Review of 'The African Queen'

african_queen.jpg It is 1914, prim Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn) and her husband Rev. Samuel Sayer (Robert Morley) are missionaries in German East Africa when their village is raided by the German army. Her husband is attacked and eventually dies so, now alone in the devastated village, Rose is forced to leave with the grumpy, dishevelled Charlie Allnutt (Humphrey Bogart) on his dilapidated river steamer, “The African Queen”. In the difficult situation the two opposite characters get closer to one another. Rose convinces Charlie they can use “The African Queen” to stage an attack on a German warship but Charlie is not convinced…

An iconic film with two of cinema's greats facing off on the screen. The chemistry should not really work but somehow it does, or perhaps it is just fun watching the characters butting heads all the time? The relatively simple story allows for the viewer to concentrate on the characters, which is what this film is all about. For the most part they are believable though I found it odd the religious side of Rose never really is mentioned despite her being a missionary's wife and her husband is treated largely with derision. Having said that it, it is great to see a Hollywood film of the time (1951) being so critical and cynical of missionaries (the scenes where the villagers attend a service but obviously have no understanding of what is going on) - A view that surely must have been so far ahead of it's time though the cavalier way the attack of the Germans on the village is treated is a bit of a let down, we never really get to know any of the local people, it is all about Rose and Charlie.

The most powerful performance here is from Humphrey Bogart who is utterly convincing as the boat captain who is obviously comfortable in his gin-swilling life style puttering up and down the river. He won the best actor Oscar for his role. Katharine Hepburn, on the other hand, is a bit more stilted as Rose who, to be fair, is working with a difficult character though I have found her to always have quite a stilted acting style (for Rose she was nominated for best actress, but did not win). It is this that slightly put me off about this film. However, the contrast of the free-and-easy with prim-and-proper is what is most intriguing and helps this film engage. The humour with these contrasts is surprisingly low-key without going for any obvious, cheap gags.

The effects are actually quite reasonable with only the occasional lapse into obvious studio-filmed scenes. The obviously real images of the African jungle are refreshing to see.

A bit of classic, light, film staring two giants with dramatically, and humorously, contrasting characters.

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2020-03-28

Directed by: John Huston

Studio: Romulus Films

Year: 1951

Length: 105 minutes

Genre: Melodrama

Other reviewed films by John Huston: