African Queen

AFI Rank: #17
Year Released: 1951
Director: John Huston
Actors: Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart

African Queen is set in the early 20th century, just before World War I is beginning. A pair of Methodist ministers, brother and sister, are deep in Africa - the lower east coast of Rwanda - hoping to convert the locals. They have a quiet village which they work with. Rose, from England, feels in a way that life has passed her by. She's long past her youth, and she has resigned herself to doing this work until she dies. Her brother even comments that she was thought of as plain, hopeless to marry, and this was her only choice in life.

It's interesting to see how Africans were portrayed in 1951. The locals have ear hangings, shaved heads, braided hair, and scarred faces. Their homes are circular in shape with hay cone roofs, and when they run they keep their arms flat at their sides. I'm curious if these are all true for the Rwanda area, or if there were stereotypes going on.

In any case, suddenly the war hits. This area of Africa was controlled by the Germans, and the Germans burn the village, round up the locals to use as soldiers, and the shock kills the brother. Rose is now abandoned in the depths of Africa, on her own, nobody to turn to.

However, luckily, she has struck up a casual friendship with a hard drinking river boat captain from Canada, Mr. Allnat, who sees what is going on and comes back to rescue her. His thought is merely survival - to find a place to hide until the war blows over.

However, Rose has become incensed with what happened to her village and her brother. She wants to strike a blow back at the Germans - to blow up a local warship. Mr. Allnat thinks this is insane but humors her to soothe her. They start heading towards the ship. They ride the rapids - something Allnat thinks will scare her, but she loves it. They plow straight past an armed fort and miraculously make it through.

Along the way they have their ups and down. Allnat calls her a "skinny old maid" - a worthless, washed up woman. She scolds him for being a drunkard and pours out all his alcohol. She litters the river with all the bottles!

In the end, they of course fall in love with each other's spunk, they take on the boat - and against all odds, they win. Their life by all means won't be easy - now they are stranded with no food, no boat, and no support in the depths of a strange location. But they're together, and that's all that matters.

The movie was primarily shot in England, but there were location shots in Uganda and Congo which help to bring a reality to the situation. It's also touching that this is a love story about people who are mature. They have their quirks, they are set in their ways. They have flaws. Even so, they are able to come together and accept each other.

The movie is now over 50 years old, and it does seem a little dated. As mentioned, I find it hard to know if the scenes of African life are Hollywood or real - and I'd like to be watching real characters. To have a woman dismissed as a useless old maid because at 40 she isn't married doesn't carry the power that I imagine it had in the 50s (or in pre-WWI when the story is set). To have Allnat, who has been on his own for 40+ years say "I am strong! This is my way! Oh wait, you're sad, OK, I will change my lifestyle completely." also seems a bit sudden. I would have liked to see a more gradual transition.

Certainly worth watching,

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Male vs Female Actors
This is all about the two lead characters and both are equally strong. A great movie in that sense!

The Bechdel Test
It's sort of unfair to apply the test here, because there's just one man, and one woman. That's the focus of the movie.

AFI Top 100 Film Listing
Male vs Female Actors in the AFI Top 100
The Bechdel Test in the AFI Top 100