African Queen, The (1951)

The African Queen (1951), directed by John Huston.


Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.

When I first saw this it seemed to me that Bogart and Hepburn lacked chemistry. It works better for me now. At first they squabble like an old married couple, then fall in love like goofy teenagers. Somehow I missed the fade-to-black sex scene. Afterward she calls him "dear" and gives him breakfast in bed -- a blanket on the deck.

Something I noticed for the first time: Jack Cardiff's photography and the score by Allan Gray give this a strong Powell & Pressburger tone. Even the titles remind me of their films.

A notoriously difficult shoot, the African scenes figure in several histories and biographies, as well as a Clint Eastwood picture: White Hunter Black Heart (1990). Huston was always difficult: he and Bogart lived on whiskey instead of water, which Hepburn admits kept them from getting sick. She wasn't so lucky.

It's not all on location: they use studio and process shots and some model work.

Is the film unkind to the locals? They scramble for a castoff cigar and seem generally unlovely. At least they show up for Methodist services and leave their weapons at the door, even if they don't know the hymns. Anyway: they're gone after the first 10 minutes.

Available on Blu-ray.