A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The African Queen is a classic 1951 romantic comedy/adventure starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. As a movie set in Africa during World War I, the depictions of Africans are indicative of the stereotypes of the time. Bogart's character is a steamboat captain, and Hepburn's character is a missionary -- both make references to the Africans who assist them as "my boys." An early scene in which Bogart's character first arrives at the African village involves Bogart's character, Charlie, tossing a cigar onto the ground. Immediately, several African villagers run to and scuffle over who gets the cigar butt. As with other movies starring Bogart, there's plenty of smoking (cigars) and drinking (gin). Charlie is shown binge-drinking gin, resulting in him singing off-key and then making surly comments and insults at Hepburn's character's expense. The next morning, Charlie is hung over while Rose dumps the remaining bottles of gin into the river. There is light violence in the form of gunfire and dangerous river rapids. Squeamish moments involve blood-sucking leeches and, to a lesser extent, a painful mosquito swarm. There's a very mild suggestion that Charlie and Rose sleep together. Rose seems to be naked when bathing in the river (but actually she's covered with a slip).
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What's the story?
Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn) and her brother Samuel are English missionaries in 1914 German East Africa. Their rare contact with the outside world is through Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart), who delivers their mail on his steam-powered boat, the African Queen. When Samuel is killed in a German attack, Charlie takes Rose with him. At first, they are stiffly polite to each other. Then, Rose decides that they must use their explosives to blow up the powerful German gunboat, the Louisa. Charlie thinks she's crazy and they clash. He steers into the rapids to show her how dangerous the river is, but she's thrilled by the experience. Charmed by her enthusiasm and praise, Charlie still insists that they can't possibly attack the Louisa, and yet she persists. Will the pair try to destroy the German boat, and if so, will they survive the dangerous mission? And will their attraction and admiration for one another continue to grow?
Is it any good?
THE AFRICAN QUEEN is one of the finest and most satisfying of the "odd couple takes a trip together" genre. Rose and Charlie are opposites, and yet they are perfectly suited to each other. Ultimately, Rose isn't comfortable "rising above" nature, and indeed grows to love it, as she gives up some of the strictures of civilization and appreciates the beauty and "stimulation" of the natural world. Charlie learns to appreciate some of the beauties of civilization; to take the challenge and the responsibility of participating in the fight against the Germans, to have a relationship of trust and tenderness.
Humphrey Bogart won a well-deserved Oscar for this performance. Katharine Hepburn, who was also nominated, said that her performance was based on director John Huston's suggestion that she play Rose as Eleanor Roosevelt. (Compare this performance to her appearance in Pat and Mike a year later, in which she played a world-class athlete.) This movie is based on a novel of the same name by C.S. Forester, but the romance was added by screenwriters James Agee and John Huston.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the reason that German troops were in Africa in the 1900s. Where could you learn more about the history portrayed here?
Families can also talk about what makes a compelling love story. Is the "opposites attract" premise just more fun? Do you prefer stories of first love, or is it more compelling with more mature characters? Why?
How are Black African characters presented in a stereotypical manner in this movie?
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