Great films II
- The African Queen (1951) is the uncomplicated tale of two companions with mismatched, “opposites attract” personalities who develop an implausible love affair as they travel together downriver in Africa around the start of World War I. This quixotic film by director John Huston, based on the 1935 novel of the same name by C. S. Forester, is one of the classics of Hollywood adventure filmmaking, with comedy and romance besides. It was the first color film for the two leads and for director Huston.
- The acting of the two principal actors – Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn – is some of the strongest ever registered on film, although this was their first and only pairing together. They portray an unshaven, drinking and smoking captain of a cranky tramp steamer, and a prissy and proper, but imperious and unorthodox WWI-era African missionary spinster. [This was 44 year-old Hepburn’s first screen appearance as a spinster, and marked her transition to more mature roles for the rest of her career. At 52 years of age, Bogart was also past his prime as a handsome, hard-boiled detective.] John Mills, David Niven, and Bette Davis were, at one time, considered for the lead roles.
- During the course of many hardships and quarrels along a course filled with tropical dangers and ‘evil’ Germans in a warship, they develop a hard-earned love and respect for each other. The real prize and goal of their water journey down the Ulonga-Bora, other than the destruction of a German boat, is to overcome the various psychological obstacles that stand between them.
- [There is a remarkable resemblance between Disneyland’s ‘Jungle Cruise’ attraction and this film. A 1977 TV remake starred Warren Oates and Mariette Hartley. In 1987, Hepburn wrote a pungent account of her experiences during the shoot in her first book, The Making of the African Queen, or How I Went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind. Actor-director Clint Eastwood also chronicled the making of the film in White Hunter, Black Heart (1990), basing it on Peter Viertel’s 1953 account of his experiences making the film and working on James Agee’s script with John Huston.]
- Directed on location (on the Ruiki in the then Belgian Congo and the British protectorate of Uganda) by John Huston (it was his ninth feature film and fifth film with Bogart), the film was nominated for four Academy Awards – Best Actress (Katharine Hepburn), Best Screenplay (James Agee and John Huston), Best Director, and Best Actor (Humphrey Bogart). Bogart was the only one to win – the film’s sole Oscar. In hindsight, Bogart’s award (his sole career Oscar) was probably consolation for the oversight he experienced three years earlier when he wasn’t even nominated for one of his best roles as Fred C. Dobbs in Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948).
- Credits for the film are displayed atop a view of the blue, cloud-filled sky through the canopy of the rain forest. The camera tracks along the crown of the trees and then slowly moves downward to a shot of thatched rooftops in a native village. One of the buildings has a cross at the pinnacle of a steeple – a title card reads: “GERMAN EAST AFRICA, September, 1914.” From a closer angle, the camera again descends from the cross into the doorway where an engraved stone panel identifies the site: 1st METHODIST CHURCH KUNG DU. Inside the mission church, stuffy English missionary Rev. Samuel Sayer (Robert Morley) and his prim, repressed, spinster sister Rose Thayer (Katharine Hepburn) lead the church service.
- Utterly devoted to her brother, high-collared, fervent, perspiring Rose pedal-pumps and plays the organ to assist the uncomprehending natives in noisy, atonal hymn singing – in the semi-comic scene. Above the sound of the voices inside, the sharp sound of a steamboat’s whistle is heard to announce its arrival. A gin-drinking, cigar-smoking, uncouth drifter named Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart), the owner of the squat, 30-foot ramshackle supply launch steamer, The African Queen, arrives on his up-river rounds to deliver supplies, mail and news to the isolated village.
- A grubby, seedy-looking Charlie observes the out-of-place British couple in the mission leading the service. Representing the secular and carnal world, he discards his stogie absent-mindedly on the ground outside. [A similar scene involving another cast-off cigarette by Bogart opens The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948).] The black natives enthusiastically rush to pick up the discarded item, causing a commotion and distracting them from the seriousness of their singing and religious endeavor. He is invited to share afternoon tea with the missionary couple. As they walk inside, the simple-minded Charlie brags: “There ain’t nobody in Africa except yours truly who can get up a good head of steam on the old African Queen.”
