#41. The African Queen (1951)
Directed by: John Huston
Written by: John Huston, James Agee, Peter Viertel, John Collier (based on The African Queen by C.S. Forester)
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley, Peter Bull
John Huston’s grand adventure film The African Queen was a movie I never knew I needed in my life until I saw it, and it has since become very dear to me. The film, based on the novel of the same name by C.S. Forester, lays the exciting groundwork for modern action-adventure films we know today. The African Queen follows the rowdy, gin-swilling Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart), captain of the titular African Queen riverboat at the outset of the first World War. Charlie is persuaded by a missionary named Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn) to convert the riverboat into a torpedo boat in order to surprise attack a German gunboat patrolling the river. Along the way, Charlie and Rose traverse dangerous rapids, sneak past a German fort, encounter leeches and mosquitoes, and slowly begin to fall in love. The African Queen is a thrill ride from start to finish, featuring well-paced action set-pieces interspersed throughout. John Huston treats relatively minor elements like rapids as major obstacles that our heroes have to overcome, and each victory for Charlie and Rose feels like a triumph. The use of location shooting is another major element that leads to The African Queen standing out among the crowd, with Huston and company travelling to Uganda and the Congo in order to shoot the picture. The visuals are lush and beautiful, with every frame filled to the brim with gorgeous river and jungle scenery. Cinematography by the great Jack Cardiff certainly doesn’t hurt either, with the great motion photographer using Technicolor to great effect. It’s incredibly resourceful and intelligent writing and construction, and really adds to the pacing and overall enjoyment of The African Queen. The chemistry between stars Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn is tremendous, with both playing characters with polar opposite personalities. Bogart’s Charlie Allnut is loud, slightly obnoxious, and simple, but very resourceful and brave, and Hepburn’s Rose Sayer is prudish and well-mannered, but also has a bold personality and a knack for strategic thinking. The interactions between the two feel natural and classic in their contrasting nature, with the audience constantly rooting for the two to finally get along and fall in love. Humphrey Bogart is clearly well out of his comfort zone in film, and it obviously paid off – the actor took home the Academy Award for Best Actor for the performance. The African Queen helped to redefine the careers of director John Huston, Humphrey Bogart, and Katharine Hepburn, all of whom would go on to see a fairly major career resurgence after the film’s release. The entertainment value found in Huston’s film is undeniable, fans of classic and modern cinema will find something in The African Queen to love – it’s a trailblazing triumph of the adventure genre.