Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The African Queen (1951)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The African Queen (1951)

In director John Huston's Technicolored classic romantic adventure-comedy and war-related film was based on the 1935 novel by C.S. Forester - it told about an 'odd-couple's' unlikely romance within an exotic locale (in German East Africa at the start of the Great War):

  • in the film's opening, the main characters were introduced: coarse, gin-swilling river rat captain Charlie Allnut (Oscar-winning Humphrey Bogart) on a crude tramp steamer The African Queen, whose duty was to deliver supplies and mail to two British Methodist missionaries in German East Africa, and Reverend Samuel Sayer (Robert Morley) and his iron-willed spinster sister Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn) ministering to natives in the remote village of Kungdu
  • Charlie's personality and social class were drastically contrasted with the lives of the Britishers; he was grubby, belligerent, gin-swilling and boozing, cigar-smoking, and uncouth in language, while she (and her brother) were prim, pious, tee-totaling, proper, sober and religiously fervent
  • with the start of the Great War (between England and Germany), the threat to the personal lives of the English missionaries was dramatically increased; the Germans arrived to destroy the village and mission, and the assault caused Rose's injured brother to become feverish and delirious, and he soon died from insanity; Charlie returned to offer Rose safe passage and a place to hide and escape on his boat on a trip down the Ulanga-Bora, while he simultaneously tried to hide the fact from the Germans that he had contraband cargo composed of oxygen and hydrogen cylinders and blasting gelatin
  • an adversarial relationship soon developed by the unlikely pairing of Charlie and Rose; he called her a "crazy, psalm-singing, skinny old maid," and she denounced his alcoholism by draining his whiskey bottles into the river; she also used the 'silent treatment' on him to get her way
Charlie vs. Rose
  • Charlie mimicked the look and sounds of submerged hippos and scratching baboons on shore as they floated along
  • from almost the very beginning, Rose kept announcing her firm intentions and crazy plan to outfit the African Queen with home-made torpedoes, in order to sabotage, attack and sink a German worship at the end of the river; he mimicked Rose by responding: "What an absurd idea!"
  • the two experienced numerous roller-coaster, down-river encounters with Germans (they had to pass by a German fort in daylight), and then had to traverse treacherous rapids; as they faced various obstacles and challenges and often quarreled, the two also began to develop a strange love and admiration for each other; he spoke to her as if she was his queen: "Pinch me, Rosie. Here we are, going down the river like Anthony and Cleopatra on that barge!"; after surviving against impossible odds, they found themselves embracing and kissing, to their surprise
  • both of them also courageously struggled against numerous physical hardships, including swarms of mosquitos; in one sequence when the river became swampy near the mouth of the river, Charlie was forced to enter the water and pull the steamer through the tangle of reeds and muck; he pulled blood-sucking leeches off his body and then reluctantly had to return to the water; they faced the dire possibility of perishing on the boat (from starvation and lack of water) mired in the oppressive and swampy conditions

Charlie Pulling Boat Through Reeds and Muck

Stunning Crane Shot - They Were Only a Few Hundred Feet from the Lake
  • a stunning crane shot pulled up and away from their stuck boat in the river, and disclosed how close they were to the lake, being patrolled at its opening by the German gunboat, the Louisa; a sudden torrential rainstorm raised the water level, and their boat was freed
  • they sighted the Louisa and plotted to blow it up by having Charlie attach torpedoes to the front of the African Queen in order to ram the gunboat; however, another storm caused the sinking and capsizing of their vessel and the separation of the two of them
  • in the melodramatic and semi-contrived finale, both of them found themselves captured and about to be hanged on the deck for being British spies; foolishly but proudly, Rose bold-facedly bragged about their plan to sink the Louisa; but their execution was delayed by their request for a pre-death marriage; meanwhile, the Louisa was about to collide with their partly submerged Queen outfitted with their homemade torpedoes on its prow

Marriage Ceremony Before the Hanging

Escape From Being Hanged

Saved by the Queen
  • after an explosion (their plan succeeded), the newly-married couple found themselves alive in the water as black smoke engulfed the Louisa; a piece of the wreckage from their overturned and capsized boat floating in the water displayed the name African Queen

The African Queen

Charlie's Mimicking of Jungle Animals

The Rapids

A Torpedo Angled Upward from the Submerged Queen

Charlie to Louisa Gunboat Captain: "Marry us"

After the Explosion: Saved and Both In the Water


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