- In a humorous scene again illustrating their personality, spiritual and social differences, the very-very stuffy English pair, primly starched and dressed, ignore his embarrassing and uncontrollable stomach growls and gurgles as the Reverend notices an advertisement in a newspaper he is reading for “Page Woodcock’s Wind Pills” – the perfect antidote for Charlie’s indigestion and liver complaints. He daintily sips tea with his grimy hands and tries to apologize but only makes things worse: “Just listen to this stomach of mine. Way it sounds, you’d think I had a hyena inside me…Ain’t a thing I can do about it.” The Sayers continue on with their restrained parlor room conversation and disregard his down-to-earth comments.
- Before Charlie leaves and continues on his journey, he warns them that he may not be around for a few months on his regular route delivering mail or supplies, alarming them with the news of the start of a European war between Germany and England. Rose and Rev. Samuel fear being middle-class English colonialists – alien foreigners (“enemy aliens”) in German East Africa. Charlie doesn’t believe they will be affected by the conflict in their out-of-the-way location. Defensive and corrective, Rose is faithful and confident that they will be safe:
Charlie: What harm could anyone do the Germans in this god-forsaken place?
Rose: God has not forsaken this place, Mr. Allnut, as my brother’s presence here bears witness.
Charlie: Oh, no offense, Miss.
Rev. Sayer: War.
Charlie: Yeah, yeah it looks like it.
- On second thought, Rose wonders whether they should try to reach refuge in the city while they can. But her brother believes “a good shepherd doesn’t desert his flock when the wolves are prowling.” They kneel to utter a self-important prayer together: “We must ask the Almighty to bless the arms of England to carry her through her hour of triumph.”
- Soon after Charlie’s tug is seen leaving, a platoon of German troops (led by two white German-speaking officers and a group of black soldiers) marches into the mission village. Without any warning, they invade and burn the huts and the church to the ground. Samuel protests the destruction: “What’s the meaning of this outrage? How dare you?” He is dealt a blow to the head from a rifle butt. The natives are rounded up and herded off as forced soldiers or slave laborers.
- A distraught Rose helplessly watches as her shattered, fragile older brother deliriously suffers a fever and nervous breakdown. The shock of seeing his life’s work destroyed causes him to lose his mind. He remembers that he volunteered as a missionary because he had no facility with languages of Greek and Hebrew and failed the exams. He cruelly appraises the comeliness and insignificance of his sister as his accompanying servant to Africa, while she tends to his perspiring forehead:
Not comely among the maidens, but she too can be a servant in the House of the Lord. Even for such as she, God has a goodly purpose.
- He dies shortly afterwards (off-screen) one morning. When the grizzled Charlie returns the day of his death, he learns that Rose’s village has been devastated and that her brother has expired (“They didn’t shoot him, Mr. Allnut, but they may as well have done”). He offers to promptly bury her brother (“What with the climate and all, the quicker we get him under the ground the better…”), rescue her and take her downriver from the now-dangerous territory to civilization.
- Along with her as additional freight, Charlie explains that he must also escape with the battered African Queen, since his cargo includes blasting gelatin, and cylinders of oxygen and hydrogen. Charlie is content to sit out the war in the sanctuary of the quiet backwater and not go anywhere to escape detection. He believes they have plenty of supplies to last a long while:
Charlie: So far so good. Here we are safe and sound, as you might say. The question is, ‘What next?’
Charlie: We’ve got heaps of grubs here, Miss. We’re all right as far as that goes. 2,000 cigarettes, 2 cases of gin. Ha, ha. We could stay here for months if we wanted to. It’s not a bad place to sit out a war…All the comforts of home including running water.
Rose: We simply can’t remain here in this backwater until the war is over, Mr. Allnut.
Charlie: Can’t we, Miss? You got the map. Show me a way out and I’ll take it. (He dangles a cigarette from his lower lip.)
Rose: The British will certainly launch an attack. The only question is which way will they come.
- Their escape route seems impossible anyway – the large Central African lake at the end of the dangerous and treacherous connecting river, the Ulanga and Bora Rivers – is patrolled by a large German warship, the 100-ton steamer, the Louisa. “She’s the boss of the lake ’cause she’s got a six pounder…the biggest gun in Central Africa.” Before the lake, the Germans occupy a fort overlooking the river at Shona, and all along the way there are treacherous rapids:
Charlie: Rapids. A hundred miles of water like it was coming out of a fire hose. And after that, why, the rivers even got a different name. It’s called the Bora. That goes to show ya. They didn’t even know it was the same river until this fella Spengler got…
Rose: He got down it, I remember.
