September 1914, news reaches the colony German Eastern Africa that Germany is at war, so Reverend Samuel Sayer became a hostile foreigner. German imperial troops burn down his mission; he is beaten and dies of fever. His well-educated, snobbish sister Rose Sayer buries him and leaves by the only available transport, the dilapidated river steamboat 'African Queen' of grumpy Charlie Allnut. As if a long difficult journey without any comfort weren't bad enough for such odd companions, she is determined to find a way to do their bit for the British war effort (and avenge her brother) and aims high, as God is obviously on their side: construct their own equipment, a torpedo and the converted steamboat, to take out a huge German warship, the Louisa, which is hard to find on the giant lake and first of all to reach, in fact as daunting an expedition as anyone attempted since the late adventurous explorer John Speakes, but she presses till Charlie accepts to steam up the Ulana, about to brave... Written by
THE African QUEEN is probably one of the most widely available films in the world, on sale in the electronics department of virtually every major retail chain, a commonplace at every rental counter, frequently seen on television. It is hard to imagine any one in the western world, especially in the United States, who has not seen the film at least once--and probably more than once. And so we take it for granted.
That is a mistake. Based on the famous C.S. Forester novel, which it follows quite closely, THE African QUEEN is the simple story of pragmatic river-rat Charlie Allnut (Bogart) and high-minded Methodist missionary spinster Rose Sayer (Hepburn) who are thrown together by chance when German troops sweep through Africa during World War I. Once safely aboard his beat-up riverboat "The African Queen," Allnut desires nothing more than to dodge the Germans until war's end; Rose, however, determines to strike a blow against the Germans by sailing the boat downriver to attack a German battleship.
There are so many fine things about this movie that they are hard to innumerate. Filmed on location in the Congo, the cinematography is remarkably fine without being obtrusive; the script, which is at once subtle and very purposeful, has a remarkably natural tone; the two stars--who play the vast majority of the film alone together--give justly famous performances; and Huston's direction is so fine that we never feel even the slightest hint of directorial manipulation. As an adventure, it has a sense of realism that most adventure stories lack; as a character study it is remarkably detailed and finely wrought; as a love story, it is quite touching without engaging in common sentimentality. And it can be enjoyed by many people of diverse backgrounds and ages without the faintest qualm.
If you haven't seen THE African QUEEN in a while (or heaven forbid never seen it at all) don't take it for granted thinking you'll catch it sooner or later. Sit down with the film and watch it with fresh eyes. You'll be amazed.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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