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The African Queen (film)

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Title: The African Queen (film)  
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The African Queen (film)

The African Queen
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Huston
Produced by Sam Spiegel
John Woolf (uncredited)
Screenplay by John Huston
James Agee
Peter Viertel
John Collier
Based on The African Queen (novel)
1935 novel 
by C. S. Forester
Starring Humphrey Bogart
Katharine Hepburn
Robert Morley
Music by Allan Gray
Cinematography Jack Cardiff
Edited by Ralph Kemplen
Horizon Pictures
Romulus Films Ltd[1]
Distributed by United Artists (US)
Independent Film Distributors (UK)
Release dates
  • December 23, 1951 (1951-12-23)
Running time 105 minutes
Country United States
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $1 million[2]
Box office $10,750,000[3]

The African Queen is a 1951 adventure film adapted from the 1935 novel of the same name by C. S. Forester.[4] The film was directed by John Huston and produced by Sam Spiegel[5] and John Woolf. The screenplay was adapted by James Agee, John Huston, John Collier and Peter Viertel. It was photographed in Technicolor by Jack Cardiff and had a music score by Allan Gray. The film stars Humphrey Bogart (who won the Academy Award for Best Actor – his only Oscar), and Katharine Hepburn with Robert Morley, Peter Bull, Walter Gotell, Richard Marner and Theodore Bikel.[6]

The African Queen has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 1994, with the Library of Congress deeming it "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant".

The film currently holds a 100% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 37 reviews.[7]


Robert Morley and Katharine Hepburn play Samuel and Rose Sayer, brother and sister British Methodist missionaries in the village of Kungdu in German East Africa at the beginning of World War I in August/September 1914. Their mail and supplies are delivered by the rough-and-ready Canadian boat captain Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) of the African Queen, whose coarse behaviour 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 burning down the mission village and herding 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.

In discussing their situation, Charlie mentions to Rose that the Germans have a gunboat, the Queen Louisa (actually Königin Luise in German), which patrols a large lake downriver, effectively blocking any British counter-attacks. Rose comes up with a plan to convert the African Queen into a torpedo boat, and sink the Queen Louisa. Charlie points out that navigating the river would be suicidal: to reach the lake they would have to pass a German fort and negotiate several dangerous rapids. But Rose is insistent and eventually persuades him to go along with the plan.

Charlie hoped after passing the first obstacle that Rose would be discouraged, but she is confident they can handle what is yet to come, and argues that Charlie promised to go all the way. During their journey down the river, Charlie, Rose and the African Queen encounter many obstacles, including the German fort and three sets of rapids. The first set of rapids is rather easy; they get through with minimal flooding in the boat. But Rose and Charlie have to duck down when they pass the fortress and the soldiers begin shooting at them, blowing two bullet holes in the top of the boiler and causing one of the steam pressure hoses to disconnect from the boiler, which in turn, causes the boat's engine to stop running. Luckily, Charlie manages to reattach the hose to the boiler just as they are about to enter the second set of rapids. The boat rolls and pitches crazily as it goes down the rapids, leading to more severe flooding in the boat and also collapsing the stern canopy.

While celebrating their success, the two find themselves in an embrace. Embarrassed, they break off, but eventually succumb and strike up a relationship. The couple decide to take a pit stop to gather more fuel and drain the boat. Back on the river, Charlie and Rose watch hippopotamuses and chimpanzees frolic on the nearby river bank when the third set of rapids comes up. This time, there is a loud metallic clattering noise as the boat goes over the falls. Once again, the couple dock on the river bank to check for damage. When Charlie dives under the boat, he finds the propeller shaft bent sideways and a blade missing from the propeller. Luckily, with some expert skills and using suggestions from Rose, Charlie manages to straighten the shaft and weld a new blade on to the propeller, and they are off again.

All appears lost when Charlie and Rose "lose the channel" and the boat becomes mired in the mud amid dense reeds near the mouth of the river. First, they try to tow the boat through the muck, only to have Charlie come out of the water covered with leeches. All their efforts to free the African Queen fail. With no supplies left and short of potable water, Rose and a feverish Charlie turn in, convinced they have no hope of survival. Before going to sleep Rose prays that she and Charlie be admitted into Heaven. As they sleep, exhausted and beaten, heavy rains raise the river's level and float the African Queen off of the mud and into the lake which, it turns out, is just a short distance from their location. Once on the lake, they narrowly avoid being spotted by the Queen Louisa.