Charlie: Well, yes, Miss, in a dugout canoe. He had a half a dozen Swahili paddlers. Map makin’ he was. That was his map you was looking at.
Rose: Mr. Allnut?…What did you say is in these boxes with the red lines on them?
Charlie: Well them? That’s blastin’ gelatine, Miss.
Rose: Is it dangerous?
Charlie: Bless you, no, Miss. That’s safety stuff, that is. You can get it wet and it don’t do it any harm. You set fire to it and it just burns. You can hit it with a hammer and it won’t go off – at least I don’t think it will. It takes a detonator to set it off. I’ll put it over the side, though, if it worries you.
Rose: No, we may want it. Mr. Allnut?…What are these long, round, torpedo-like things?
Charlie: Oh them? Them’s oxygen and hydrogen cylinders, Miss.
Rose: Mr. Allnut?
Charlie: (smugly) I’m still right here, Miss. There ain’t much of any other place I could be on a thirty-foot boat, ha, ha, ha.
Rose: You’re a machinist, aren’t you? I mean, wasn’t that your position at the mine?
Charlie: Yes, a kind of a fixer. A jack of all trades, a master of none, like they say.
Rose: Could you make a torpedo?
Charlie: How’s that, Miss?
Rose: Could you make a torpedo?
Charlie: A torpedo?…You don’t really know what you’re askin’. You see, there ain’t nothin’ so complicated as the inside of a torpedo. It’s got gyroscopes, compressed air chambers, compensating cylinders…
Rose: (unperturbed) But all those things, those gyroscopes and things, they’re only to make it go, aren’t they?
Charlie: Yeah. Yeah, go and hit what it’s aimed at.
Rose: Well, we’ve got The African Queen.
Charlie: How’s that, Miss?
- The intrepid, strong-willed Rose develops a brave plan and becomes possessed and determined to carry out the daring scheme to take action against the Germans – to travel on the Ulanga and Bora Rivers to take them to the lake where they can destroy the German gunboat that controls access to central Africa, using the explosives he has on board:
- If we were to fill those cylinders with that blasting gelatine and then fix them so that they would stick out over the end of the boat, and then run the boat against the side of a ship, they would go off just like a torpedo, wouldn’t they?…We could, what do you call it, get a good head of steam up, and then point the launch toward a ship and just before she hits, we could dive off. Couldn’t we?
- She has little interest, concern or awareness of the challenges they face, and doesn’t want to just sit out the war. Charlie objects to her hair-brained, suicidal scheme:
Charlie: There’s only one little thing wrong with your idea. There ain’t nothin’ to torpedo.
Rose: Oh yes there is.
Charlie: There’s what?
Rose: Something to torpedo.
Charlie: What’s that?
Rose: The Louisa.
Charlie: The Louisa! Oh now, don’t talk silly, Miss. You can’t do that. Honest you can’t. I told you before, we can’t get down the Ulanga!
Rose: Spengler did.
Charlie: In a canoe, Miss.
Rose: If a German did it, we can do it, too.
Charlie: Not in no launch, Miss.
Rose: How do you know? You’ve never tried it.
Charlie: I never tried shooting myself in the head, neither. The trouble with you, Miss, is, you, you don’t know anything about boats!
- 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?
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:
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 living like a hog. Then, too, with me, it’s always: ‘Put things off. Never do today what you can put off till 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. Just look at her, Miss. She actually 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 you 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 and 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?
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.
- Along the way to entertain and amuse Rose with childish, clownish antics, he mimics the look and sounds of submerged hippos and scratching baboons on shore. After another disastrous encounter with rapids, the Queen is damaged and leaking water. They seek anchorage for a while in the still side waters of the river. After diving underwater, Charlie notices a twisted shaft on the rudder and a broken blade on the propeller. Rose suggests that the work will have to be done underwater: “Couldn’t you straighten the shaft without taking the boat up on shore?…” During the repair effort, when he swallows alot of water and she volunteers to help free the drive shaft with him, Charlie rudely dismisses her:
Are you cracked? The currents down there are fierce. I don’t want a drowned woman on my hands. What will you be thinking of next?
