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The African Queen

The African Queen  

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  1. 1. Does The African Queen belong on the AFI list?

    • Never say die. That's my motto!
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    • Gave myself up for dead back when we started.
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  • Poll closed on 11/02/18 at 07:00 AM

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Paul & Amy set sail through 1951’s Katharine Hepburn & Humphrey Bogart adventure The African Queen! They ask whether the central romance is convincing, discuss John Huston’s groundbreaking and arduous location shoot, and reminisce about the Disneyland ride inspired by the film. Plus: Suzanne Holmquist tells about running the actual African Queen as a modern day tourist attraction. 

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I gotta say, I did like The African Queen, but I was somewhat confounded by it.  I think Paul expressed that pretty well, and sort of was where my head is on it.    

But as I've watched your all's ratings on Letterboxd roll in for this movie, I was surprised at just how high they've been.  Had you guys seen it before?  Or was everyone just super charmed by it?

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36 minutes ago, AlmostAGhost said:

I gotta say, I did like The African Queen, but I was somewhat confounded by it.  I think Paul expressed that pretty well, and sort of was where my head is on it.    

But as I've watched your all's ratings on Letterboxd roll in for this movie, I was surprised at just how high they've been.  Had you guys seen it before?  Or was everyone just super charmed by it?

I’ve seen it before. I raised it from, I think, 4 Stars to 5. I don’t know, something about it really resonated with me. I liked the character development between the two characters. How they both start at complete opposite ends of the spectrum, and by the end, have met somewhere in the middle.

I’m also a sucker for “against the odds” stories. Additionally, it feels so human and grounded. These two nobodies aren’t trying to win a war, just a small part of it.  The challenges they face are perfectly scaled to their station. For example, Bogart’s expression when he realizes he has to get back in the water after pulling off the leeches is amazing. Compare that to Indiana Jones who “hates snakes,” but we never really see or feel that fear. He just drops in a snake pit like it’s no big deal. Of the two, I’d say Allnut displays the greater heroism.

The African Queen isn’t about larger than life superheroes. It’s about people like us, flawed and fragile, doing their part to fight against evil. 

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2 minutes ago, Cameron H. said:

I’ve seen it before. I raised it from, I think, 4 Stars to 5. I don’t know, something about it really resonated with me. I liked the character development between the two characters. How they both start at complete opposite ends of the spectrum, and by the end, have met somewhere in the middle.

Yea and I liked Paul & Amy's point that it wasn't an unrealistically wide spectrum either, like you often get in a 'romantic' story.  It was definitely my favorite aspect of the film, their growing connection and the realness Hepburn and Bogart brought to the characters and the journey.

I could do without the war angle, though, that's the part that threw me out of whack a bit.  I don't know, you're right about leeches and rapids and stuff, but zooming out, sinking a German boat in the middle of an African river seems entirely out of scale to me though, for these two people.  I feel like there could have been a better reason for them to need to get down that river together.

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The African Queen WAS referenced by The Simpsons in that same episode. It was at the very end of The Burns Cage, as a still image. 88D00689-C053-4486-B153-142215BA33E4.jpeg.5cd2c65253a8950a50620a4f2809419a.jpeg

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17 minutes ago, JoshuaDavis said:

The African Queen WAS referenced by The Simpsons in that same episode. It was at the very end of The Burns Cage, as a still image. 88D00689-C053-4486-B153-142215BA33E4.jpeg.5cd2c65253a8950a50620a4f2809419a.jpeg

Beat me to it, but yup. This was the only direct reference I could find.

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I certainly enjoyed the movie (I'd never seen it before), but I'm with Paul and Amy in that if I had to pick, say, 10 movies to drop off the list this would probably be one of them. I just think that out of the things it covers (romances, road movies, riverboat movies, war movies, Bogart or Hepburn movies, John Huston movies) there are other better examples. Even Apocalypse Now is probably a better example of the "it was a really difficult on-location shoot" movie.

That doesn't mean it's bad, though! I really liked both of the lead performances and rarely found myself bored during the movie.

