Movie Facts on "The African Queen"

by Katlyn Joy

John Huston's 1951 film classic "The African Queen" stars Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, the top-rated male and female screen legends by the American Film Institute (AFI) in 1999. This fact alone sets the movie apart, as it is the only film starring both of these legendary actors. The AFI also named "The African Queen" the 65th greatest English-language film in 1999.


Based on the novel of the same name by author C.S. Forester, the screenplay was written by James Agee and John Huston. The story is set in Africa during World War I and focuses on an unlikely pair traveling downriver together. Rose, played by Katharine Hepburn, is a British missionary, rather proper and uptight, whereas Charlie Allnut, the proprietor of the boat The African Queen, is a drifter and jack of all trades who smokes and drinks and is generally everything Rose seems to despise. Their initial goal is to hide out from the Germans on the boat, but later Rose concocts a scheme to attack a German warship from the tiny craft and aid the war effort.


This film was nominated for four Oscars, for best actor in a leading role, best actress in a leading role, best director and best screenplay. "The African Queen" won Humphrey Bogart his only Oscar, and it was the only one the film received. Hepburn lost out to Vivien Leigh in "A Streetcar Named Desire," but she had won one earlier and went on to win three more, the most ever for best actress in a leading role.


This demanding shoot saw many cast and crew members become ill with afflictions such as malaria and dysentery. During the filming, the boat used as the African Queen, the LS Livingstone, sank twice and had to be raised. It can be seen in Key Largo, Florida, on Highway 1. Although Hepburn and Bogart are synonymous with the film, the first choices for leads were John Mills and Bette Davis. Walt Disney based his Disneyland attraction, The Jungle Cruise, on this movie.


During filming, only Bogart escaped becoming ill. He credited his lack of sickness with not drinking water but rather Scotch. Katharine Hepburn, however, only drank water to show her distaste for Bogart and Huston's heavy drinking. She came down with a severe case of dysentery due to this. Much of the movie was filmed in Uganda and the Belgian Congo and on the African rivers, the Ruiki and the Lualaba. For production, Huston had a camp built for cast and crew in Biondo, which included a bar, a restaurant and one-room bungalows.