The African Queen (1951)

The African Queen is one of those classics that many people like. Surprisingly I’ve never even seen it on TV although Hollywood classics are regularly shown on Sunday afternoons. I didn’t expect anything because other than that it’s set in Africa during WWI I knew nothing about it. After having seen it, I know that it is rather a screwball comedy than a war movie as such. Nevertheless I enjoyed watching it. It is entertaining and the actors are excellent. Being a bit of a Humphrey Bogart fan I had to watch it sooner or later.

September 1914, German Eastern Africa. Missionary Reverend Samuel Sayer and his prudish sister Rose (Katharine Hepburn) live on a farm isolated from any other colonists. They are regularly visited by Charlie Allnut who owns a crummy boat, the “African Queen” and travels up and down the river, bringing the mail and other things. He is boorish and has very obviously an alcohol problem.

When the war in Europe breaks out, the colonies are drawn into it as well. German troops burn down the mission and the Reverend dies soon afterwards. Allnut passes by on his boat and helps Rose to bury her brother and takes her with him on the African Queen. They face a very long, difficult and dangerous journey down the river and on top of that Rose is determined to help the war effort. She suggests, Allnut should construct a torpedo and that they should then attempt to sink a German warship, the Luisa.

As is to be expected their trip down the river is more than adventurous. Torrential rains, rapids, mosquitoes and German posts make the journey very daunting. What is worse for Allnut is the fact that Rose supervises him and throws away his brandy. She wants him to behave and at first they bicker and quarrel constantly. After several days on the boat and many dangerous adventures they get closer and end up falling in love.

What an unlikely couple they make. What I liked is the fact that Rose is the inventive and courageous one. Although she doesn’t exactly look like an adventurer, in her long skirts, hat and with her prissy little manners, she is quite gutsy after all. Something else that makes this movie memorable is the fact that it reminds us that the Germans used to have a few colonies as well. One tends to forget that as they lost them all during WWI.

It’s an adventure story and a very amusing tale in which two very different people on a shabby little boat, fall in love and successfully fight a whole crew of a warship. It certainly is an early version of adventure romances like Romancing the Stone.

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10 thoughts on “The African Queen (1951)

  1. warmoviebuff says:

    Great comparison to “Romancing the Stone”. I haven’t seen it in years, but remember liking it. You certainly can’t beat the acting! It is #32 on my list, but I’m guessing I will find it’s overrated. Plus I agree with you that it is not truly a war movie. Question: if they remade it today, who would be the leads?

  2. tuulenhaiven says:

    Yay, I love this movie. I read a fun book about the filming of it when I was a teen. I was in love with Hepburn and read more than half a dozen books about her – I believe the book about filming of this movie was actually written by her, a sort of diary. It was quite an adventure to make it, nearly as much as the tale of the movie itself! I agree that it is a similar story to Romancing the Stone, although I had never thought of that. 🙂

    • It was much better than i thought it would be. I must admit, this could the only Katharine Hepburn movie I have ever seen. I need to find some others.
      I thought that considering how much older it is, her character was much stronger, more modern than Kathleen Turner’s in Romancing the Stone.
      I can imagine that filming this was an adventure.

  3. TBM says:

    I have always loved this movie. They make such a great pairing in the movie. Hepburn is one of my favorite actors of all time. Great comparison to Romancing the Stone. Never thought of that.

    • I would have watched it before if I had thought I’d enjoy it so much. I wouldn’t say Romancig the Stone (although I like it) is equally good but they really are similar. Maybe I would not have realized if I had watched them in chronological order.
      There is even a similarity between Hepburn and Turner.

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