C.S. Forester's fantastic novel, The African Queen, would have its readers believe that an old reprobate and a prim church organist can shoot a thousand miles of river rapids in a motorized scow and blow up a 100-ton gunboat. Director John Huston and stars Hepburn and Bogart obviously didn't think so. In their African Queen, they played thrills for thrills, and the rest for laughs. The result is unusual, half-exciting, half-amusing, and always entertaining.
As Charley Olnutt, the gin-oriented riverboat captain, Bogart is immense--not the same old "I wouldn't walk ten feet to watch Krakatoa explode" Bogart, but a new man, an epic slob. He revels in his new role, his eight day beard, dirty tennis shoes, and habit of drinking gin and river water for refreshment. And best of all, when he gets in a clinch with Hepburn, you can just barely detect him laughing at the whole concept of Charley Olnutt, the poor sinner reclaimed by patriotism and selfless love.
Hepburn, his co-star, also turns in a fine mock-heroic performance, but it seems to me that she is rather old for this sort of thing.
Running tandem with the Bogart-Hepburn travelling tryst is some of the most spectacular scenery Africa possesses. Waterfalls, steaming jungles, and endless papyrus marshes are caught with such remarkable realism that when Bogie and Katic are attacked by a swarm of insects, everybody in the theatre started scratching. The jungle is definitely one of the actors in The African Queen, and thanks to the Technicolor camera and its own loathsome inhabitants, it does a very fine job.