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The African Queen

The African Queen is a 1951 movie. The film was adapted by James Agee, John Huston and Peter Viertel from the 1935 novel by C.S. Forester. It was directed by Huston and photographed in Technicolor by Jack Cardiff. more...

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It starred Humphrey Bogart (who won the Academy Award for Best Actor - his only Oscar), Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley and Theodore Bikel.

Scenes in which Bogart and Hepburn are seen in the water were all shot in studio tanks in England because of health concerns. Almost all of the other scenes were filmed in central Africa, causing considerable hardship for the cast and crew, but the result was a critical and commercial success.

Most of the action takes place aboard a boat - the African Queen of the title - and scenes on board the boat were filmed using a large raft with a mockup of the boat on top. Sections of the boat set could be removed to make room for the large Technicolor camera. This proved hazardous on one occasion when the boat's boiler - a heavy copper replica - almost fell over onto Hepburn. It was not bolted down since it also had to be moved to accommodate the camera.


Morley and Hepburn play Samuel and Rose Sayer, brother and sister British missionaries in a central African village in 1914. Their mail and supplies are delivered by the rough-and-ready Canadian boat captain Charlie Allnut (Bogart) of the African Queen, whose coarse behavior they tolerate in a rather stiff manner.

When Charlie warns them that German troops will soon invade the Sayers choose to stay on, only to witness the Germans burning down the local village. When Samuel protests he is beaten by a German soldier. After the Germans leave Samuel becomes delirious and shortly dies.

Soon afterward Charlie returns, and after helping her to bury Samuel they set off to escape in the African Queen. Charlie tells Rose that the Germans have a gunboat, the Empress Luisa, which patrols a large lake downriver, effectively blocking any British counterattacks.

Rose comes up with a plan to convert the Queen into a torpedo boat and sink the Luisa. Charlie points out that navigating the river would be suicidal: to reach the lake they would have to pass a German fort and negotiate several dangerous rapids. But Rose is insistent and eventually persuades him to go along with the plan. Charlie is furious when the teetotal Rose throws away all of his gin, but she insists that he needs to be sober for this mission.

Setting off downstream the two of them survive the rapids and German gunfire from the fort, as well as leeches, mechanical problems and swarms of flies, before eventually being stranded on a reed-bed. Their mutual hardships bring them closer together, and by the time they have reached the reeds they are well and truly in love.

Eventually heavy rains lift the Queen off of the reeds and into the lake, where they narrowly avoid being spotted by the Luisa. That night they set about converting some gas cylinders into torpedoes using dynamite and improvised detonators which use rifle shells. They then attach the torpedoes to the front of the Queen.


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