African Queen, The (1951)

Save for the decent performances by Humphrey Bogart (his only Oscar win) and Katharine Hepburn, this journey-through-a-hostile-river adventure could have been more meandering than usual. 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review #2,365

Dir. John Huston
1951 | USA | Adventure/Drama/Romance | 105 mins | 1.37:1 | English
PG (passed clean) for thematic elements, some violence and smoking

Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn
Plot: In WWI East Africa, a gin-swilling Canadian riverboat captain is persuaded by a strait-laced English missionary to undertake a trip up a treacherous river and use his boat to attack a German gunship.
Awards: Won Best Leading Actor & Nom. for Best Director, Best Leading Actress, Best Screenplay (Oscars)
Distributor: ITV Studios

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

In his only Oscar win for his role as the laidback and sometimes drunk Mr. Allnut, Humphrey Bogart stars opposite Katharine Hepburn in this adventure film by John Huston.

Bogart’s performance is decent, but nothing compared to his iconic work for Casablanca (1942) or arguably his most vulnerable display in In a Lonely Place (1950).  

Hepburn strikes up an awkward chemistry with him as Rose, a serious, no fuss English lady who undertakes a trip down a hostile river in WWI East Africa in Allnut’s titular boat to escape from the Germans.

Much of The African Queen is set on the boat, and while the journey may be rife with dangerous rapids, life-threatening waterfalls, an assortment of wild creatures, and the prospect of facing a powerful German gunship (that they hope to gun down themselves with self-made torpedoes—sounds reckless but yay to the British Empire), it is not exactly a very exciting movie.  

“Mr. Allnut, you may come in out of the rain!”  

Without Bogart and Hepburn, Huston’s work could have been more meandering than usual. I don’t necessarily dislike the film, just finding it less compelling than what I would expect from a Classical Hollywood picture with this golden trio.

Perhaps part of the reason is that The African Queen sees itself as a movie that is all about the journey rather than the endpoint, when in fact it is all about the endpoint (the finale is absurd and sticks out like a sore thumb, a significant deviation from C.S. Forester’s original novel), and therefore, the journey is simply a means to an end.

It’s not something I would revisit in a heartbeat, but still worth a cursory look if you have the time.  

Grade: B-



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