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The African Queen

Year: 1951
Production Co: Horizon Pictures
Director: John Huston
Writer: John Huston
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley
What's the one scene you know from The African Queen even if you haven't seen the movie? It's Bogey pulling the boat through the swamp.

After a lifetime of that scene - or the thought of it - germinating in the pop culture consciousness, it's taken on disproportionate significance. I expected Charlie (Bogart) to be dragging a ship the size of the QEII through a raging, crocodile-infested river while dodging Luftwaffe shells raining from the sky.

So it's a surprise to see this small, quiet little movie only features him pulling a rickety wooden fishing boat of about 25 feet through some long grass to get it back on track to the main channel of the Ulana river.

Soon after riverboat captain and sometime mailman Charlie calls into a British mission in First World War East Africa to take a civilised, awkward tea with the Reverend (Morley) and his uptight sister Rose (Hepburn), German troops arrive and burn the mission to the ground.

Learning of the attack after the Reverend's death, Charlie returns to the mission to take Rose to safety, and she talks him into going downriver along a treacherous waterway of beauty and danger to attack the German warship stationed in the lake at the other end.

The film chronicles the pair's adventures as they try to keep the ship in one piece through rapids, storms, the loss of all the gin on board, leech attacks and the iconic boat-dragging scene when they get chocked in river vegetation.

Despite an Odd Couple premise with the stuffy religious woman and the hard drinking, libertine sailor, the two sweetly bond and fall in love, and maybe it was just the era (today Rose would be played by Megan Fox and she'd do a lot of topless sunbathing) but I also got the sense director Huston wanted both stars to appear somewhat unappealing - Bogey all bad teeth and aging countenance, Hepburn not by any means a pin up. They seemed too odd-looking creatures who find each other in this crazy, mixed-up world (sorry, wrong Bogey).

But I have to admit it had a sense of silliness that - together with the awful special effects of the time - made me wonder what's so classic about it.

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