The African Queen: Review
The African Queen offered one of the most unlikely pairings ever in cinematic history (that of Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn). And yet, under the masterful direction of John Huston, the combination resulted in one of the dearest romances ever to hit the silver screen, and provided Bogart with his one and only acting Oscar.
Promoted as having been filmed in the treacherous wilds of Africa, the film production actually did struggle while working under the harsh conditions of the exotic location, (mandated by Huston himself). Although the director and lead actor enjoyed the rigors of roughing it, everyone else suffered from varying degrees of discomfort, including extreme dysentery. By all accounts, Huston and Bogart managed to avoid any physical ailments by drinking nothing but hard alcohol. Either way, the result was well worth it.
The story takes place at the onset of WWI when, after the loss of her missionary brother, a prim, English spinster (played to perfection by Hepburn) must turn to a lackadaisical no-account (Bogart as you’ve never seen him) who has been delivering mail by boat during many years of solitude. Soon after retreating by river, the two disparate individuals devise a plan to elude the Germans while constructing a makeshift torpedo by which to sink the largest enemy ship in the area. Naturally, the two bicker, run rapids, fend off any manner of beasties, outrun gunfire and fall in love in the process. And even with all of this action taking place, The African Queen is truly one of the all-time most endearing, family friendly stories about how two very different people come to rely on each other, respect each other, and even need each other.
At first, it's hard to imagine that macho man Huston could be responsible for such a sweet and touching story of an old maid and a drunk who depend on one another as they hide from the Germans in the twisting waterways of Africa. However, with a closer look at his impressive resume, one discovers that Huston had a very distinctive career that knew no restrictions when it came to subject or genre. For those familiar with Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison or even Key Largo, it isn't hard to see Huston’s influence on the strong, yet subtle performances drawn from the actors, as well as his adept ability to maintain the ever-present excitement created in this romantic, drama, adventure.
Of course, the true revelation in The African Queen is the chemistry generated between the two aging mega-stars. Theirs is not a hot and steamy romance, but rather, an honest relationship that Bogart and Hepburn develop through a sincere camaraderie. Because they are so very different in image, it’s just plain fun to watch these icons as they transition into a loving couple willing to make the ultimate sacrifice together, rather than go on alone. For a big/little classic, you couldn’t ask for anything more than what The African Queen has to offer in sheer entertainment.