- But when he dives down, she appears by his side – underwater – cooperatively helping him to repair the boat. On the bank, they build a forge fanned by makeshift bellows, heat up the damaged shaft, pound it into shape on a stone, and weld a new blade (all techniques suggested earlier by Rose): “I saw a Masai native working once using charcoal on a big hollowed stone – he had a boy to fan the charcoal…We’ll have to make a new blade, then. There’s lots of iron and stuff that you could use…wouldn’t it be better to weld it on?”
- After installing the parts, they continue on their way. As they float down the river, Charlie euphorically exclaims to his new sweetheart: “Pinch me, Rosie. Here we are, going down the river like Anthony and Cleopatra on that barge!” He admires her and compliments her bravery with a lasting impression:
- I’ll never forget the way you looked going over the falls – head up, chin out, hair blowing in the wind – the living picture of a hero-eyne!
- In their river adventure, they now enter an uncharted, unknown portion, and are beset by man-eating and poisonous water creatures in an increasingly swampy, slow-moving river. First, they are attacked by a shroud of mosquitos that eat them alive. To protect his loved one, Charlie throws a canvas tarp over Rose to cover her, and then poles the boat away from the shore. They reminisce about their adventure together and imagine a time (after their love has matured in the future) when they will have a family together: “What a time we’ve had, Rosie. What a time. We’ll never lack for stories to tell our grandchildren, will we?”
- In the oppressive, humid atmosphere of the jungle, the river narrows and they become stuck in the reedy channel at the river’s end. An exhausted Charlie must get into the waist-deep water and pull the boat through the shallow muck and silt to deeper water. He resigns himself: “What I said about having to get out and carry this old boat was meant to be a joke. It don’t look like a joke now.” When he emerges from the river and climbs back on deck, leeches cling to his body. Half-hysterical, Rosie shrieks at the sight of leeches on his torso and legs – she dusts the parasites with salt and helps pick them off. He shivers and shudders in horror, revulsion, and loathing while they are removed:
- If there’s anything in the world I hate, it’s leeches – filthy little devils!
- Dreading it, he knows he must go back in the swampy water to finish the job – he winces in disgust, and then slowly submerges himself back into the leech-infested waters. Rosie sympathetically joins him, hacking away the thick growth, and nursing him after he has collapsed: “You’re the bravest man that ever lived.”
- They seem beaten, finished, trapped and unable to continue – famished, ill, feverish, and exhausted – at the end of the lives together:
Charlie: We’re finished.
Rose: I know it.
- With pride, Charlie tells Rose that they have done the impossible: “I’m not one bit sorry I came. What I mean is, it was worth it.” Exhausted and resigned to die, they lie down in the bottom of the grounded boat ready to fall asleep as lovers. At the end of the tropical delta’s maze, Rose eloquently prays for mercy:
Dear Lord, we’ve come to the end of our journey. In a little while, we will stand before You. I pray for You to be merciful. Judge us not for our weakness but for our love, and open the doors of heaven for Charlie and me.
- (In a marvelous crane shot different from their own perspective, the camera rises and pans away to show that they are, ironically, only a hundred yards away from the goal of their journey down the Ulanga River – the lake.)
- During the night, clouds form and thunder rumbles. Large raindrops splat on white lilies and the storm quickly expands into a deluge (falling on jungle rivers, pink flamingoes, ducks, giraffes, hippos, lions, and a herd of bounding antelope). The drenching rain and windstorm raises the level of the foamy river, breaking down trees and carrying them along in its path. The rising current of water pushes the mired Queen free from her swampy grave onto the lake. They awaken and joyfully view the lake. They take in the African air, with different perspectives. Rose exclaims: “This air! Isn’t it wonderful?” Charlie replies: “Yeah, it’s like – I know you don’t approve, but it’s like a shot of gin. It makes your blood race, your face numb and your spirits soar.” Rose apologizes for pouring his gin out.
- And then they both see the enemy ship, the German steamship Louisa, on the horizon, headed straight for them. They make a run for it back into the camouflaging reeds. With restored optimism, Charlie fashions some makeshift homemade torpedoes with detonators and inserts them through holes in the prow of the Queen, with the object of ramming the German warship. They clean up the boat prior to blowing up the Louisa:
- She ought to look her best, representing as she does the Royal Navy.
- They argue together about whether their attack mission is a one- or two-person job. Rose insists on going together, but Charlie wants her to wait for him on the east shore – they experience their “first quarrel” together:
Rose: Who do you think you are ordering me about?
