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The African Queen (1951)

Shooting on location is nothing out of the ordinary today, but when The African Queen went into production in 1951 the idea of sending major stars to someplace as remote as the Belgian Congo was still a novelty. Director John Huston had already done it by shooting The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) in Mexico, mainly to get away from studio interference, and MGM had shipped Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger to Africa for King Solomon’s Mines (1950) to great success, but most films were still made in studio mock-ups of other places. Huston wanted real sweat on stars Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn and real mildew on their clothing, so to Africa they went. They were repaid with a huge hit, an Oscar for Bogart, and cases of dysentery for most everybody else.

Bogart stars as Charlie Allnut, who runs a supply steamer through what was German East Africa in 1914. With the onset of World War I, one of his customers—British missionary Hepburn—is left stranded, so he agrees to take her back to civilization. The hard-drinking captain and the proper church lady are a perfect mismatch until she convinces him to help her take out the German warship that’s preventing British access to the area. The perilous journey brings the two together, creating one of the screen’s most unlikely romances.

It’s strange to think of anybody but Bogart and Hepburn in an adaptation of C.S. Forester’s 1935 novel, but the first attempts to film it were at RKO as a vehicle for husband-and-wife Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester. At the time, studio executives didn’t think audiences would pay to see a love story about middle-aged people, so they passed. Then Warner Bros. bought it as a vehicle for Bette Davis and David Niven, but their star actress was too busy; years later they considered teaming her with John Mills. This all left the door open for Huston and producer Sam Spiegel to pick up the rights and create a landmark adventure film.

d. John Huston, 105 minutes, DCP

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures