At the start of World War 1, German imperial troops burn down Reverend Samuel Sayer’s mission in Africa. He is overtaken with disappointment and passes away. Shortly after his well-educated, snooty sister Rose Sayer (Hepburn) buries her brother, she must leave on the only available transport, a tired river steamboat The African Queen manned by the ill-mannered bachelor, Charlie Allnut (Bogart). Together they embark on a long difficult journey, without any comfort. Rose grows determined to assist in the British war effort and presses Charlie until he finally agrees and together they steam up the Ulana encountering an enemy fort, raging rapids, bloodthirsty parasites and endlessly branching stream which always seem to lead them to what appear to be impenetrable swamps. Despite opposing personalities, the two grow closer to each other and ultimately carry out their plan to take out a German warship.
Editorial review of The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn, courtesy of Amazon.com
John Huston made better, more powerful films than The African Queen, but none so universally beloved, on first appearance and over the decades since. In this adaptation of the C.S. Forester novel, Humphrey Bogart (who would win the best-actor Oscar®) and Katharine Hepburn costar as an unlikely pair thrown together in German East Africa during the First World War. He’s the gin-soaked skipper of what we might call the title character, a none-too-reliable steam launch chugging along the backwaters of the “Dark Continent.” Hepburn’s a straitlaced Methodist missionary who, following the demise of her bachelor brother (Robert Morley) and the burning of their village by Kaiser Wilhelm’s troops, determines that the Queen should be used to attack the Königin Luise, a large German gunboat patrolling a lake downriver. It’s an absurd proposition. Then again, John Huston and the absurd were always on familiar terms.
It wasn’t until he got to the Congo that the director realized what a funny picture The African Queen was going to be, thanks to the odd coupling of Bogie and Kate: “One brought out a vein of humor in the other, and this comic sense, which had been missing from the book and screenplay, grew out of our day-to-day shooting.” Within the gunwales of a not-very-large boat, Huston managed to devise myriad ways to keep his two leading characters on separate visual planes even as circumstance and tender emotional urgency conspired to push them together.
This was Huston’s first feature film in Technicolor, and the peerless Jack Cardiff (The Red Shoes) was there to shoot it. Unfortunately, neither of them could do anything about the process-screen technology needed for, and glaringly inadequate to, the sequence of Bogart and Hepburn shooting the rapids just about the only lapse in an enchanting fairy tale for adults. The script is credited to Huston and James Agee; the uncredited Peter Viertel, summoned to the African locations to write some additional material, would later fictionalize the experience as White Hunter, Black Heart, a savage roman à clef. Richard T. Jameson
Funny movie quotes from The African Queen
Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart): Well I ain’t sorry for you no more, ya crazy, psalm-singing, skinny old maid!
Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart): We can’t do that!
Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn): How do you know? You never tried it.
Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart): Well, yeah, but I never tried shooting myself in the head neither.
Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart): I don’t know why the Germans would want this God-forsaken place.
Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn): God has not forsaken this place, Mr. Allnut, as my brother’s presence here bears witness.
Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart): How’d you like it?
Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn): Like it?
Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart): White water rapids!
Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn): I never dreamed — ¦
Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart): I don’t blame you for being scared — not one bit. Nobody with good sense ain’t scared of white water — ¦
Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn): I never dreamed that any mere physical experience could be so stimulating!
Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart): A man takes a drop too much once in a while, it’s only human nature.
Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn): Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.
Captain of Louisa: By the authority vested in me by Kaiser William II, I pronounce you man and wife. Proceed with the execution.
Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn): Dear? — ¦ Dear? — ¦ What is your first name?
Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart): [skitting Rose] Can you make a torpedo? Well do so Mr. Allnut.
Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart): All this fool talk about The Louisa. Goin’ down the river — ¦
Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn): What do you mean?
Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart): I mean we ain’t goin’ to do nothin’ of the sort.
Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn): Why, of course we’re going! What an absurd idea!
Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart): What an absurd idea! What an absurd idea! Lady, I may be a born fool, but you got ten absurd ideas to my one, an’ don’t you forget it!
Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart): [his stomach is growling] Ain’t a thing I can do about it.
Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart): You know why did the chicken cross the road.
Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn): [missing the joke] I beg your pardon.
Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart): Nevermind, miss.
Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn): Mr. Allnut! Mr. Allnut, you may come in out of the rain!
Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn): Mr. Allnut?
Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart): Yes, miss.
Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn): [after travelling through the rapids] Now that I’ve had a taste of it I don’t wonder why you love boating.
Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn): [as Charlie tries to stop her from revealing their plan] Oh stop it, Charlie, we’ve been through all that. I’m certainly not going to outlive you and that’s all there is to it!
Captain of Louisa: I think I shall have to hang you twice.
Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart): One thing in the world I hate: leeches. Filthy little devils.
Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn): Dear Lord, We’ve come to the end of our journey, and in a little while we’ll stand before you. I pray for you to be merciful. Judge us not for our weaknesses, but for our love and open the doors of heaven for Charlie and me.
Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn): Who do you think you are ordering me about?
Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart): I’m the captain, that’s what!
Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart): There ain’t nothing so complicated as the inside of a torpedo.
Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn): [after Charlie checks the boat for damage after going down a rather rough set of rapids] Could you see anything, dear?
Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart): Yeah. The shaft’s twisted like a corkscrew and there’s a blade gone off the prop.
Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn): We’ll have to mend it, then.
Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart): Let’s go while the going’s good.
Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart): Never say die. That’s my motto.
Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart): Nobody in Africa, but yours truly, can get a good head of steam on the old African Queen.
Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn): Fancy me a heroine.
Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart): What a time we had Rosie, what a time we had.
Captain of Louisa: By the authority granted to me by his Imperial Majestey Kaiser Wilhelm the Second I pronounce you man and wife — proceed with the execution.
Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart): It’s a great thing to have a lady aboard with clean habits. It sets the man a good example. A man alone, he gets to living like a hog.
Trivia for The African Queen
- This is the role that won Humphrey Bogart the only Oscar of his career.
- Walt Disney used this film as the basis for the Disneyland’s “Jungle Cruise” attraction.
- To show her disgust with the amount of alcohol that John Huston and Humphrey Bogart consumed during filming, Katharine Hepburn drank only water. As a result, she suffered a severe bout of dysentery.
- Columbia originally bought the novel as a vehicle for Charles Laughton and his wife Elsa Lanchester. Instead, they made The Beachcomber (1938), which was same story, but a box office failure. And at one point David Niven and Paul Henreid were each considered for the male lead.
- James Agee suffered a serious heart attack during development of the screenplay. Uncredited writer Peter Viertel wrote the film’s final scenes with John Huston.
- Shortly after filming was completed, Belgian fan magazine Cine-Revue published an article allegedly written by Lauren Bacall, who had accompanied her husband, Humphrey Bogart, on location, which included behind-the-scenes photographs. According to a Mar 1952 Daily Variety story, Romulus Films protested the publication of the photos, which they said “dispelled the film’s illusion” by exposing private shooting information. Lauren Bacall denied having written the story.
- Sources claimed that everyone in the cast and crew got sick, except Humphrey Bogart and John Huston, who said they avoided illness by essentially living on imported Scotch. Bogart later said, “All I ate was baked beans, canned asparagus, and Scotch whiskey. Whenever a fly bit Huston or me, it dropped dead.”
- While filming the scene where Charlie finds his body covered with leeches, Humphrey Bogart insisted on using rubber leeches. John Huston refused, and brought a leech-breeder to the London studio with a tank full of them. It made Bogart queasy and nervous, qualities Huston wanted for his close-ups. Ultimately, rubber leeches were placed on Bogart, and a close-up of a real leech was shot on the breeder’s chest.
- According to Katharine Hepburn’s autobiography, John Huston initially found her performance too serious-minded. One day, he visited her hut and suggested that she model her performance on Eleanor Roosevelt; putting on her “society smile” in the face of all adversity. After Huston left, Hepburn sat for a moment before deciding, “That is the best piece of direction I have ever heard.”
- Lauren Bacall famously ventured along for the filming in Africa to be with husband Humphrey Bogart. She played den mother during the trip, making camp and cooking. This also marked the beginning of her life-long friendship with Katharine Hepburn.
- According to cameraman Jack Cardiff, Katharine Hepburn was so sick with dysentery during shooting of the church scene that a bucket was placed off camera because she vomited constantly between takes. Cardiff called her “a real trouper.” In “The Making of The African Queen (1951)” Hepburn said she rushed for the outhouse only to find a black mamba inside, then ran to the trees.
- ‘The African Queen’ sank and had to be raised twice during filming of the movie. Lauren Bacall quoted “The natives had been told to watch it and they did. They watched it sink.”
- John Huston’s daughter Anjelica Huston was born in Ireland during filming.