Charlie: I’m the captain that’s who! And I’m ain’t taking you along. You’d only be in my way.
Rose: I suppose I was in your way going down the rapids. Then what you said to me back there on the river was a lie about how you never could have done it alone and how you lost your heart and everything. You liar! Oh, Charlie, we’re having our first quarrel.
- Charlie agrees that they will blow up the ship together: “All right. It’ll be you at the tiller and me at the engine, just like it was from the start.”
- The intrepid two head for the gunboat to ram it under cover of darkness in an attempted night attack. But a raging storm arises and overturns and sinks their boat in the choppy water, and they become separated. Charlie is picked up by the German warship at dawn, and immediately brought to trial for being a spy. The German captain (Peter Bull) is exasperated and irritated with Charlie for lying and sentences him to death by hanging on the yardarm as a British spy:
The court sentences you to death by hanging. Sentence to be carried out immediately.
- Just then, Rose is also brought on board as a prisoner (with a life preserver labeled African Queen), and they are overjoyed to see each other. For a moment, Charlie disavows knowing Rose and further aggravates the Captain who threatens: “I shall hang you twice, I think.” When Rose is asked the same questions that Charlie has already lied about, she decides to tell them the truth. The Germans learn of their plans to sink the Louisa with homemade torpedoes: “We came here to sink this ship…with torpedoes.” She looks on with pride as Charlie tells how he made the torpedoes. The captain asks how they got onto the lake. The captain thinks their journey down the unnavigable river was impossible, but Rose responds: “Nevertheless.”
- (Spliced within scenes of their questioning and preparations for their execution are views of the capsized Queen slowly surfacing upside down in the lake, with the torpedoes angled upward above the waterline and aimed directly in the path of the Louisa.)
- They are brought on the deck for the hanging. Rose decides to die with Charlie and makes a sentimental request of the captain: “Would you hang us together, please?” The German captain grants Charlie’s touching last request – that they be married before the execution (Rose concurs: “What a lovely idea!”). The captain officiates, but leaves them little time to exchange vows and smiles:
Captain: What kind of craziness is this?
Charlie: Aw come on, Captain, it’ll only take a minute, and it’ll mean such a lot to the lady.
Captain: Very well, if you wish it absolutely. What are the names again?
Rose: Rosie. Rose.
Captain: Do you, Charles, take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife?
Charlie: (nodding) Yes, sir.
Captain: Do you, Rose, take this man to be your lawful wedded husband?
Rose: I do.
Captain: By the authority vested in me by Kaiser Wilhelm II, I pronounce you man and wife. Proceed with the execution. (The newly-wed couple kiss.)
- Just before they are hung, and the nooses are tightened around their necks, an explosion disrupts their post-nuptial execution. The Louisa collides with their partly submerged Queen with their homemade torpedoes on its prow. Among the wreckage of the sinking ship floating in the water, one of the subordinate German officers swims up to the Captain and gives a ludicrous salute.
- To their surprise, they are also spared by fate. The newly-married couple find themselves in the water as black smoke engulfs the Louisa. In disbelief as successful saboteurs, they float alive:
Charlie: What happened?
Rose: We did it, Charlie, we did it!
Charlie: But how?
- Rose pulls over a piece of the wreckage floating in the water that shows the name African Queen. Charlie is impressed that they have accomplished their goal, and that they are man and wife – although he calls himself “an old married man.” He asks his new wife:
Charlie: Well, what do you think…you all right, Mrs. Allnut?
Rose (thrilled to be alive): Wonderful, simply wonderful. And you, Mr. Allnut?
Charlie: Pretty good, for an old married man.
Rose (asking directions): I’m all twisted around, Charlie. Which way is the east shore?
Charlie (cheerfully assuring): The way we’re swimming toward, old girl.
As they joyously begin swimming out of the frame toward a friendly shore, transformed into unlikely heroes, they sing: “There was an old fisherman…” as the music swells up with the happy, but improbable ending. THE END appears above the image of the wavy, bluish surface of the lake.
- the rescue of Charlie and Rose by a British warship after their battle against the Louisa
- Rose proposes marriage before the first available British consul
- Charlie remembers a wife left behind over 20 years ago in England
There were three other endings that were considered, but dropped: