Friday, March 20, 2009

Film on Friday: The African Queen

Harlequin Historicals author Michelle Styles is visiting The Pink Heart Society today, determined to deliver us a satisfying movie!!

This blog was going to be about The Prince and Me . My daughter and I watched it the other week and thoroughly enjoyed it (including the lawnmower race) but then I didn’t really find the ending emotionally satisfying. This is probably because there was no real sustainable conflict at the end as the only reason the heroine leaves is because she wants to become a doctor. It could have been so much more. But it is a fun flick and great Friday night viewing. I would give it about 5/10.

So I thought I would write about a classic film that I do find emotionally satisfying – The African Queen.

This is adventure romance at its best. The movie is based on the novel by CS Forester who also wrote the Hornblower series. The book was a favourite of mine when I was about 13.

The action takes place in German East Africa during the WWI. Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn) and her brother Samuel (Robert Morley) are rather smug missionaries who are bent on saving souls. Their mission is supplied by the rough and tumble Canadian captain of the African Queen, Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart who won his only Oscar for the role). Samuel tolerates Allnut but Rose despises him. He drinks, swears ad burps at the table. He is not her idea of hero. For Allnut’s part, he is outwardly polite but he has no understanding of this teetotal bible thumper.

After German soldiers beat Samuel for defying them and he dies of a fever, Rose is forced to join Charlie on a voyage to safety. However, once Rose learns of the German gunboat, the Louisa, patrolling Lake Victoria, she convinces Charlie that it is their patriotic duty to blow the gunboat up and so the adventure begins.

Most of the action takes place on the boat and although they encounter rapids and other dangers, the lynchpin of the movie is the growing relationship between the prim and proper Rose Sayer and the hard drinking/diamond in the rough Charlie Allnut. Both of whom thought love had passed them by. As the journey goes on, you can see the pair begin to fall in love and work together as a team. Charlie begins to depend on Roses common sense and Rose sees how brave Charlie truly is. The movie plays down any graphic sexual encounter. In fact, the censors in 1951 were very worried about an unmarried couple on a boat. So it is left to the viewer to decide. There is a priceless moment after the first rapid when Rose asks What is your first name, dear?. Charlie then begins to call Rose Rosie.
When they reach the lake, they attempt to ram the Louisa but fail. The African Queen capsizes and sinks. Charlie is captured and nobly tries to protect Rose. However, he does shout her name when he first sees her. Rose confesses . The German captain plans to hang them as spies but Charlie asks that they get married. After a brief marriage ceremony, they stand with nooses about their necks when an explosion rocks the Louisa. She has struck the African Queen and has blown up. The couple are last seen happily swimming for their new life in Kenya.
Anyway, there are reasons why it won an Oscar. The plot is tight, the acting superb and the movie stands the test of time. Katharine Hepburn later wrote a book – The Making of the African Queen: Or How I Went to Africa With Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind. Clint Eastwood based his film White Hunter, Black Heart loosely on the production of the movie. See it when it is next shown on tv.
Warm and fuzzy 9/10

Michelle Styles loves classic films. Her early Victorian novel, An Impulsive Debutante is out in Australia this month, and next month sees the release of her Regency novel, Impoverished Miss, Convenient Wife.


  1. I'm a huge Bogart film and really enjoyed The African Queen.

    When looking at this movie from a romance POV, it really has the viewer wondering how on earth the H&H will come together when they are poles apart (something I, as a newbie writer, would love to be able to create!)

    Thanks for the blog and I enjoyed watching the trailer :)

  2. A great post, Michelle. I read this as a teenager, too, and always try and catch the film when it's shown. Not keen on those leeches, though!

  3. Joanne -- yes, I agree the first time you watch African Queen you wonder how are these two going to get together. And it is that combo of strong personalities that really works.

    Christina -- these leeches are pretty horrid. It works as a great adventure film and as a romance.

  4. Oh, yes, this film is a long time favourite! Mostly because as Joanne says the 2 characters are poles apart which makes for great conflict!
    Best wishes

  5. Hi Michelle,

    Love this movie, plus there's a great book all about the making of this film and what a nightmare it was. The cast really had been to hell and back by the finish!

    Always been a huge fan of Katharine Hepburn and while Bogie never struck me as all that handsome or romantic, there's always this film, Casablanca and the 'do you know how to whistle' scene in To Have and To Have Not to help me rise above my prejudices!

  6. Carol -- glad it has been a long time fave. I agree so much that it is the characters that make this film.

    Heidi -- I know what you mean about Bogart. Apparently Violet Winspearhad his picture up (which probably explains something about her!)Sabrina is great but it is Audrey Hepburn who carries the picture. But Casablanca, African Queen and To Have and Have Not all have a certain something. Becall is fantastic in To Have and Have Not.
    Katharine Hepburn was a fantastic actress.

  7. Bogart and Hepburn were great, but let's not forget good writing. They had to have something to work with and The African Queen's writers gave them that.

  8. Yes, CS Forester's story is great, Anne. I read the book before I saw the movie and THEN I got into Hornblower. I think I can remember Rosie's clothes rotted.
    Plus you had James Agee who later won a Pulitzer, John Huston and John Collier working on the script.