The African Queen (1952)

104 or 106 mins | Romance | 21 March 1952

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HISTORY

Robert Morley’s onscreen opening credit reads: “with Robert Morley as The Brother.” As noted in contemporary sources, Warner Bros. purchased the rights to C. S. Forester’s novel in 1946. At that time, Bette Davis, Ida Lupino and Olivia de Havilland were mentioned as possible stars. According to Var news items in 1949, John Collier wrote a screenplay for Warner Bros. that was based closely on the book, then bought the rights to the book and screenplay from Warner Bros., planning to produce the film himself. Instead, he sold the book and script to Horizon Enterprises, which was co-owned by John Huston and Sam Spiegel (credited onscreen under his frequent pseudonym, S. P. Eagle). In Huston’s autobiography, however, he recalled having bought the script directly from Warner Bros. Some modern sources claim that Columbia originally bought the novel as a vehicle for Elsa Lanchester and Charles Laughton, and that at one point David Niven and Paul Henreid were each considered for the male lead.
       As noted in the onscreen credits, The African Queen was shot mainly on location in the Belgian Congo (which was identified in the film as German East Africa, the name by which it was known during the story’s World War I time period, and which went by the name of Zaire from 1960—1997, when it took on its current appellation, The Democratic Republic of Congo), in Uganda and on the Murchison Falls on the border of Lake Albert. According to United Artists press materials and Huston’s autobiography, the director built a camp to house the cast and crew in Biondo, outside the town of Stanleyville, which included a bar, a restaurant and ... More Less

Robert Morley’s onscreen opening credit reads: “with Robert Morley as The Brother.” As noted in contemporary sources, Warner Bros. purchased the rights to C. S. Forester’s novel in 1946. At that time, Bette Davis, Ida Lupino and Olivia de Havilland were mentioned as possible stars. According to Var news items in 1949, John Collier wrote a screenplay for Warner Bros. that was based closely on the book, then bought the rights to the book and screenplay from Warner Bros., planning to produce the film himself. Instead, he sold the book and script to Horizon Enterprises, which was co-owned by John Huston and Sam Spiegel (credited onscreen under his frequent pseudonym, S. P. Eagle). In Huston’s autobiography, however, he recalled having bought the script directly from Warner Bros. Some modern sources claim that Columbia originally bought the novel as a vehicle for Elsa Lanchester and Charles Laughton, and that at one point David Niven and Paul Henreid were each considered for the male lead.
       As noted in the onscreen credits, The African Queen was shot mainly on location in the Belgian Congo (which was identified in the film as German East Africa, the name by which it was known during the story’s World War I time period, and which went by the name of Zaire from 1960—1997, when it took on its current appellation, The Democratic Republic of Congo), in Uganda and on the Murchison Falls on the border of Lake Albert. According to United Artists press materials and Huston’s autobiography, the director built a camp to house the cast and crew in Biondo, outside the town of Stanleyville, which included a bar, a restaurant and several one-room bungalows.
       Press releases report that, because the African Queen launch used in the film was too small to carry cameras and equipment, portions of the boat were reproduced on a large raft in order to shoot close-ups of Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Interior and water-tank scenes were filmed in London, as were most of the scenes containing secondary characters. Robert Morley shot all of his scenes in London, including the footage of him preaching, which was then edited together with shots of the natives praying, that had been filmed in Africa. Although the onscreen credits state that some scenes were shot at the Isleworth Studios in London, press materials name the studio as Worton Hall.
       Modern sources add the following information about the production: While Huston and James Agee began to adapt the book into a new screenplay, Spiegel secured a loan from Sound Services, Inc. and co-financing from United Artists Corp. and London’s Romulus Films, Ltd., which was co-owned by brothers John and James Woolf. At that point, Romulus secured the European distribution rights to the film, while United Artists was awarded distribution rights in the Western hemisphere. During the writing of the screenplay, Agee suffered a serious heart attack, and uncredited writer Peter Viertel wrote the film’s final scenes with Huston. Forester had written two different final scenes for his book, one of which was published in England and the other in America. In the more widely published American version, “Rose Sayer” and “Charlie Allnut” are turned over to British officers, who then blow up the Louisa . In Collier’s script, the African Queen hits the Louisa and destroys it, after which Rose and Charlie walk down the beach to inform the British Army that their way is now clear. In a modern interview, Viertel stated that since he and Huston wanted Rose and Charlie to be together at the final scene, they anticipated possible censorship problems by inventing a way for the couple to be married on the German ship.
