Retro: our movie & TV vault... a fresh look
at neglected classics and cult favourites
The African Queen has been called all sorts - from "one of the richest comedies
ever made" (Eugene Archer, Film Culture), to "without taste and even without
cinematic skill" (Gilbert Seldes, The Public Arts), yet it's widely acknowledged
as a classic movie adventure - in every sense of the term - shot mostly on location in the
Congo, proving a difficult production and a testing schedule for all concerned.
Based on the novel by C.S. Forester (the creator of Horatio Hornblower), it tells of Charlie and Rosie's arduous and frustrating trip downriver, during WWI. They face a mechanical failure of their steamboat, wicked Germans, and a plethora of natural jungle hazards including swarms of biting insects (faked on camera long before CGI was imaginable), white-water rapids, plus crocodiles and leeches in the murky water. (It's worth noting that Huston's film crew were confronted with many of the same dangers - poisonous snakes, soldier ants, with bouts of malaria and other terrible ills caused by the local water supply.)
In the lead roles, Humphrey Bogart (winning his only Oscar) is archetypal, and greatly appealing as the blustery drunk, Charlie Allnut, while Katherine Hepburn plays batty spinster Rose Sayer as if born with uptight missionary zeal. Both stars spark off each other in some particularly amusing scornful exchanges of dialogue, so it's equally surprising and inevitable that they fall in love during their journey, and it hardly even matters that here's a pairing of model Americans portraying a crusty cockney and an English lady. The ending may descend into self-parody, but in my view this minor slip into nearly miraculous romantic fantasy simply adds to the film's immense charm.
If you enjoyed this, I strongly recommend Clint Eastwood's intriguing White Hunter, Black Heart (1990) as it's based on a novel by screenwriter Peter Viertel, clearly inspired by Huston the tyrannical director, and the making of this film.
DVD extras: Technicolor picture is digitally re-mastered (to aspect ratio 4:3), with Dolby digital mono soundtrack. There's also a fascinating commentary by cinematographer Jack Cardiff, English subtitles, biographies, galleries of posters, stills and lobby cards, and the original theatrical trailer.