Play It Again – The African Queen. By Jess Lomas.
Play It Again is a weekly feature in which classic-film connoisseur Jess Lomas revisits a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).
Consistently praised since its 1951 release, The African Queen saw the only onscreen pairing of the legendary Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Combining thrilling action and an unlikely romance between a sullied boat captain and a prim British Methodist missionary, this is a film that truly has something for everyone.
Based on the novel by C.S. Forester, Hepburn plays Rose Sayer, who along with her brother Rev. Samuel Sayer (Robert Morley) work as missionaries in the village of Kungdu in German East Africa. As World War I gains steam, the Canadian boat captain Charlie Allnut (Bogart), who has been delivering their mail and supplies, warns them that Britain and Germany are at war. Ignoring his warnings, the siblings stay on in the village but soon bear witness to a German invasion as the village is destroyed and the locals are driven out. Samuel is killed in the process and Charlie convinces Rose to accompany him on his vessel The African Queen.
After Charlie mentions the German gunboat the Queen Louisa is stationed down river to prohibit any British counterattacks, Rose hatches a plan to turn the African Queen into a torpedo to aid the war effort and sink the Louisa; and so begins their thrilling adventure.
The film had such an impressive team working behind it, from John Huston, whose directorial debut was The Maltese Falcon and who both co-wrote the screenplay with James Agee (The Night of the Hunter) and directed, to the unmistakable signature cinematography from the renowned Jack Cardiff (The Red Shoes) and music by composer Allan Gray (A Matter of Life and Death).
It was a treacherous production with dangers lurking around every corner; the on-location shoot in Africa saw the majority of the cast fall ill. With Huston and Bogart both infamous heavy drinkers, they were the only two to reportedly dodge the water-borne illness.
The film went on to score four Academy Awards nominations, with Bogart taking home the Best Actor Oscar, his only in his illustrious career. With one of the greatest onscreen pairings in cinema history The African Queen is a rare gem.