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The African Queen (June 16, 2011)

C.S. Forester wrote his novel about two English people in German East Africa at the start of World War I in 1935. He was ambivalent enough about it to provide different outcomes for different editions published in different countries – happy as well as tragic. In 1950 the producer Sam Spiegel and the director John Huston bought the film rights and planned to make the movie in Africa. In the early 1950s there was a rush to make Hollywood films on location in Europe (and in Africa). This was not just because Hollywood wanted to escape from the studio-bound environment that had enclosed its productions since its beginning, or just because the studios became aware that there were European film technicians who were very much capable of making movies to American standards. It was also the age of currency controls, and one way of being able to repatriate profits earned in European currencies was to make pictures there and spend the pounds, lire, francs, or marks accumulated in Europe to make a movie that could earn dollars anywhere.

The film was made, with some difficulty, on location in Uganda, the Congo, and Turkey, and in studios in London, from May through August, 1951. The process of making it has been extensively described both by Miss Hepburn, in her memoir The Making of ‘The African Queen’, and by an uncredited screenwriter, Peter Viertel, in his book White Hunter, Black Heart. It was released in December, 1951. Jack Cardiff, who was cinematographer on Black Narcissus and on The Red Shoes, was also cinematographer on this picture. The art director was Wilfred Shingleton, who had been art director on Great Expectations. At the Oscars, Humphrey Bogart won the best actor Oscar. Katharine Hepburn was nominated for best actress, John Huston was nominated for best director, and the writers James Agee and John Huston were nominated for best writing, screenplay. In 1994 it was named as a movie worthy of preservation and added to the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry.

This was before the time when international stars would use dialect coaches. Hepburn’s Connecticut accent stands in for received British pronunciation of the time. Bogart is described as Canadian, but his accent is no more Canadian than mine is – actually, probably quite a bit less. The restored color version we’ll see tonight came out about a year ago and is a good deal less murky than the color prints shown in earlier days. I hope you enjoy watching Technicolor filmed on location with two box office giants of the early 1950s – a real blockbuster of its time – The African Queen.