Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn – two of the most iconic figures in Hollywood history– create a formidable duo in John Huston’s adaptation of C.S. Forester’s The African Queen.
Set in the early days of WWI, The African Queen stars Hepburn as prim and proper English lady, Rose Sayer. Left all alone after the passing of her Methodist preacher brother (Robert Morley), she hitches a ride up stream from boozing Canuck Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart), the captain of river boat, The African Queen.
Once on board, Rose convinces Charlie to make a torpedo out of spare components on his boat in order to sink a German warship which patrols off a large lake down river. As they battle against rapids, crocodiles, and German troops, the unlikely pair develops a romance which gives them strength to press on with their quest.
A prime example of the golden age of Hollywood at its most adventurous, The African Queen proved to be a difficult production shot in extreme conditions in Central Africa and driven by Huston’s mad genius, as the master filmmaker displays his talent for creating intimate stories amongst an epic backdrop.
The film was buoyed by the performances of his two legendary actors whose differing personalities manifests in their characters to thrilling results.
Bogart is a hoot as the drunkard boat captain who exhibits bravery during crucial moments (a scene featuring Bogart dragging his boat through muddy, leech infested channels is a prime example of his characters heroism and chivalry), and Hepburn’s stiff upper lip and cast iron jaw is perfectly suited to her straight laced character who is stimulated by her dangerous endeavour.
Since the film was made in the early 1950s, several scenes depicting danger now come off as unintentionally funny due to the use of dated special effects. Also, the whirling score by Allan Gray may suit the films high spirited tone yet also distracts during key scenes (as is the case during many films in this era).
Never the less, the performances by Bogart (who earned his lone Oscar for his troubles) and Hepburn –along with Huston’s astute direction – has helped produce a high spirited and highly entertaining adventure movie.