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28 minutes ago, AlmostAGhost said:

Yea and I liked Paul & Amy's point that it wasn't an unrealistically wide spectrum either, like you often get in a 'romantic' story.  It was definitely my favorite aspect of the film, their growing connection and the realness Hepburn and Bogart brought to the characters and the journey.

I could do without the war angle, though, that's the part that threw me out of whack a bit.  I don't know, you're right about leeches and rapids and stuff, but zooming out, sinking a German boat in the middle of an African river seems entirely out of scale to me though, for these two people.  I feel like there could have been a better reason for them to need to get down that river together.

I don’t know, I think it would be difficult, but I think they could do it. There has to be some “impossible” odds for them or else it would just be a strenuous boat ride.

Perhaps that’s what I respond to. These people are basically saying we’re going to do this thing no matter what. We have no training, and the odds seem hopeless, but we’re going to do it anyway. And even though everything is against us (e.g. enemy battlements, rapids, broken propellers, etc), we’re going to keep going - even if our reward for all our travails is our own deaths.

The movie is about Faith with a capital “F.” It’s an allegory for life. We each face what seem to us like insurmountable odds. We fear and we despair and we act childish, but we push forward. We do so because there are things worth living for - like love and laughter and happiness. We can’t stop the river’s current. We can only flow with it the best we can. And when we get to the end, we have no idea what we’ll find there or how we’ll face it. It could just be the end or there could be something more. We can’t ever know for sure. 

However, the torpedo at the end, while perhaps far fetched, gives us hope. Hope that we’re not alone. That even in the face of ugliness, there’s a benevolence - whether that be Spiritual or Cosmic or just Coincidence - that watches over us. It’s a balm for our suffering and ameliorates our anguish. In other words, there is peace at the end of the River - if we can just make it there.

 

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Sure, I'm not against the impossible mission, just this one in particular threw me.  There's lot of impossible trips they could have made, like what if they had to get her brother to a distant hospital or something.  But maybe this was the only one that could end with them escaping a noose lol.   

Yea, I was thinking along those allegorical lines too. Obviously, she was a missionary. But it seemed like to me, their journey was undertaken with less faith that it would work out, but more because it was the right thing to do. In that way, the journey felt more existentialist (set your own purpose) or even agnostic (who knows what will happen?) to me.  But then, in the end, it did work out and they were married and floating in a vast blue lake.  So maybe it is much more religious in the end...

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14 minutes ago, AlmostAGhost said:

Sure, I'm not against the impossible mission, just this one in particular threw me.  There's lot of impossible trips they could have made, like what if they had to get her brother to a distant hospital or something.  But maybe this was the only one that could end with them escaping a noose lol.   

Yea, I was thinking along those allegorical lines too. Obviously, she was a missionary. But it seemed like to me, their journey was undertaken with less faith that it would work out, but more because it was the right thing to do. In that way, the journey felt more existentialist (set your own purpose) or even agnostic (who knows what will happen?) to me.  But then, in the end, it did work out and they were married and floating in a vast blue lake.  So maybe it is much more religious in the end...

I wouldn't say it was because it was "the right thing to do" necessarily. Even though she believes they can do it, she initially wants to do it out of revenge. Allnut does it because he kind of gets bullied into it - lol.

It is through their journey that they learn to let go of their pettiness and strive to achieve their goal, not for themselves, but for a higher purpose.

I don't think just getting her brother to a hospital would have worked since it wouldn't have had the same Good vs Evil perspective. I also think it would be kind of boring. I feel like the movie benefits from its underdog "good will always triumph over evil" angle.

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1 minute ago, Cameron H. said:

don't think just getting her brother to a hospital would have worked since it wouldn't have had the same Good vs Evil perspective. I also think it would be kind of boring. I feel like the movie benefits from its underdog "good will always triumph over evil" angle.

