I honestly wasn’t quire sure what to expect. I figured there would be a little action, a little romance, a fair bit of drama, maybe a few laughs smattered throughout and in all those regards, The African Queen delivers. Bogart and Hepburn both deliver terrific performances and have on-screen chemistry that admittedly took me a bit by surprise. When I think of Bogart, I immediately think of the smooth, charming Rick in Casablanca and here, Bogart plays almost the exact opposite. Hepburn’s role is more inline with my own view of her, for whatever that may be worth.
Since I watched The African Queen on the big screen, I was perhaps privy to some of the less charming side of the 60 year old special effects. During some of the more harrowing white water portions of the river ride, a scale model of the African Queen was clearly used and during one of the later scenes the model they used for poor Bogart looked like it was made out of a lump of clay and was wildly disproportionate to the rest of the vessel. Then again, there is a scene with leeches that actually looked like real leeches, so there’s that.
By the end of The African Queen I was totally rooting for unlikely duo to prevail and all the blemishes of the dated special effects only added to lighter sides of the film. I am a bit surprised at how under the radar this film seems to be since it is a lot of fun and even though the story has been done in various ways over the years, The African Queen is still special enough for first time viewers like myself.
I give it 4 Humphrey Bogart’s embarrassing hippo impressions out of 5.