THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1952)

After years of wooing director John Huston via good reviews, film critic James Agee was given a chance to write the screenplay for a Huston picture. Adapted from a novel by C.S. Forester, The African Queen stars Humphrey Bogart in his Oscar-winning portrayal of Charlie Allnut, the slovenly, gin-swilling captain of a tramp steamer called the African Queen, which ships supplies to small East African villages during World War I. Katharine Hepburn plays Rose Sayer, the maiden-lady sister of a prim British missionary, Rev. Samuel Sayer (Robert Morley). When Germans invade and Samuel dies, Allnut offers to take Rose back to civilization. The first choices for the lead roles were John Mills and Bette Davis. This is the role that won Humphrey Bogart the only Oscar of his career. The Queen of Africa was played by the LS Livingston, which had been a working steamboat for 40 years. It is now docked next to the Holiday Inn in Key Largo, Florida, just off US Highway 1. To show her disgust with the amount of alcohol that John Huston and Humphrey Bogart consumed during filming, Katharine Hepburn drank only water. As a result, she suffered a severe bout of dysentery. In “The Making of ‘The African Queen,’ or How I Went to Africa with Bogie, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind”, Katharine Hepburn described the first day of shooting. Five cars and trucks were needed to take the cast, crew and equipment 3.5 miles from Biondo to the Ruiki river. There, they loaded everything onto boats and sailed another 2.5 miles to the shooting location. Press materials and contemporary articles detailed the perils of shooting on location in Africa, including dysentery, malaria, contaminated 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 February 1952 New York Times article, John Huston said he hired local natives to help the crew, but many would not show up for fear that the filmmakers were cannibals. Columbia originally bought the novel as a vehicle for Charles Laughton and his wife Elsa Lanchester. Instead, they made The Beachcomber, which was same story, but a box office failure. And at one point David Niven and Paul Henreid were each considered for the male lead. ecause the boat 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 footage of him preaching, which was edited together with shots of the natives praying, which was filmed in Africa. While filming the scene where Charlie finds his body covered with leeches, Humphrey Bogart insisted on using rubber leeches. John Huston refused, and brought a leech-breeder to the London studio with a tank full of them. It made Bogart queasy and nervous, qualities Huston wanted for his close-ups. Ultimately, rubber leeches were placed on Bogart, and a close-up of a real leech was shot on the breeder’s chest. In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #65 Greatest Movie of All Time. ‘The African Queen,’ built in England in 1912 was used by the British East Africa Company from 1912 to 1968 to shuttle passengers and cargo across Lake Albert (on the border between Uganda and Belgian Congo). It is now located in Key Largo. ‘The African Queen’ sank and had to be raised twice during filming of the movie. Lauren Bacall quoted “The natives had been told to watch it and they did. They watched it sink.”

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