       Hepburn, in her written account of the film’s production entitled The Making of “The African Queen,” or How I Went to Africa with Bogie, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind , described the first day of shooting, which required five cars and trucks to take the cast, crew and equipment three and a half miles from Biondo to the Ruiki river, at which point they loaded everything onto boats and sailed another two and a half miles to the shooting location. Press materials and contemporary articles detail the various perils of shooting on location in Africa, including dysentery, malaria, bacteria-filled drinking water and several close brushes with wild animals and poisonous snakes. Most of the cast and crew were sick for much of the filming. In a Feb 1952 NYT article, Huston declared that he hired local natives to help the crew, but many would not show up for fear that the filmmakers were cannibals. Huston advised Hepburn to play Rose by keeping in mind Eleanor Roosevelt’s slightly superior, but polite, public bearing, and in Hepburn’s book she called the suggestion the “best piece of direction I have ever heard.”
       Modern sources add the following names to the crew credits: Boom boy Kevin McClory; Cooks M. Van Thoms, Mme. Van Thoms; Camp manager Geoffrey Dunes; Katharine Hepburn’s personal asst in Africa Tahili Bokumba; and Pilots Alec Noon, John “Hank" Hankins. The film had its premiere in Los Angeles on 26 Dec 1951 in order to qualify it for that year’s Academy Awards. Although the picture earned nominations in the Best Actor (Bogart), Best Actress (Hepburn), Best Director and Best Screenplay categories, only Bogart won.
       Shortly after filming was completed, Belgian fan magazine Cine-Revue published an article allegedly written by Lauren Bacall, who had accompanied her husband, Bogart, on location, which included behind-the-scenes photographs. According to a Mar 1952 DV story, Romulus Films protested the publication of the photos, which they said “dispelled the film’s illusion” by exposing private shooting information. Bacall denied having written the story. An Aug 1952 Var item announced that Berlin’s film trade union requested that The African Queen be withdrawn from the Berlin Film Festival because of its “anti-German tendencies.”
       In Oct 1952, DV reported that agents Michael Baird and Alvin Manuel were suing Horizon Pictures, Inc., Horizon Enterprises, Spiegel and Huston for ten percent of the film’s profits plus seven percent interest. The agents claimed that in 1949, Horizon promised them the ten percent in return for setting up a co-production deal with Romulus. A Feb 1953 HR news item announced the Jack Broder’s Shamark Enterprises had put an attachment on funds due to Horizon from United Artists for distribution of The African Queen . The attachment stemmed from a suit Broder brought against Horizon for $120,000 in commissions due for helping finance earlier films. In Dec 1952, Spiegel and his wife Lynne began divorce procedures which entailed ascertaining all of Spiegel’s assets. As a result, full disclosure of all financial records of The African Queen were made public. A LAEx article detailed the profits and salaries paid out to parties including Bogart, Hepburn, Collier and Romulus. Horizon Enterprises sued United Artists in 1955, according to a Nov 1955 DV article, for $61,859 still owed to them as part of the distribution deal. The dispositions of these suits are not known.
       In 1953, Viertel published the book White Hunter, Black Heart , a thinly fictionalized account of his experience writing the script for The African Queen with Huston. The book follows the exploits of a tyrannical director who stalls the production of his African-set film by obsessively hunting an elephant. It was made into a film in 1990 by Clint Eastwood and starred Eastwood and Jeff Fahey. In an Aug 1990 letter published in The Times (London) , John Woolf protested the film’s portrayal of Huston.
       Although HR stated in Jan 1952 that a sequel to The African Queen was being discussed, none was ever made. On 18 Mar 1977, the CBS network broadcast a television pilot based on the film, also titled The African Queen , but the series was never produced. On 15 Dec 1952, Bogart reprised his role for a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast, which co-starred Greer Garson as Rose. According to a 1990 news item in Var , the boat that stood in for the African Queen , the Liemba , was purchased by a Bogart fan and brought from its mooring in Lake Tanganyike, Africa to Key Largo, FL. In 2007, The African Queen was ranked 65th on AFI's 100 Years…100 Movies--10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films, moving down from the 17th position it held on AFI's 1997 list.
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
5 Jan 1952.
---
Daily Variety
11 Dec 1951.
---
Daily Variety
26 Dec 51
p. 3.
Daily Variety
27 Mar 52
p. 1, 11
Daily Variety
22 Oct 1952.
---
Daily Variety
20 Nov 55
p. 1, 6
Film Daily
26 Dec 51
p. 11.
Hollywood Citizen-News
22 Oct 1952.
---
Hollywood Reporter
25 May 51
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Aug 51
p. 18.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Dec 51
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Jan 52
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Feb 1953.
---
London Times
23 Aug 1990.
---
Los Angeles Examiner
2 Dec 1953.
---
Los Angeles Times
2 Dec 1953.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
29 Dec 51
p. 1169.
New York Times
3 Feb 1952.
---
New York Times
21 Feb 52
p. 24.
Variety
18 Aug 1949.
---
Variety
4 Nov 1949.
---
Variety
26 Dec 51
p. 6.
Variety
17 Jun 1952.
---
Variety
6 Aug 1952.
---
Variety
3 Jan 1990.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANIES
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
Adpt for the screen
Adpt for the screen
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
2d unit photog
Cam op
ART DIRECTORS
Asst art dir
FILM EDITOR
COSTUMES
Miss Hepburn's costumes des by
Other clothes by
Ward mistress
MUSIC
Mus comp
[Mus] Cond by
SOUND
Sd ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The African Queen by C. S. Forester (London, 1935).
DETAILS
Release Date:
21 March 1952
Premiere Information:
World premiere in Los Angeles: 26 December 1951
New York opening: 20 February 1952
Production Date:
late May--mid August 1951 at the Isleworth Studios, London
Copyright Claimant:
Horizon Enterprises, Inc.
Copyright Date:
26 December 1951
Copyright Number:
LP1476
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
104 or 106
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In September 1914 in the German East African village of Kungdu, British Reverend Samuel Sayer and his spinster sister Rose lead prayers at the makeshift First Methodist Church. The natives struggle to follow the English psalm, but race outside when they hear Canadian Charlie Allnut's ancient launch the African Queen chug into the village, laden with mail and goods. Though conscious of his lower social standing, Charlie lunches with the Sayers, who delicately ignore his rumbling stomach. Before leaving, he informs them about the encroaching war in Europe, and although the Sayers are frightened, they refuse to desert the village. Only hours later, however, German troops invade Kungdu, imprison the natives and burn down the huts. By the time the smoke clears, Samuel has begun to lose his mind from shock and grief. He soon collapses, unintentionally wounding Rose by raving that their attraction to missionary work grew out of a lack of more attractive social options. When Charlie returns to the destroyed village the next day, he finds Samuel dead, and helps Rose bury him. She then accepts Charlie's offer to hide from the Germans on his boat. Once they are on the river, Charlie explains that the Germans have positioned a heavily armed steamer, the Louisa , at the mouth of Lake Tanganyika to block British troops. Rose immediately forms a plan to attack the Louisa by crafting torpedoes out of explosives and an oxygen tank, strapping them to the African Queen and ramming into the steamer. Charlie tries desperately to dissuade her, describing ... +


In September 1914 in the German East African village of Kungdu, British Reverend Samuel Sayer and his spinster sister Rose lead prayers at the makeshift First Methodist Church. The natives struggle to follow the English psalm, but race outside when they hear Canadian Charlie Allnut's ancient launch the African Queen chug into the village, laden with mail and goods. Though conscious of his lower social standing, Charlie lunches with the Sayers, who delicately ignore his rumbling stomach. Before leaving, he informs them about the encroaching war in Europe, and although the Sayers are frightened, they refuse to desert the village. Only hours later, however, German troops invade Kungdu, imprison the natives and burn down the huts. By the time the smoke clears, Samuel has begun to lose his mind from shock and grief. He soon collapses, unintentionally wounding Rose by raving that their attraction to missionary work grew out of a lack of more attractive social options. When Charlie returns to the destroyed village the next day, he finds Samuel dead, and helps Rose bury him. She then accepts Charlie's offer to hide from the Germans on his boat. Once they are on the river, Charlie explains that the Germans have positioned a heavily armed steamer, the Louisa , at the mouth of Lake Tanganyika to block British troops. Rose immediately forms a plan to attack the Louisa by crafting torpedoes out of explosives and an oxygen tank, strapping them to the African Queen and ramming into the steamer. Charlie tries desperately to dissuade her, describing the German fort and impassable rapids they will have to face along the way, but Rose's determination eventually shames him into agreeing to the plan. After they set sail, he teaches Rose how to read the river, and they negotiate how to bathe in private. That night, a pouring rain forces Charlie to seek shelter under Rose's tarpaulin, and after at first banishing him, Rose softens and allows him to sleep near her. They reach the first set of rapids the next afternoon, and Charlie's hopes that the death-defying experience will frighten Rose are dashed after she proclaims it the most stimulating physical experience she has ever had. At night, a frustrated Charlie taps into his gin reserves and later rants drunkenly that he will not sail any farther, calling Rose a "skinny old maid." He awakes the next morning to find her pouring each of his gin bottles into the ocean. Hours later, he begs her to speak to him, and she finally reveals that it is his refusal to sail which has infuriated her. Charlie yells but then quickly backs down, agreeing to accompany her while doubting their chances for success. Their first obstacle is the German fort, where the soldiers open fire on the African Queen . The engine is hit, but Charlie repairs it and they sail on. Immediately afterward, they reach another set of rapids. Rose struggles to steer while Charlie races to keep the engine stoked, and although they are badly pummeled, they miraculously reach calm waters. Thrilled, Charlie and Rose fall into an embrace which quickly becomes romantic. Later, as they declare their love, they finally learn each other's first name. They then sail peacefully past exotic flora and fauna until they hit a waterfall, which damages the rudder. Although Charlie despairs, Rose devises a plan to weld a new rudder, and days later, the boat is fixed. Just miles down the river, however, they are attacked by a horde of mosquitoes, which terrifies Rose and forces them to stay in open water. Within days, they become lost in the stagnant shallows. Thick reeds bog down the boat, forcing Charlie to pull it through the water. When he finally boards again, exhausted, he finds leeches covering his body, and even though he is shaking with revulsion, he must return to the water to keep the boat moving. Hours later, they reach land, where Charlie feverishly tells Rose they may not make it but that he loves her. They both collapse into sleep, and during the night, a fresh rain sweeps the launch downstream onto Lake Tanganyika. They awaken to find the Louisa only miles away, and retreat into the reeds to hide. By the next day, they have discerned the ship's sailing pattern and Charlie makes the torpedoes. They set out on their attack that night, but a sudden storm capsizes the launch and Rose and Charlie are separated in the dark. Charlie is imprisoned by the Germans and, not wanting to live without Rose, accepts his sentence of hanging. Just then, however, Rose is brought in, and when she hears that Charlie is to be killed, proudly admits their whole scheme to the soldiers. Before they are hanged, Charlie requests that the captain marry them, and just as the service ends, the African Queen surfaces, hits the Louisa and explodes. Floating together in the water, the newlyweds see the boat's nameplate, realize that their plan has succeeded after all, and happily swim toward the shore. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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