Brother and sister, Samuel and Rose Sayer (Robert Morley and Katharine Hepburn), are a pair of British Methodist missionaries in the village of Kungdu in German East Africa in 1914 during World Was I. Their mail and supplies are delivered by the rough-and-ready Canadian boat captain Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) in his boat called the African Queen.

When Charlie warns them that war has broken out between Germany and Britain, the Sayers choose to stay on, only to witness the Germans burning down the mission village and herd the villagers away. When Samuel protests, a German soldier beats him. After the Germans leave, Samuel becomes delirious with fever and soon dies. Charlie returns shortly afterward. He helps Rose bury her brother, and they set off in the African Queen.

In discussing their situation, Charlie mentions to Rose that the Germans have a gunboat, the Louisa, which patrols a large lake downriver, effectively blocking any British counter-attacks. Rose comes up with a plan to convert the African Queen into a torpedo boat, and sink the Louisa. Charlie points out that navigating the river would be suicidal: to reach the lake they would have to pass a German fort and negotiate several dangerous rapids. But Rose is insistent and eventually persuades him to go along with the plan.

Charlie hoped after passing the first obstacle that Rose would be discouraged, but she is confident they can handle what is yet to come, and argues that Charlie promised to go all the way.

During their journey down the river, Charlie, Rose and the African Queen encounter many obstacles, including the German fort and three sets of rapids. The first set of rapids is rather easy; they get through with minimal flooding in the boat. But Rose and Charlie have to duck down when they pass the fortress and the soldiers begin shooting at them, blowing two bullet holes in the top of the boiler and causing one of the steam pressure hoses to disconnect from the boiler, which in turn, causes the boat's engine to stop running. Luckily, Charlie manages to reattach the hose to the boiler just as they are about to enter the second set of rapids. The boat rolls and pitches crazily as it goes down the rapids, leading to more severe flooding in the boat and also collapsing the stern canopy.

While celebrating their success, the two find themselves in an embrace. Embarrassed, they break off, but eventually succumb and strike a relationship.

Later on, the couple decides to take a pit stop to gather more fuel and drain the boat. Back on the river, Charlie and Rose watch crocodiles frolic on the nearby riverbank when the third set of rapids comes up. This time, there is a loud metallic clattering noise as the boat goes over the falls. Once again, the couple docks on the riverbank to check for damage. When Charlie dives under the boat, he finds the propeller shaft bent sideways and a blade missing from the propeller. Luckily, with some expert skills and using suggestions from Rose, Charlie manages to straighten the shaft and weld a new blade on to the propeller, and they are off again.

All appears lost when Charlie and Rose "lose the channel" and the boat becomes mired in the mud amid dense reeds near the mouth of the river. First, they try to tow the boat through the muck, only to have Charlie come out of the water covered with leeches. All their efforts to free the African Queen fail.

With no supplies left and short of drinkable water, Rose and a feverish Charlie turn in, convinced they have no hope of survival. Before going to sleep Rose prays that she and Charlie be admitted into Heaven. As they sleep, exhausted and beaten, heavy rains raise the river's level and float the African Queen off of the mud and into the lake which, it turns out, is just a short distance from their location. Once on the lake, they narrowly avoid being spotted by the Louisa.

That night, they set about converting some oxygen cylinders into torpedoes using gelatin explosives and improvised detonators that use nails as the firing pins for rifle cartridges. They then attach the torpedoes through the bow of the African Queen.

At the height of a storm, they push the African Queen out onto the lake, intending to set it on a collision course with the Louisa. Unfortunately, the holes in the bow in which the torpedoes were pushed through are not sealed, allowing water to pour into the boat, causing it to sink lower and eventually the Queen tips over.

Charlie is captured and taken aboard the Louisa, where the captain (Peter Bull) questions him. Believing Rose to have drowned, he makes no attempt to defend himself against accusations of spying and is sentenced to death by hanging. However, Rose is captured too and Charlie hollers her name, and then pretends not to know her. The captain questions her, and Rose confesses the whole plot proudly, deciding they have nothing to lose anyway. The captain sentences her too to be executed as a spy.

Charlie asks the German captain to marry them before executing them. After a brief marriage ceremony, the Germans prepare to hang them, when there is a sudden explosion and the Louisa starts to sink. The Louisa has struck the overturned hull of the African Queen and detonated the torpedoes. Rose's plan has worked, if a little belatedly, and the newly married couple swim to safety in the Belgian Congo.
Oscar
4 Nominations
1 Award
Best Actor

Golden Globes
0 Nominations
0 Awards
There are so many fine things about this movie that they are hard to innumerate. Filmed on location in the Congo, the cinematography is remarkably beautiful without being obtrusive; the script, which is at once subtle and very purposeful, has a remarkably natural tone; the two stars--who play the vast majority of the film alone together--give justly famous performances; and Huston's direction is so fine that we never feel even the slightest hint of directorial manipulation. As an adventure, it has a sense of realism that most adventure stories lack; as a character study it is remarkably detailed and finely wrought; as a love story, it is quite touching without engaging in common sentimentality.

However, what truly makes this film a classic, and deservedly so, is the performances given by the lead actors. For their one film together, Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn pull out all the stops. Bogart is crude, dirty and a low-life river-rat with a heart of gold. He gives the Oscar-winning performance of his lifetime. Hepburn is prim and prissy, but always manages to win us over with her radiance and vulnerability, as well as that core of steel and strength she lends to all her on-screen characters. He's charming, in his way; she's achingly beautiful in hers. You can't help but warm to Charlie and Rosie, and truly, genuinely root for them to get together. Bogart and Hepburn not only give great performances, they are also wonderful together, and they make the on-screen relationship between their characters believable and interesting - it's great to watch as it develops.

Of the roughly 105 minutes of film, it's them and them alone for about 90. Arguably, no two actors have ever solely carried a film this good by themselves. Both actors, especially Bogart, lose themselves in the roles completely. John Hustons’ direction and the decision to go to Africa and not a Hollywood back lot or an LA area river to do the filming was ingenious. The river and the jungle's harshly real environment made Bogart and Hepburn's performances all the better.

If you haven't seen “The African Queen” in a while (or heaven forbid never seen it at all) don't take it for granted thinking you'll catch it sooner or later. Sit down with the film and watch it with fresh eyes. You'll be amazed.

If you love collecting movies, as I do, then you have to get the box set edition from Paramount. It contains a fully restored print, and also includes an all-new hour long “making of” feature with never-before-seen images and commentary, a collectible packaging highlighting Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. On the second disc, there’s an original Lux Radio Broadcast of “The African Queen” starring Humphrey Bogart and Greer Garson (audio only), and a spectacular reproduction of Katharine Hepburn’s out-of-print published memoir: The Making of The African Queen or How I Went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind, and a collectible Senitype®: a four film frame card illustrating the Technicolor® process with 8 images inspired by original theatrical lobby cards. This is a must have for any collector!