“Samuel Sayer (Robert Morley) and his sister Rose (Katharine Hepburn) are British Methodist missionaries in the village of Kungdu in German East Africa at the beginning of World War I in August/September 1914 [World War I]. Their mail and supplies are delivered by a small tramp steamer named the African Queen, helmed by the rough-and-ready Canadian boat captain Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart), whose coarse behavior they tolerate in a rather stiff manner.”
“When Charlie warns them that war has broken out between Germany and Britain, the Sayers choose to stay on, only to witness the Germans burn down the mission village and herd the villagers away. When Samuel protests, he is beaten by a German soldier. After the Germans leave, Samuel becomes delirious with fever and soon dies. Charlie returns shortly afterward. He helps Rose bury her brother, and they set off in the African Queen.” Wikipedia Here
And that is how one of my favorite war movies begins. As you might guess, I don’t watch many traditional war movies. I generally prefer to watch movies that are not about the war, but I am making a 4th of July Tribute of my favorite war-time movies, and The African Queen definitely makes that list. To tell the truth, the African Queen is less about the war than it is about the relationship that evolves between two mismatched people who are thrown together in adverse circumstances. It doesn’t hurt things at all that the two people are a pair of Hollywood’s classic giants.
Humphrey Bogart -1951 Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Katharine Hepburn – Nominated for the Oscar Best Actress in a Leading Role
The dialog in this movie is exceptional, and Katharine Hepburn is a champ as she plays the part of the straight-laced, British, Methodist Missionary. She is almost scary.
And Humphrey Bogart brilliantly plays the part of a burned-out boozer.
Against his better judgment, Bogart allows Hepburn to brow-beat him into taking his boat down a river that is filled with rapids. Rose has decided that they should do this to sink the German ship The Louisa.
Charlie: All this foolish talk about the Louisa, going down the river.
Rose: What do you mean?
Charlie: I mean, we ain’t gonna do nothing of the sort.
Rose: Of course, we are. What an absurd idea.
Charlie: “What an absurd idea. What an absurd idea.” Lady, you’ve got 10 absurd ideas for my one. Ha…..
Charlie: I never did. I never agreed to nothing.
Rose: You are a liar, Mr Allnut, and what is worse, you are a coward.
Charlie: [Drunk] Woo! Coward yourself. You ain’t no lady. No, miss. That’s what my poor old mother would say to you, if my poor old mother was to hear you. Whose boat is this, anyway? I asked you onboard cos I was sorry for you on account of you losing your brother and all. That’s what you get for feeling sorry for people. Well, I ain’t sorry no more, you crazy, psalm-singing, skinny old maid! [The next morning Rose pours all of the booze on the boat in the river.]
Charlie Allnut: What are you being so mean for, Miss? A man takes a drop too much once in a while, it’s only human nature.
Rose Sayer: Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above
Bogart hopes that this first experience with the rapids will convince Hepburn that they should not continue their journey down the river, but he is wrong.
As in most cases of miss-matched couples, Bogart’s daring adventures have shown Hepburn an entirely different lifestyle:
Charlie Allnut: I don’t blame you for being scared, Miss, not one little bit. Ain’t no person in their right mind ain’t scared of white water.
Rose Sayer: I never dreamed that any mere physical experience could be so stimulating!
Charlie Allnut: How’s that, Miss?Rose Sayer: I’ve only known such excitement a few times before – a few times in my dear brother’s sermons when the spirit was really upon him.
Charlie Allnut: You mean you want to go on?
Rose Sayer: Naturally.
Charlie Allnut: Miss, you’re crazy.Rose Sayer: I beg your pardon.
Charlie Allnut: You know what would have happened if we would have come up against one of them rocks?
Rose Sayer: But we didn’t. I must say I’m filled with admiration for your skill, Mr. Allnut. Do you suppose I’ll try practice steering a bit that someday I might try? I can hardly wait… Now that I’ve had a taste of it. I don’t wonder you love boating, Mr. Allnut.
Rose: Dear?… Dear?… What is your first name?
Rose Sayer works Charlie Allnut like a well-oiled machine, and against Charlie’s better judgment, the journey down the river continues, and the pair’s relationship develops more.
Pinch me, Rosie. Here we are, going down the river like Anthony and Cleopatra on that barge! I’ll never forget the way you looked going over the falls – head up, chin out, hair blowing in the wind – the living picture of a hero-eyne!
Charlie and Rose fight all kinds of battles together. A bunch of leeches even attach themselves to Charlie’s skin, and he becomes ill. But they finally get out these types of danger and then, they spy the German ship, The Louisa–and then, the Louisa spots Charlie, and Charlie is sentenced to be executed.
Charlie was trying to cover for Rose, but she also crawled on board, and she tells the captain what they had planned to do.
Captain: Why were you on the lake?
Rose: We came to sink this ship, and we would have except… Let’s at least have the pleasure of telling them.
Charlie: Don’t believe her. She’s touched.
Rose: Stop that, Charlie. I’m certainly not going to outlive you.
Captain: And just how, Fräulein, did you propose to sink the Louisa?
Rose: With torpedoes.
2nd Officer: Nein.
1st Officer: Will you be so good as to tell us exactly where and how you acquired torpedoes?
Rose: Mr Allnut made them.
Captain: Where is the African Queen?
Rose: She sank in the storm.
Captain: How did you get onto the lake?
Rose: We came down the Ulanga. The Bora, you call it here.
Captain: That’s impossible.
Captain: But the river’s un-navigable.
Rose: That may be. We came down it, though, didn’t we? And in the African Queen.
The Captain sentenced both Charlie and Rose to be executed, but Charlie asks that the Captain marry the two of them:
Captain of Louisa: By the authority granted to me by his Imperial Majestey Kaiser Wilhelm the Second I pronounce you man and wife – proceed with the execution.
Just in time, the torpedoes explode and Charlie and Rose escape. Of couse, viewers today know that the trouble for Charlie and Rose, as the most miss-matched man and wife ever, has just begun. But the beauty of old movies is that the credits begin to roll, and the movie ends before we have to deal with that.
All-in-all, the movie is delightful. Don’t think that because the African Queen is continuously played on television that it is not superior. Both Bogart and Hepburn deserved Oscars for their performances. They were both spectacular. And as far as the movie’s value as a war film, through this movie, we are allowed to see that World War I even affected Africa–it was truly a World War.
©Jacki Kellum July 2, 2016