Thursday, September 20, 2012

The African Queen: Then and Now

The African Queen: Then and Now:

Next Thursday night (September 27) hundreds of Cinemark Theatres in the USA are going to be showing John Huston's classic film, "The African Queen" (1951), on the big screen in a one day only showing starting at 2 and  7pm.
 The film is in the American Film Institute Top  100 list and has recently undergone a major restoration.  The new version was shown last year in several theaters  around Great Britain.
People familiar with older films know this one has  a special appeal.  It was the only on-screen teaming of Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn for starters, and much of the film simply an action tour de force by these characters as they try to make down a nasty stretch of jungle river to escape the German colonial army which has invaded British East Africa (the film is set at the beginnings of World War I).

It was shot on location by John Huston and his company in Uganda and the Belgian Congo.  The more difficult sequences involving seedy boat captain Charlie Allnut  (Bogart) and starchy Methodist missionary Rose Sawyer (Hepburn) were photographed at the Isleton Studios outside London.
Jeremy Arnold writes of some of the problems making the film on the Turner Classic Movies website entry of "The African Queen.
Most of the cast and crew of the film came down with dysentery while shooting in central Africa. Bogart managed to serious illness reputedly by consuming copious amounts of alcohol between shooting dates.  Hepburn later wrote a small and engaging book about her experiences on the shoot, the title of which gives you an idea just what she went through. It was released in 1987 and called "The Making of the African Queen: Or How I Went to Africa With Bogart, Bacall, and Huston and almost Lost My Mind."     At one point Huston talked Hepburn into joining him on a pre-production elephant hunt andshe was almost killed along with the director and his guides when they found themselves in the middle of a stampede of wild animals!  She also recounts the heat, humidity, poisonous insects, snakes, crocodiles and scorpions that made the movie quite realistic buy also perilous for those involved.
Thinking about seeing this film again got me to wondering what was the fate of the boat "African Queen" itself.  Turns out if was saved by a couple in Key Largo, Florida and is still seaworthy.   The boat was originally made in England in 1912 and has survived to become a tourist attraction.
"The African  Queen" is one of the great romantic adventure films of all time, and one of my personal favorites.  I'm glad it's getting some special attention this month, and hope film fans who've never seen it or haven't watched it in a while will look it up at a screening at a Cinemark location or rent the DVD.


  1. Ashamed to say I've never seen this film Doug. I've heard of it of course.. I think I will check it out. I remember seeing info for "Ride the African Queen" when I was in the Keys. :)

  2. I spent a little time myself in the Keys when I lived near Naples in the 70's. "Key Largo" seems a very good place for the famous boat. There was a Bogart-Bacall film made set in the Keys called "Key Largo"

    Bogart himself was a major weekend sailor in his day at The Newport Yacht Club. A friend of mine in his 70's now saw "Bogey" there a couple times (His dad worked at the Newport Yacht Club when he 13 or 14 at the time. ) He said Bogart was considered a friendly guy for his status, and he got to talk to him for a bit once and shake his hand.

    Hope you do a chance to see the film, Scott. A romantic adventure of the old school, but also one with very special acting and (for it's time) a very authentic film. If you can't see it on a screen near you, good news: it was released fairly recently on DVD as well, and the extras on the disc are very good.

  3. Saw it today on a big screen! That was fun.