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The African Queen (1951)(Classic Film Review)

REVIEW OVERVIEW

The Film
The Plot
Character (Lead)
Character (Supporting)
Directing
Cinematography
Overall

SUMMARY

At the beginning of WWI, a hard drinking riverboat (Humphrey Bogart) captain and a pious missionary (Katherine Hepburn) take his boat deep into treacherous waters in order to destroy a German gunboat in this John Huston-directed classic.

The African Queen (1951) Key ArtThe African Queen (1951) revolves around a mechanic and a Methodist missionary in Africa, who use the boat for supplies, as a means to flee from the Germans and help the British navy before the outbreak of WW1.

PLOT

Samuel and Rose Sayer are siblings and missionaries for the Methodist Church in German East Africa. Before the beginning of the WW1, Germans attack the village, recruit the villagers as soldiers and later Samuel gets sick and dies. Meanwhile, Charlie, the Canadian mechanic who manages the boat that carries the supplies and goods for them, named African Queen, warns Rose that Germans will want to steal the boat’s explosives. So, they emerge on a voyage across the dangerous Ulanga River, passing from a German fort and series of rapids. Some of the unpleasant surprises include attacks from mosquitoes and leeches. However, the two of them fall in love and make an attempt to use African Queen as a torpedo to sink the German ship named Queen Louisa.
It is a well paced film that is very enjoyable to watch because of the numerous comedic moments, the excellent pacing of the dangerous scenes set in the jungle and the protagonists’ romance. The plot is well structured and the movie remains appealing to the very end.

CHARACTERS

  • Rose Sayer is a religious missionary from Britain. She lives together with her brother Samuel and teaches Methodism to the people in East Africa. She is very strict and demanding from Charlie, but gets fascinated by the jeopardy of the jungle and the rapids. She regards the venture with the African Queen as very important, because she will have the chance to help the British in the upcoming war by sinking Queen Louisa.
  • Charlie Allnutt is the harsh Canadian mechanic who is responsible for the African Queen boat, that transfers the goods and supplies to the Sayers. He feels sorry for Rose after the death of her brother and decides to accept her suggestion of navigating the Ulanga River. But for the fights, he sticks with her and offers his knowledge on stream engines and torpedoes and fixes many mechanical problems of the boat.

ACTING

  • Humphrey Bogart was exceptional in the role of the working class, unsophisticated, but practical Charlie Allnutt.
  • Katharine Hepburn was also superb as the religious and educated, but a bit spoiled Rose Slayer. Their chemistry is something that is palpable and it was very interesting watching two completely different characters get together and attract each other in the middle of a jungle before the outbreak of the WW1.

DIRECTION & CINEMATOGRAPHY

In terms of direction, John Huston did a very good job at transmitting to the viewer the feelings of suspense and the romance between the characters and making us being on the alert. The scenes at the rapids, especially the first one, were filled with adrenaline, which you get the sense the protagonists feel when they overcome the challenge, and generally, every challenge they have. Cinematography was captivating with all the scenery of the surrounding vegetation, the crocodiles, the elephants, the hippopotamuses, the insects, the flowers, the reeds, the river and the lake.

END

The finale is what someone could expect, in the sense that it is a pre-war situation, so it is open ended. It is a bit of a bittersweet finale, because if the protagonists do not die during the movie, they are assumed to do so because of the war, so it has to be open to many interpretations.


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The African Queen had its official premiere February 20, 1952 in New York, NY and Paramount is currently celebrating its 70th anniversary.



  • Studios & Distributors: Romulus Films | Horizon Pictures | Paramount
  • Country: UK | USA
  • Language: English | German | Swahili
  • Run Time: 105 Mins.
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
  • Director: John Huston
  • Written By: C.S. Forester (novel) | James Agee (adapted for the screen by) | John Huston (adapted for the screen by)
  • Original Release Date: 20 February 1952 (New York, NY)
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