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Wednesday July 17th 2024

The African Queen | 1951

The African Queen filming location: Murchison Falls, Uganda
The African Queen filming location: The 'Queen' is becalmed: Kabalego Falls, formerly Murchison Falls, Uganda | Photograph: Wikimedia / Rod Waddington

For a film made in 1951, there’s a surprising amount of location filming in Africa – though this seems to have been an excuse for macho director John Huston to go hunting elephants (see Peter Viertel’s thinly-disguised book of the shoot, White Hunter, Black Heart, or Clint Eastwood’s film version).

As WWI breaks out, Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn) takes Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) gunning for the beastly Hun, who’ve caused the death of her preacher-brother in, what was, German East Africa.

Even so, much of the African jungle was recreated at Worton Hall Studios, Worton Road in Isleworth, southwest London. The site is now the Worton Hall Industrial Estate.

The interior of Robert Morley’s ‘First Methodist Church at Kungdu’ was built here, to match an exterior constructed in Africa. A none-too-convincing double stands in for Morley, who never left England – just look at the cross-cutting between Hepburn with Morley in London and Hepburn with the congregation in Africa.

The doomed church and the village of Kungdu were built on the shore of Lake Albert at Port Butiaba, Uganda, up near the border with Democratic Republic of the Congo. Morley’s funeral was filmed in Democratic Republic of the Congo itself (then simply the Congo), on a hillside about two and a half miles upriver from the village of Biondo, on the Ruiki – the river which stands in for the ‘Ulanga’ in the early scenes of the Queen chugging down to confront the Germans.

The African Queen boat at Key Largo, Florida
The African Queen herself: Key Largo, Florida

The Queen going over the falls is a model made by monks from the local monastery at Ponthierville in Democratic Republic of the Congo (nuns made the tiny Bogart and Hepburn), filmed on the falls above the town, while the German fort at ‘Shona’ was filmed back at Worton Hall.

The reedy lake where a becalmed Hepburn and Bogart finally confront the Louisa is a small offshoot of Lake Albert at Murchison Falls, up the Nile among the crocs and the hippos, now Kabalego Falls, though Uganda’s park is still known as Murchison Falls National Park.

You can stay at Paraa Safari Lodge, near the Falls. If you plan to visit, it’s a good idea to check ahead on local conditions.

The ending, with the scuppered little steamer finally blowing the gunboat to smithereens, filmed back in Isleworth, London.

The African Queen itself wasn’t really blown up at all. It still exists and you can see it at Key Largo, first of the Florida Keys on Route 1 at Florida’s southern tip. It’s at The African Queen, Key Largo, 99701 Overseas Highway, Key Largo, where it's been berthed since the early Eighties, though it does occasionally scuttle off to appear in parades around the US.

There are claims that scenes were filmed at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, and while it seems like every Hollywood film with a jungle scene used the Arboretum, as a filming location, I can’t find any evidence for The African Queen being filmed here. It was a London-based production so it seems pretty unlikely. Since the Arboretum has featured in so many films, you’ll probably want to visit any way, at 301 North Baldwin Avenue, Arcadia.