Sure sure, I'm not a screenwriter.  I think the 'Good v. Evil' thing isn't always necessary though

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15 minutes ago, AlmostAGhost said:

Sure sure, I'm not a screenwriter.  I think the 'Good v. Evil' thing isn't always necessary though

Not at all, but it depends on what the writer is trying to convey. If it was meant to be a movie about Man vs Nature then absolutely - Good vs Evil isn't necessary. But I don't think that was the writer's intention. If it was, he could have set the movie at any time, at any place, for any reason. It could have been a bunch of dumb-dumbs on safari or something. However, the writer made an intentional choice of making this movie about a Missionary and littered it with miracles. So , in that case, I believe Man vs Nature is just the backdrop for a deeper story about Faith and goodness; in which case, in order to create conflict, they have to be set at odds against their opposites: Faith vs Doubt; Good vs. Evil.   

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4 hours ago, AlmostAGhost said:

I gotta say, I did like The African Queen, but I was somewhat confounded by it.  I think Paul expressed that pretty well, and sort of was where my head is on it.    

But as I've watched your all's ratings on Letterboxd roll in for this movie, I was surprised at just how high they've been.  Had you guys seen it before?  Or was everyone just super charmed by it? 

I knew nothing about the film going in, but I expected a serious drama (maybe conflating it with Out of Africa) that I was absolutely not in the mood for, so the fact that it turned out to be "Swiss Family Robinson-meets-Shakespearean romantic foils" was a relief. There was enough snappy dialog and unusual filmmaking technique that it remained interesting throughout.

Examples: Given the intermittent use of rear projection on the boat, I assumed most of the nature shots were reused stock footage, so I was surprised to learn Huston shot it all himself. The miniatures (and/or full-sized boat loaded with dummies) during the whitewater sequences were great. And the mosquito swarm effect was straight-up weird.

I also rewatched the "I ain't sorry for you no more, ya crazy, psalm-singing, skinny old maid!" part at least five times. Like Paul, I felt their romance was kind of sudden and contrived, since it was apparent early on that Rose was horny for adventure, not Mr. Allnut's leathery ass.

Amy & Paul: The implication of the "long pig" story was that they'd run out of food and the hunters had quietly started feeding the cast and crew human meat.

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P.S. I added the traditional Cameron H poll to this thread.

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1 hour ago, DanEngler said:

Examples: Given the intermittent use of rear projection on the boat, I assumed most of the nature shots were reused stock footage, so I was surprised to learn Huston shot it all himself. The miniatures (and/or full-sized boat loaded with dummies) during the whitewater sequences were great. And the mosquito swarm effect was straight-up weird.

It's interesting that you point out the effects as a positive.  For me, it completely took me out of it, in that you can see exactly how the sausage was made.  As you said, in that scene over the rapids, Huston cuts between three different setups: a shot of Bogart and Hepburn in front of a rear projection of the jungle scenery, a shot of a boat captained by two dummies going over the rapids, and a shot of Bogart and Hepburn in the boat in an in-studio pool.  When I see things as relatively basic as that and I think about what King Kong was able to accomplish almost 20 years prior, I just feel disappointed.  This is ostensibly an adventure movie, and having those camera effects be so shoddily done takes me out of the adventure of it all.

And then I'm 100% with Paul in regards to the romance.  It seems like it comes out of nowhere and doesn't work for me at all.  Amy thought the romance in Raiders was childish, but I think that's opening-montage-of-Up-level maturity compared to this.  I feel like when my little sister played with dolls, her storylines were similarly along the lines of "We don't like each other. We kissed! We should get married."

I still like Bogart and Hepburn in this, but I'm pretty solid in my opinion that this doesn't belong on the list.  There's so much better Hepburn out there, so much better Bogart, and some better Huston.  (I definitely prefer Maltese Falcon and Key Largo over Sierra Madre, but I look forward to giving the latter a rewatch later on in the list.)

So to answer AlmostAGhost's original question: I had never seen this before (1 of 6 films on the list I hadn't seen before the start of the podcast), I did not think it was good, and I currently have it at 22 out of 24 on the list.

