The African Queen (1951)

The African Queen (1951), directed by John Huston, written by James Agee and John Huston, adapted from a novel by C.S. Foster, starring Humphrey Bogart, Kathrine Hepburn

I think I tried to watch the African Queen when I was younger. I recall Bogart and Hepburn sailing on a rickety old steamer, called the African Queen, down a river, but I didn't remember much more than that. The way I see it, I didn't really watch it, more than I saw a couple of segments of it and decided that nah, this ain't a movie for me. Why would I have been interested in a movie, where drunken captain takes an old maid missionary with him? While it was set in Africa, there was no Tarzan in it, so why would I have cared. Let's fast forward a bit from years filled with Chuck Norris movies to today when I happened the catch the African Queen from a TV and finally watch it through.

First off, I don't know what I had thought was the reason for the boat trip. I guess I thought it was about a missionary work, so it came as a surprise to me, that the story is set during the first world war and that the reason for the boat trip was at first to escape from the Germans, after which it turns into an attempt at trying to sink one of their battleships, as the Germans were directly responsible for a death of Rose's (Hepburn) brothers death. It's actually a pretty interesting story of two very different people, who are forced to travel together because something terrible has happened.

So Rose is a missionary in Africa with her brother Samuel (Robert Morely) when they hear from a drunken boat captain Charlie Allnut (Bogart) that a war is being waged in Europe. From that moment they all become hostile foreigners in a German colonized part of the world they are in. Not that Allnut himself is too worried about that, as he just hauls cargo, including explosives, to nearby mines. It doesn't take long for a German troop to arrive at the Kungdu village, which they burn down in order to flex their dominance. They leave the missionaries alive, but Samuel soon dies of fever and exertion caused by the attack.

Meanwhile, Allnut has become worried, as his started to hear rumors about burned villages. He returns to Kungdu and only to find Rose alone with her dead brother. They bury him and leave towards safer grounds. It's not easy at first, as they are very different. Allnut likes to drink and Rose is a religious, prude old maid, who detests drinking. And then she hears of a German gunship that patrols a lake downriver, attacking British ships, so she comes up with a plan how to destroy it: she wants to use the explosives the African Queen has aboard in order to make torpedoes out of old oxygen bottles and use the ship to ram them to the gunship. Allnut is at first against it, as the river is dangerous, havign rapids and even a German fortress along the road, but they do find a common tune, especially after they share a kiss and find not only friendship but love from each other.

The African Queen is a very well done movie. It has beautiful cinematography and African scenery looks lush and beautiful, giving a great frame around the more rustic looking riverboat and its captain. Hepburn and Bogart both give out solid performances, which is important considering have to carry the main bulk of the story on their own, as they don't meet that many people on their voyage. We do see glimpses of the Germans here and there, but only at the end there's more interaction between the two sides.

I can see how I didn't really warm up to the African Queen when I was younger. It's somewhat of an old-fashioned adventure story and it's not even about young people, nor people you'd most commonly see in an adventure tale of this kind. It's a story about people, who find a common cause despite they're not soldiers or agents. They're just common people in a middle of a great war, who want to make a difference.

I'm actually glad I didn't really watch the African Queen when I was younger, as I don't think I would have really grasped it. It's the kind of a story that requires a bit of maturity from the viewer, as it's also somewhat of a peculiar story that isn't as straightforward as it seems despite the story of it is pretty simple. It is an adventure story, but it also is a story about two people, who have lost hope of finding happiness in their lives and have settled on doing what they do: Rose being a missionary, Allnut a drunken sailor. In the end, they find something more from themselves and I do think that's pretty sweet.