Filmsite Movie 

Review 100 Greatest 

The African Queen (1951)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Becoming more fixed in her determination, Rose accuses him of not helping their country in its hour of need: "In other words, you are refusing to help your country in her hour of need, Mr. Allnut?" Perplexed, Charlie reluctantly submits after being badgered to follow her courageous, patriotic plan: "All right, Miss, have it your own way. But don't blame me for what happened." However, he is miffed and questions her wisdom when she insists that they start their journey with only two hours of daylight left: "Very well then, let's get started." She rationalizes impatiently: "We can go a long way in two hours, Mr. Allnut."

After they proceed downstream, he teaches Rose how to work the tiller and "read the river" and its currents. The steam pump begins to clog up and could potentially blow up - Charlie explains why he solves the problem by kicking the boiler rather than fixing it:

Kickin' it starts it workin' again. I gotta act fast 'cause one of my boys dropped a screwdriver down the safety valve...If I was to let the engine die goin' down the rapid, we'd be goners...You know, I'm gonna do that [fix it] one of these days. The only reason I ain't done it up to now is that I kinda like kickin' it. She's all I've got.

At first, they are politely tolerant of each other in the heat of the tropics, but their contrary natures are bound to collide. In the evening as they anchor in the lee of a protective island, he swigs his gin. Righteously opposed to his drinking, she sips a cup of tea while overdressed and sweltering. Charlie proposes that they each take a bath in the river at opposite ends of the boat: "Just as long as we don't look, it won't matter, huh?" Her gangly limbs are partially revealed when she takes off an outer layer of her stiff, excessive clothing to slip into the cooling water for a pleasurable soak. During the night, a rain storm drenches Charlie who must sleep on the open deck at the bow, while Rose sleeps under cover in the stern (in a makeshift shelter created from her plentiful undergarments). When she is startled and interprets his advance into the cabin area as amorous and improper, she throws him out, but then takes pity on him in the rain and invites him back in. Rose even opens an umbrella and props it over him to provide further protection against the elements.

After running and surviving one series of dangerous white-water rapids, Charlie expects that some of her enthusiasm will diminish, but he is shocked that the "crazy" woman wants to proceed. Rose is passionately thrilled by the stimulating "physical experience" of having survived some of the smaller rapids of the Ulanga River. [Her gritty enthusiasm will be transferred from the spiritual realm of her brother's sermons to the romantic and adventurous stimulation of Charlie's company.]

Charlie: I don't blame you for being scared, Miss, not one little bit. Ain't no person in their right mind ain't scared of white water.
Rose: I never dreamed that any mere physical experience could be so stimulating.
Charlie: How's that, Miss?
Rose: I've only known such excitement a few times before - a few times in my dear brother's sermons when the spirit was really upon him.
Charlie: You mean you want to go on?
Rose: Naturally.
Charlie: Miss, you're crazy.
Rose: I beg your pardon.
Charlie: You know what would have happened if we would have come up against one of them rocks?
Rose: But we didn't. I must say I'm filled with admiration for your skill, Mr. Allnut. Do you suppose I'll try practice steering a bit that someday I might try?

The excitement of the rapids encourages Rose to desire even more dangerous situations, and learn how to steer the tiller. She understands his love for the Queen and sees their boating adventure in a new light: "I can hardly wait...Now that I've had a taste of it. I don't wonder you love boating, Mr. Allnut."

Soon after, Charlie gathers up his bravado and courage after a few drinks and drunkenly reneges on his promise to go down the river to blow up the German warship. She objects that he even thinks of such a thing: "What an absurd idea." Her reaction prompts him to mimic her speech: "...What an absurd idea! Lady, you got ten absurd ideas for my one." He warns her of the hazards ahead - the towering German fort at Shona with sharpshooting guards that they must pass in full daylight just before the vicious rapids and falls, and other unknown dangers. She calmly insists on taking Charlie's boat past the armed guards at Shona and accuses him of being a liar and a coward. Exasperated, he loses his temper and belligerently gets his true feelings off his chest. He invokes the name of his "poor old Mother" who would affirm his belief that Rose is "no lady":

Ooooh! Coward yourself! You ain't no lady. No, Miss. That's what my poor old Mother would say to you, if my poor old Mother was to hear you. Whose boat is this, anyway? I asked you on board 'cause I was sorry for you on account of your losing your brother and all. What you get for feeling sorry for people! Well, I ain't sorry no more, you crazy, psalm-singing, skinny old maid!

All boozed-up after his outburst, Charlie begins to sing "There was an old fisherman..." as he opens up another case of gin. They turn into adversaries, and the film highlights their sniping, confrontational exchanges - he can't stand her judgmental, imperious attitudes and directives, and she is appalled by his bad manners and gin-drinking.

After binging and passing out in a drunken stupor, Charlie wakes up in the early morning light beside the engine. [The opening shot of the rainforest canopy - viewed from underneath - is repeated here.] While he slept, she retaliated by revengefully emptying bottle after bottle of his gin overboard into the river. Suffering from a hangover, he looks up and sees her by the side of the boat. Dressed in white, with a black parasol over her shoulder, she is pouring the contents of an inverted gin bottle into the river - she drops each empty bottle astern. He is horrified by her unbelievable revenge and pleads with her: "Oh, Miss. Oh, have pity, Miss. You don't know what you're doing Miss. I'll perish without a hair of the dog. Oh Miss, it ain't your property."

Sociable Charlie is no match for Rose, who gives him the silent treatment. Charlie shaves his scruffy beard and then tries to patch things up. Acting like a miffed juvenile, he recites to himself a familiar principle of parental discipline as she reads behind him. [But in comical fashion, he reverses the proverbial motto: 'Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.'] Slowly, he warms to the idea of having a lady on board who sets a good example:

Well, Miss, ‘ere we are, everything ship shape, like they say. Ah, it's a great thing to have a lady aboard with clean habits. It sets the man a good example. A man alone, he gets to livin' like a hog. Ha, ha. Then, too, with me, it's always: 'Put things off. Never do today what you can put off 'til tomorrow.' But with you: 'Business before pleasure.' Every time. Do all your personal laundry. Make yourself spic-and-span, get all the mending out of the way, and then - and only then - sit down for a nice quiet hour with the Good Book. I tell you, it's a model - like an inspiration. Why, I ain't had this old engine so clean in years, inside and out. Ha, ha. Just look at her, Miss. See how she practically sparkles. Myself, too. Guess you ain't never had a look at me without my whiskers and all cleaned up. I bet you wouldn't hardly recognize me, works that much of a change. Freshens ya up, too. If I only had some clean clothes, like you. Now you - why you could be at high tea. Say, that's an idea, Miss. How's about a nice little cup of tea? Now don't you stir, I'll be glad to make it for you.

He desperately waits for her reactions, but she responds with ostracism and stony silence. Relcalcitrant, he watches her read the Good Book:

Uh, how's the Book, Miss? (no answer) Well, not that I ain't read it. That is to say, my poor old Mum used to read me stories out of it. (no answer) How's about reading it outloud? (silence) I could sure do with a little spiritual comfort, myself.

Finally, he flares up and yells at her: "And you call yourself a Christian! Do you hear me? Don't ya? Don't ya? (at the top of his lungs) Huh?" She flinches slightly but swiftly composes herself. The animals in the jungle screech and roar back, echoing Charlie's outburst. He backs up and polishes the already-shiny relief valve on the boiler [conspicuously shaped like a cross - symbolic of the impact the religious woman is having on his territory]. He asks for mercy from the spinsterish lady: "What ya being so mean for, Miss? A man takes a drop too much once in a while. It's only human nature." She responds to his gin-guzzling and foul nature, lecturing him with a remote tone - without actually looking up at him, that he should "rise above" his carnal nature:

Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.

Charlie pleads for conversation and fairness:

Charlie: Miss, I'm sorry. I apologize. What more can a man do than say he's sorry, huh? (no answer) You done paid me back, Miss. You didn't even leave me a drop. Miss, have a heart. Fair is fair. You gotta say somethin', I don't care what it is, but you gotta say something. I'll be honest with ya, Miss. I, I just can't stand no more of this. I-I just ain't used to it, that's all.
Rose: So you think it was your nasty drunkenness I minded.
Charlie: (bewildered) Well, what else?
Rose: You promised you'd go down the river.