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5 minutes ago, bleary said:

It's interesting that you point out the effects as a positive.  For me, it completely took me out of it, in that you can see exactly how the sausage was made.  As you said, in that scene over the rapids, Huston cuts between three different setups: a shot of Bogart and Hepburn in front of a rear projection of the jungle scenery, a shot of a boat captained by two dummies going over the rapids, and a shot of Bogart and Hepburn in the boat in an in-studio pool.  When I see things as relatively basic as that and I think about what King Kong was able to accomplish almost 20 years prior, I just feel disappointed.  This is ostensibly an adventure movie, and having those camera effects be so shoddily done takes me out of the adventure of it all.

 

I felt exactly the same for this scene, and actually had a similar thought regarding King Kong. I found myself paying more attention to the messiness of it all instead of the action of the scene. 

Overall, I find this movie great in theory. I loved the performances of Bogart and Hepburn, I love the idea of going down the river on a suicide mission, I love the idea of Rose being the driving force behind it, but I found the pacing to be far too slow in parts, and I was bored for sections of the first half. I also thought the ending seemed off in comparison to the rest of the adventure. I agree with Cameron H's allegory, and I buy that that's where they were going, but I just feel lukewarm about the total package. 

That said, one scene I loved was when Rose was giving Allnutt the silent treatment, nose in Bible, and just completely freezing him out. And after he's been apologizing over and over for being a lousy sot, she yells at him, saying that she's angry that he's given up on going down the river and broke his promise. I just always love, love, love Hepburn and the pluck she brings to her roles. 

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10 hours ago, bleary said:

It's interesting that you point out the effects as a positive.  For me, it completely took me out of it, in that you can see exactly how the sausage was made.  As you said, in that scene over the rapids, Huston cuts between three different setups: a shot of Bogart and Hepburn in front of a rear projection of the jungle scenery, a shot of a boat captained by two dummies going over the rapids, and a shot of Bogart and Hepburn in the boat in an in-studio pool.

I'm not sure I consider it "positive" so much as "interesting". I'm a Program Manager by trade, and I love sausage-making and digging into creators' thought processes, which explains why I've listened to so many DVD commentary tracks and podcasts. Nothing is more tedious to me than hearing Peter Jackson go on about how they had to write special software to show 50,000 orcs on screen at once, but the hand-craftedness of these classic movies feels alive in comparison.

I understand that I evaluate movies based on different criteria than most people, though. The current bottom four in my list are High Noon, The French Connection, Taxi Driver, and Titanic. I imagine a lot of film aficionados would like to see me in prison.

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I’m listening to the episode now, and I wonder if secularism affects one’s enjoyment of the film. While I don’t know where Amy and Paul land on a Spiritual level, I’ve noticed when it comes to the presentation of Christianity in these films, particularly Christian metaphors, they tend to either miss them completely or make shallow generalizations. For example, Paul was amazed that Rose “wasn’t Puritanical” and had expected her to be “not so well-rounded.” Amy said she would have expected her character to be more “priggish.” However, there’s never anything in the film - especially in the first couple of scenes they were discussing - to suggest that she should be any of those things. 

While some Christians can be rigid and uptight, most Christians cuss. A lot of them drink and smoke and fuck for fun. It feels like as soon as Rose was presented as Christian, they already made up their minds about the type of person she must be, and were then “surprised” when their preconceptions were challenged. 

 Paul then goes on to say something about how the ending didn’t fit or make sense because nothing up until that point suggested that they were going survive, but literally the whole movie is full of little miracles (e.g. Surviving the rapids, the sun in the sniper’s eye, the rain that gets them to the lake, the torpedo, their salvation). However, if you’re not looking at it from a Spiritual standpoint, it all seems like series of lucky breaks that, I guess, seem kind of dumb and trivial. I guess what I’m saying is, if you exorcise the Judeo-Christian God from the narrative, the whole thing loses a ton of meaning.

Perhaps it’s a generationist mentality (it’s a new word I’m trademarking). I feel like the intended 1951 audience for this movie was probably predominantly white and Christian. We live (thankfully) in a more diverse and secular time, but the 50’s were a far more conservative (with all the baggage that goes with that). My point is, because our our society is more secular, I feel like a lot of the things might be lost on today’s audience that might have been more apparent and readily accepted seventy years ago. That doesn’t make it good or bad, necessarily. It’s just a different mindset.