That night, they set about converting some oxygen cylinders into torpedoes using gelatin explosives and improvised detonators that use nails as the firing pins for rifle cartridges. They then attach the torpedoes through the bow of the African Queen, to be used as improvised Spar torpedoes. At the height of a storm, they push the African Queen out onto the lake, intending to set it on a collision course with the Queen Louisa. Unfortunately, the holes in the bow in which the torpedoes were pushed through are not sealed, allowing water to pour into the boat, causing it to sink lower and eventually the African Queen tips over.

Charlie is captured and taken aboard the Queen Louisa, where he is questioned by the captain. Believing Rose to have drowned, he makes no attempt to defend himself against accusations of spying and is sentenced to death by hanging. However, Rose is captured too and Charlie hollers her name, then pretends not to know her. The captain questions her, and Rose confesses the whole plot proudly, deciding they have nothing to lose anyway. The captain sentences her too to be executed as a spy. Charlie asks the German captain to marry them before executing them. After a brief marriage ceremony, the Germans prepare to hang them, when there is a sudden explosion and the Queen Louisa starts to sink. The Queen Louisa has struck the overturned hull of the African Queen and detonated the torpedoes. Rose's plan has worked, if a little belatedly, and the newly married couple swim to safety in Kenya.



Hepburn and Bogart in a publicity still for the film.
Movie trailer

Production censors objected to several aspects of the original script, which included the two characters cohabiting without the formality of marriage. Some changes were made before the film was completed.[8] Another change followed the casting of Bogart; his character's lines in the original screenplay were rendered with a thick Cockney dialect but the script had to be completely rewritten because the actor was unable to reproduce it.

The film was partially financed by John and James Woolf of Romulus Films, a British company. The Woolf brothers provided £250,000[9] and were so pleased with the completed movie that they talked John Huston into directing their next picture, Moulin Rouge (1952).

Much of the film was shot on location in bucket nearby because she was often sick between takes. Bogart later bragged that he was the only one to escape illness, which he credited to not drinking any water on location, but instead fortifying himself from the large supply of whiskey he had brought along with him.[10][11]

About half of the film was shot in England. For instance, the scenes in which Bogart and Hepburn are seen in the water were all shot in studio tanks at Isleworth Studios, Middlesex. These scenes were considered too dangerous to shoot in Africa. All of the foreground plates for the process shots were also done in studio.[12]

A myth has grown that the scenes in the reed-filled riverbank were filmed in Dalyan, Turkey.[13] But Katharine Hepburn's published book (p. 118) on the filming states 'We were about to head... back to Entebbe, but John [Huston] wanted to get shots of Bogie and me in the miles of high reeds before we come out into the lake...". The reeds sequence was thus shot on location in Africa (Uganda and Congo) and London studios.

Most of the action takes place aboard a boat – the African Queen of the title – and scenes on board the boat were filmed using a large raft with a mockup of the boat on top. Sections of the boat set could be removed to make room for the large Technicolor camera. This proved hazardous on one occasion when the boat's boiler – a heavy copper replica – almost fell on Hepburn. It was not bolted down because it also had to be moved to accommodate the camera. The small steam-boat used in the film to depict the African Queen was built in 1912, in England, for service in Africa. At one time it was owned by actor Fess Parker.[14] In December 2011, plans were announced to restore the boat.[15] Restoration was completed by the following April and the African Queen is now on display as a tourist attraction at Key Largo, Florida.[16]

Because of the dangers involved with shooting the rapid scenes, a model was created at the studio tank in London.

The German gunboat in the film, the Königin Luise, was inspired by the former World War I vessel MV Liemba (known until 1924 as the Goetzen[17]), which was scuttled in 1916 during the Battle for Lake Tanganyika, but was subsequently refloated by the British and continues to operate as a passenger ferry to this day. The actual vessel used in the film to portray the Louisa was the steam tug Buganda, owned and operated on Lake Victoria by East African Railways & Harbours.


The African Queen opened on December 23, 1951 in Los Angeles, in order to qualify for the 1951 Oscars, and on February 20, 1952 at the Capitol Theatre in New York City.

The film earned an estimated £256,267 at UK cinemas in 1952,[18] making it the 11th most popular movie of the year.[19] It earned an estimated $4 million at the US and Canadian box office.[20]

Awards and honours

Academy Awards

Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role Humphrey Bogart
Best Actress in a Leading Role Katharine Hepburn
Best Adapted Screenplay James Agee
John Huston
Best Director John Huston


American Film Institute recognition

AFI has also honored both Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn as the greatest American screen legends.