He is surprised to learn that it is not really his nasty drunkenness that she minded, but his reversal on his promise. Charlie shifts the blame to the river:

Charlie: Miss. Listen to me and try to understand. There's death a dozen times over down the river. I'm sorry to disappoint ya, but don't blame me. Blame the Ulanga.
Rose: (strong-willed) You promised.
Charlie: (shouting) Well, I'm taking my promise back. (He gets up and strides away.)

Accepting utter defeat, Charlie gives in and agrees to resume their mission: "All right, Miss. You win. As the crocodiles will be glad to hear, 'Down the river we go.'" She looks up and quietly proposes that they proceed: "Have some breakfast, Mr. Allnut...Or no. Get up steam. Breakfast can wait." Crocodiles slither from the banks into the river as they continue their risk-filled journey. He sarcastically points them out to her: "Waiting for their supper, Miss."

Rose: Don't be worried, Mr. Allnut.
Charlie: Oh, I ain't worried, Miss. Gave myself up for dead back where we started.

In a memorable scene, they pass by the gun-fortified German fort at Shona - viewed from the perspective of an upward-angled camera. They both duck down low and prepare to meet the threat together. While being fired upon, the Queen loses power right in front of the fortress making them easy targets when the steam hose disconnects and the pressure drops. In an exciting sequence, Charlie courageously performs a makeshift repair of the hose while risking exposure to the guns of the fort's guards (both German officers and their African recruits). He is saved from deadly sniper fire when the gunman's gunscope is miraculously blinded by glaring sunlight (and predicted earlier by Rose), and they survive the danger as they pass out of range.

At first triumphant after passing unhurt under the guns of the fort, they find themselves rushing directly into a wild, hazardous cataract of rapids. The steam-belching African Queen bobs through the rapids and rocks as they grasp the rudder and attempt to steer. Wildly relieved and exuberant at miraculously making it through, they embrace and kiss, forgetting themselves entirely. They shout exultantly: "We made it...Hip, hip, hooray." After their spontaneous embrace, Charlie loads fuel into the furnace - his face reflects both skeptical dismay - and then a freeze-frame of pleasurable shock.

He instructs her on how to properly - and rhythmically - pump the boat free of water. He embraces her from behind and they join their hands to pump together, as he advises - with sexual overtones: "Now easy does it, Miss. Don't wear yourself out." She kneels before him to remove a thorn from the bottom of his foot. They both view, seemingly for the first time as the first Biblical couple, the Edenic garden of flowers on the banks surrounding them:

Rose: Do you recognize these flowers, Mr. Allnut?
Charlie: Huh?
Rose: I've never seen them before.
Charlie: Well, I can't say as I have either.
Rose: Perhaps no one has. I don't suppose they even have a name.
Charlie: Whether they have or not, they sure are pretty.

When he tentatively rests his hand on her shoulder, she places hers above his and then they kiss each other - the beginnings of intimacy and harmony between them. Thus grows one of the most unlikely romances for two very different personalities - a teetotaling pious spinster and a drunken, ratty boatman. They simultaneously find themselves falling in love as their relationship evolves into one of warmth, admiration and affection for each other. Although they are embarrassed and awkward, they fall in love and slowly succumb to each other's charms.

After their first night together (signaled by a fade to black and a fade-in), Rose prepares tea for Charlie ("breakfast in bed") in a semi-domestic scene. Then, she shyly asks Charlie for his first name so they can be less formal:

Dear. What is your first name?

They are in a paradisical setting - with natural shots of blooming flowers and hillsides ("The more I look at this place, the prettier it gets"). In a "moment of weakness" with misgivings, Rose almost gives up on their crazy plan, but Charlie's confident strength and courageous "never say die" attitude buoys her fortitude. She insists on proceeding with their mission - their love becomes a pledge of mutual support to battle all odds (political and emotional):

Rose: (dubiously) Then you think we can do it?
Charlie: Do it? Of course we can do it! Nothin' a man can't do if he believes in himself. Never say die, that's my motto.
Rose: I've had misgivings. I was beginning to think that the whole thing was a mistake...I had a moment of weakness.
Charlie: Oh, if you're feeling weak, a day or two more here won't make any difference.
Rose: Oh no. We'll go on. Thank heaven for your strength, Charlie.

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