Just to clarify, I am not religious myself. Being raised by someone who worked for, coincidentally enough, a Methodist Church cured me of that. However, this is big reason why I still feel like it’s important to ensure my children have a passing familiarity with, not just Christianity, but all religions. Historically, Art and Literature are jam packed with religious allegory, metaphor, and allusions and if you can’t recognize it when you see it, or dismiss it out of hand when you do, you’re not experiencing it as the artist intended.

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I've been putting off watching the movies until after the podcast because I haven't been able to predict where the conversation is going to go, so it allows me to keep more of an eye out for the discussed parts.  Which is a long way to say, I haven't gotten to the movie yet (and it's one I haven't seen before), but will probably get to it Friday or Monday.

With that said, my standard list comparison post:

My standard list comparison post

AFI (2007 | 1997): 66th | 17th

BFI Critic's poll, 2012 (ranking, US filtered ranking, votes): 894(all), 346.872* (US), 1 votes

BFI Director's poll, 2012 (ranking, US filtered ranking, votes): N/A, (all) N/A (US), 0 votes

IMDB (rank, rating): ??, 7.9 rating

Metascore: 91

TSFDT (ranking, US filtered ranking): 613th, TBD

Oscar BP status: not nominated, winner An American in Paris

Box Office Ranking* (rank, amount | highest grossing movie, HGM amount): 7th, $4,300,000 | Quo Vadis, 11.9 million

*: 97 of the top 250 are US films, I'm extrapolating to guess its US-filtered rank

**: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1951_in_film#Top-grossing_films_(U.S.) Note - getting box office info for older movies has thus far resulted in getting the data from different sites, so the flat numbers between different movies on the list are probably not comparable because we don't know the metric by which they're counting the money or how inflation is factored in.  In case anyone really cared.

 

My thoughts - I can't comment too much at this point since I haven't seen it yet, but this one is a lot more erratic than the other movies.  I'm not surprised to see it didn't do well on the BFI, classic hollywood seems to do a lot better on the AFI list than the BFI list (as do the epics and blockbusters).  Something about the apparent divergence between Metacritic and the imdb score (I haven't really looked too closely at these before, but the other ones on the list seemed to have them similarly aligned.  Since imdb includes the metacritic score I've been including it since it was an easy copy & paste).  The drop on the AFI list (and the previous position on the list), really has me going, "huh."  I remember when that was covered in the episode and Amy was surprised at the previous spot, and I have this weird feeling I'm going to also be going "huh" at that 17th spot even after seeing it.

I was also thinking that some of the stronger episodes have been where one of the hosts (usually Amy) isn't too fond on the movie and then the other host (usually Paul) kind of argues and drifts their opinion towards a more positive light.  I wonder if that's just a symptom of having someone who likes the movie is arguing for it.

Which relatedly, I was hoping the person who submitted their BFI post for it had comments; sadly they did not.  All I have is, it is a critic named Bill Warren (US-based), and this was their ballot:


2001: A Space Odyssey
African Queen, The
Godfather: Part II, The
grande illusion, La
King Kong
Seven Samurai
Singin' in the Rain
Treasure of Sierra Madre, The
Wild Bunch, The
https://www.bfi.org.uk/films-tv-people/sightandsoundpoll2012/voter/760

Which consists of movies that are not out of the ordinary for the BFI (I guess outside of the African Queen.  I'd have to check Sierra Madre and The Wild Bunch).  I tried some initial googling to see if I could find a review from them of The African Queen, but I could not.

 

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12 hours ago, AlmostAGhost said:

I gotta say, I did like The African Queen, but I was somewhat confounded by it.  I think Paul expressed that pretty well, and sort of was where my head is on it.    

But as I've watched your all's ratings on Letterboxd roll in for this movie, I was surprised at just how high they've been.  Had you guys seen it before?  Or was everyone just super charmed by it?

