The African Queen was released a year before I was born, so it’s not exactly of “my time.” However, I was an old movie buff early-on, watching the Dialing for Dollars movie every day after school from junior high through high school and that’s where I first saw Katharine Hepburn portray Rosie, a prim missionary in World War I period East German Africa, who is rescued – sort of – by Humphrey Bogart’s Charlie, a drunken owner/captain of a broken down small steam boat.
When her brother is murdered by a German soldier she has no choice but to leave her native parishioners behind and try for safety with Charlie, who she already regards as pond scum. Charlie’s rickety old boat is their only means of escape and their battle onboard in the first days is epic - the clash between morality and immorality. He gets roaring drunk in spite of her disapproval, or maybe because of it, and while he’s out like a light she finds his stash of gin – quite impressive – and dumps it all overboard.
It’s all-out war until she proves to be quite a brave lady during their wild ride down a raging river. Here’s where Rosie’s character gets really interesting. She began this journey without much trepidation, with an attitude of “whatever we have to do.” With her initiation into adventure, Rosie gets a pitter-pattery heart and flushes with the excitement of it all. A heroine is released.
They go through a number of challenges, from being swarmed by mosquitoes to surviving a barrage of gunfire from a ridgetop along the river and finally a horrendous expedition down a claustrophobia-producing swamp where Charlie must literally get out and drag the Queen through the mud. Rosie comes to his rescue repeatedly, never once whining or complaining no matter how awful things get.
Things get really spicy between Rosie and Charlie, especially for those times, and you can see Rosie sizzle on screen for her Charlie. So she transforms from a repressed woman of her time and station to a passionate adventuress and Charlie is smitten. In 1951, this film indicated that they had had a night of unmarried passion.
|Rosie convincing Charlie to sabotage the Louisa.|
Finally, they emerge from the reed and see the German gunboat Louisa, which Charlie has explained to Rose rules the entrance to the river.
Rosie hatches a plan to sink the Louisa by turning the Queen into a vehicle of sabotage, with her and Charlie attaching a torpedo below the waterline and ramming the Louisa. It’s complicated but before the plan can work, the German captain captures them both and is going to hang them when Charlie asks to marry Rosie first.
This is one of the most romantic scenes in movie history. They are married by the captain just before he intends to hang them, but they survive when the Queen finally rams Louisa.
So, what makes Rosie so special? Well, she’s a red-head – always big points in my book. She allows herself to grow, defy convention and ultimately put her life on the line for her country and the man she loves. She becomes a woman of big passions, but she retains her sense of principle and honor. Most of all, she is fearless. Rosie is the woman I want to be.
I also love Katharine Hepburn, but I’m not talking about her here. I speaking of the extremely well fleshed-out character of Rosie. I still think she and Charlie are living somewhere off the coast of Africa, surrounded by grandchildren and taking a new African Queen (my own creation) out onto the river. Essentially, Rosie and Charlie still exist – at least, in my mind.
Who wouldn’t aspire to being this fiery red-head, to being so heroic and courageous? When the two of them are about to be hanged, Rosie looks at Charlie and you know she’s thinking it was all worth it, even dying with the man she loves. Of course, I’d rather not die, but you get my meaning.
If you haven’t seen this film, make a point of it. I’ll bet you fall in love with Rosie too. And Charlie ain’t bad either!