Subsequent releases

The film has been released on Region 2 DVD in the United Kingdom, Germany and Scandinavia.

The British DVD includes a theatrical trailer and an audio commentary by cinematographer Cardiff in which he details many of the hardships and challenges involved in filming in Africa.

Prior to 2010, the film had been released in the United States on VHS video, laserdisc and as a region 1 DVD. Region 1 and Region All DVDs are available and distributed by The Castaways Pictures, and have English and Chinese subtitles available with no other features. It is not clear if these are authorized or not.

2009 digital restoration

In 2009, Paramount Pictures (the current owner of the US rights) completed restoration work for region 1 and a 4K digitally restored version was issued on DVD and Blu-ray March 23, 2010. The film was restored in its original mono soundtrack from original UK film elements under the sole supervision of Paramount, and had as an extra a documentary on the film's production, Embracing Chaos: The Making of The African Queen. According to Ron Smith, vice president of restoration for Paramount Pictures, the major factor that led to the holdup were difficulties locating the original negative.[21] Romulus Films and international rights holder ITV Global Entertainment were acknowledged in the restoration credits.

ITV released the restoration in Region 2 on June 14, 2010.

Adaptations to other media

The African Queen was adapted as a one-hour radio play on the December 15, 1952 broadcast of Lux Radio Theater with Humphrey Bogart reprising his film role and joined by Greer Garson. This broadcast is included as a bonus CD in the Commemorative Box Set version of the Paramount DVD.

A one-hour television pilot for a proposed series was broadcast on March 18, 1977 on CBS. Starring Warren Oates, Mariette Hartley and Johnny Sekka, the pilot was not picked up for further development.[22]

An elliptic commentary on the making of The African Queen can be found in the 1990 film White Hunter Black Heart, directed by Clint Eastwood.



  1. ^ "Company Information". Retrieved October 3, 2010. 
  2. ^ Rudy Behlmer, Behind the Scenes, Samuel French, 1990 p 239
  3. ^ The African QueenBox Office Information for . The Numbers. Retrieved November 11, 2012.
  4. ^ "The African Queen (1951)". Reel Classics. Retrieved 29 May 2012. 
  5. ^ Spiegel was billed as "S.P. Eagle".
  6. ^ The African Queen' - Bogart, Hepburn and the Little Boat That Could"'". Retrieved 29 May 2012. 
  7. ^ "The African Queen (1951)".  
  8. ^ Censored Films and Television at University of Virginia online
  9. ^ Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company The Changed the Film Industry, Uni of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p 46
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ Embracing Chaos: Making ‘The African Queen' a documentary film
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ "African Queen boat to be restored". BBC News. December 9, 2011. 
  16. ^ "The African Queen sets sail again". CBS News. April 13, 2012. Retrieved April 13, 2012. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ Vincent Porter, 'The Robert Clark Account', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol 20 No 4, 2000 p495
  20. ^ 'Top Box-Office Hits of 1952', Variety, January 7, 1953
  21. ^ Chaney, Jen (March 26, 2010). The African Queen' new on DVD after more than 50 years"'". The Washington Post. 
  22. ^ Terrace, Vincent (2009). Encyclopedia of Television Shows, 1925 through 2007 (Volume 1 A-E). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-3305-6.


  • Farwell, Byron. The Great War in Africa, 1914–1918. 2nd ed. New York City: W. W. Norton & Company, 1989.
  • Foden, Giles (2005). "Mimi and Toutou Go Forth: The Bizarre Battle of Lake Tanganyika". Penguin Books Ltd. ISBN 0-14-100984-5
  • Hagberg Wright, C.T. "German Methods of Development in Africa." Journal of the Royal African Society 1.1 (1901): 23–38. Historical. J-Stor. Golden Library, ENMU. 18 April. 2005
  • Henderson, William Otto. The German Colonial Empire. Portland: International Specialized Book Services, Inc, 1993.
  • Hepburn, Katharine (1987). The Making of the African Queen, or: How I Went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind (Knopf)
  • Werner, A, and R Dilthey. "German and British Colonisation in Africa." Journal of the Royal African Society 4.14 (1905): 238–41. Historical. J-Stor. Golden Library, ENMU. 18 April. 2005.

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