This was my first time watching the film and I was puzzled and charmed by it equally. It was already pointed out by I found some of the shots just down right baffling. Like the one scene with Rose and her brother and the burnt down African village was shot on rear projection. This would be fine but then they have Allnut enter through the burnt village. Naturally they could have decided to add that scene in later once out of Africa or maybe there was a problem with the film. All I know is little things like that would come up and distract me. Not to mention they let their miniature shots go on just a tad too long. Instead of quick shots of the Queen in the rapids they let the shots run a bit to long to the point were you could notice the faceless figures in the Queen. Then that one shot in which after the rapids it's just sailing smoothly goes on too long too. That in combination with the score I found myself distracted by the technically aspects.

All that said I have to admit I did find the performances and the characters rather charming. I enjoyed spending time with the characters more than I thought I did, and while I agree their getting together seems rather quick, I think it makes sense and works for these characters. Allnut is a bit of a loner and clearly has some demons in his past. The alcoholism and running away to Africa from the New York part of Canada show that has these demons. Yet here comes Rose and challenges him. Forces him to stop running and for the first time in a long time his mind is perhaps clear. On the other side of things we have Rose who was always a bit of a follower with her brother. Very reserved doing what she was told was right. Now, so of free of this and with nothing left to lose she is embracing life and what it has to offer. She realizes that she can be herself but still find meaning in the world and life. They met each other at this desperate time when they are growing and changing so it does make sense that they fall for each other. Like Cameron mentioned there is this element of desperate against the odds and a message of faith and doing what is right which charmed me and worked for me. So when all was said and done I was charmed and would revisit the movie again someday. 

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19 hours ago, DanEngler said:

P.S. I added the traditional Cameron H poll to this thread.

I think I'm 85% sure of what I'm voting for.

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one thing i like doing, and i'll try to remember to share... but if you type the movie title into the twitter GIF search, you can get a sense of what moments stand out from the film in our cultural memory.  (or at least... are entertainingly GIFable moments anyway.)  

here's what I found for The African Queen - there were way more than I expected. but it seems like people just really love the relationship between Hepburn and Bogart, the characters, as very little else in the film is represented this way - i didn't see anything about the adventure side of the movie really.

200w_d.gif?cid=e826c9fc5bd36cbf4a7679685 (Cameron H's favorite moment)

200w_d.gif?cid=e826c9fc5bd36cbf4a7679685 (of course)

200w_d.gif?cid=e826c9fc5bd36cbf4a7679685

200w_d.gif?cid=e826c9fc5bd36cbf4a7679685

200w_d.gif?cid=e826c9fc5bd36cbf4a7679685

200w_d.gif?cid=e826c9fc5bd36cbf4a7679685 (haha)

200w_d.gif?cid=e826c9fc5bd36cbf4a7679685 (?)

200w_d.gif?cid=e826c9fc5bd36cbf4a7679685

200w_d.gif?cid=e826c9fc5bd36cbf4a7679685

200w_d.gif?cid=e826c9fc5bd36cbf4a7679685

200w_d.gif?cid=e826c9fc5bd36cbf4a7679685

200w_d.gif?cid=e826c9fc5bd36cbf4a7679685

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Great! Thanks to Ghost I now have to chew my face off :( 

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1 hour ago, Cameron H. said:

Great! Thanks to Ghost I now have to chew my face off :( 

If it makes you feel any better I'm pretty sure the noises he was making were added in after in post.

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A little bit more trivia with regard to the the boat itself: In 1954 Ernest Hemingway (who was a friend of director John Huston) and his wife Mary were on safari and were aboard a plan that went down near Murchison Falls in Uganda. No one was injured, but Hemingway and his entourage had to wait out the night until they could flag down a boat. The boat that came to their rescue was the same boat Huston had used in shooting the African Queen. The boat took them to Butiaba where they boarded another plane which also crashed, this time while taking off. The Hemingways survived again, but sustained some serious injuries that time. The full story can be found in the recent biography of Hemingway by Mary Dearborn.

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