The African Queen is one of those classic movies that does not fall into just one category. It has a perfect balance of drama, comedy, romance, and adventure. Basically a two protagonist film, it features Humphrey Bogart as Canadian adventurer Charlie Allnut and Katherine Hepburn as missionary spinster Rose Sayer. The relationship between Rose and Charlie, though initially adversarial, evolves into an abiding love and appreciation for each other. This happens in 1914 Eastern Africa as the Germans systematically burn villages and co-opt young men as part of their growing army in the region.
After Rose's missionary brother dies from shock at the destruction of his mission compound and surrounding village, she finds herself alone at risk of being taken (and worse) by the Germans. When Charlie arrives on one of his regular supply trips to various outposts along the river, he finds her alone and grieving. He insists that she accompany him; accepting the inevitability of her fate, she reluctantly accompanies to his ancient steamer, named the African Queen.
Clearly, Charlie and Rose are opposites. He is hard drinking and coarse. She's a British spinster for whom everything must be proper. She cleans up his boat and hangs curtains, much to his disgust. He, on the other hand, continues his usual habits, including drinking himself into oblivion with gin.
The Germans are a major impediment to the pair's trip down the river. Rose decides they should turn the African Queen into a torpedo, using various incendiary and explosive materials Charlie has collected. With difficulty, she finally convinces Charlie the plan is viable.
Their experiences along the river as they encounter a variety of dangers-from a German fort overlooking the river to roiling rapids-makes this film an exciting action adventure film.
As Rose and Charlie have to join forces to survive the various perils they encounter on the river, both mutual appreciation and mutual attraction develop, despite the difference in their backgrounds and personalities. What they do have in common is bravery, persistence, and a down-to-earth approach to human relations and to problem solving.
Their growing love and its expressions make this film a classic romance.
Both Rose and Charlie are quick of tongue, and Rose's attempts to reform Charlie provide many funny minutes. Tense sequences are relieved by their bantering. Spine-tingling danger is balanced by moments of comedy.
Writers and Director
The African Queen was adapted from C. S. Forester's 1935 novel by director John Huston and novelist and screenwriter James Agee. This is one of Huston's most renowned classic films; the thematic elements and fast-paced action have stood the test of time.
- The African Queen was nominated for and won a number of awards. Humphrey Bogart won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a leading role. Hepburn was nominated for Best Actress, but did not win the Oscar.
- Other nominations include Best Director for John Huston and Screenwriting for Huston and Agee.
- The African Queen has also been included on many critics' and organizations' lists of the best films of the 20th Century.
Audience for The African Queen
This film appeals to both men and women. The romance is tempered by both comedy and exciting incidents. Its humor is likely to appeal to both sexes.
The most likely audience for this film as it plays on classic movie channels or is rented on DVD or VCR is comprised of the people who grew up knowing Hepburn and Bogart. People over 50 will enjoy watching both actors in their midyears.
Younger viewers will find the film entertaining, but may not relate as well to the historical elements of the film, which are simply sketched in as a background for both the romance and the action.
However, anyone who likes a good story with excellent character development and chemistry between the protagonists is sure to enjoy this film.