The African Queen
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A Note Regarding Spoilers

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for The African Queen can be found here.

Yes. The African Queen is based on the 1935 novel of the same name by English novelist C.S. Forester, pen name for Cecil Louis Troughton Smith [1899-1966]. It was adapted for the movie by American novelist James Agee and director John Huston.

Who is the African Queen?

The African Queen isn't a "who". It's a "what". It is a 30 foot, 30-year old, steam-powered boat that delivers supplies to a mine and mail to villages along the Ulanga River in German East Africa in 1914.

Those who have both seen the movie and read the book have pointed out several differences. One minor difference is that the main characters, Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) and Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn), are younger in the book. One major difference is that the ending in the movie is completely different from the ending in the book.

Charlie is a Canadian and captain of the African Queen. He once worked as a machinist at a nearby mine. Rose and her brother Samuel (Robert Morley) are British missionaries who have set up a small church in the village of Kungdu along the Ulanga River.

After the German soldiers raid the village, round up the natives, and burn the buildings, Rose's brother Samuel takes ill following a beating by the soldiers. When Charlie shows up and finds Samuel dead and everything devastated, he offers to take Rose on his boat and hole up in the backwash of an island until they can figure out what to do next. Charlie explains that the Germans have taken control of the Ulanga River, set up a military post (Fort Shona), and placed a gunboat, the Kningen Luise in the lake where the Ulanga empties. Rose notices that the African Queen is carrying cases of blasting gelatin and old airtanks and suggests that they make torpedoes of them and blow up the Luise. Charlie thinks that Rose is daft, but he agrees to take the African Queen down the river.

For the most part, the movie was shot in Uganda and the Congo in central Africa, using a mockup of the African Queen built on a raft. However, the scenes where Charlie and Rose are seen in the water were all shot in studio tanks at Isleworth Studios, Middlesex, England because of health and safety concerns. Robert Morley's shots were also filmed in England due to his theatrical commitments.

Charlie called Rose "Miss" at first, while she called him "Mr Allnut". After they became more familiar with each other, he started calling her "Rosie" and "Old Girl", and she called him "Dear" and "Charlie". Offscreen, Bogie called Hepburn "Katie".

What was the song...

...Rose sang in the opening hymn: Cwm Rhondda, an Episcopalian hymn by John Hughes (words) and Mrs Dilys Webb (music).

...Charlie sang when drunk and again at the end: The Bold Fisherman

How does it end?

Charlie and Rose build makeshift torpedoes out of two airtanks in order to blow up the Luise, but a storm causes the African Queen to founder, and they are picked out of the water and onto the Luise. German officers interrogate Charlie, who tries to deny everything and says that he was just out fishing. The Court decides to hang him anyway. Then Rose confesses their plan to blow up the Luise because she wants to die with Charlie. The Germans order them both to be executed. Prior to the hanging, Charlie asks the German captain to marry him and Rose. After the marriage ["I now pronounce you man and wife. Proceed with the execution."], the Luise suddenly explodes. It has run into the submerged African Queen and set off the torpedoes. In the panic that follows, Charlie and Rose jump overboard and begin swimming to shore, celebrating their success.

Like in the movie, the African Queen sinks, and Charlie and Rose are picked up the Germans and forced to stand trial. However, the Germans decide not to hang them; rather, they are put to work on the Luise. A British ship attacks the Luise, finally sinking it, and Charlie and Rose are picked up. The British officers decide to send Rose back to England and Charlie to work in South Africa, so the two of them decide to get married.

There aren't a lot of movies like The African Queen. One that has been recommended by other viewers is Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957), in which a marine and a nun are trapped on a Pacific island during WW2, hiding from the Japanese. You might also find White Hunter Black Heart (1990) interesting. It's loosely based on a fictional director modeled after John Huston, who directed The African Queen, and takes place in Africa at the time he was beginning to shoot his own African Queen. Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes (1972) also depicts a journey down a river, although it is much more surreal and minimalistic than The African Queen. There's also Rooster Cogburn (1975), which paired Hepburn with John Wayne in a sequel to True Grit (1969), but with a plot clearly derivative of The African Queen. It was both a critical and box office failure.

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