Plus, Stephen Bogart talks the 70th-anniversary big screen return of his father's Oscar-winning film.

By Maureen Lee Lenker
July 14, 2021 at 09:00 AM EDT
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The African Queen is returning to the big screen — in more ways than one.

The classic John Huston film is celebrating its 70th anniversary, and to honor its platinum year, TCM is bringing it back to theaters as part of its Big Screen Classics series with Fathom Events this July.

But in some ways, it's returning in an even more subtle way when Jungle Cruise hits theaters July 30. The original Disneyland ride which inspired the new film took heavy inspiration from the Humphrey Bogart classic, down to the design of the boat. And that continues across to Jungle Cruise, in everything from the costumes Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson wear to the concept of a jungle-river-set adventure.

Stephen Bogart, the only son of the African Queen star and his glamorous other half, Lauren Bacall, doesn't find anything particularly touching about the homage, however. "The Rock is fine," he tells EW. "He's got a great personality. He seems like a very good person. I think he works hard; he cares about it, and I'll go see the movie. It'll be fun. But I never thought of it as a continuation, nor do I think Dwayne Johnson is trying to be Humphrey Bogart, that'd be tough."

"I don't want to disparage [anyone]," he adds when pressed about how the films might stack up next to each other. "But 70 years later, they probably won't be doing a re-release of Jungle Cruise."

The African Queen; Jungle Cruise
Credit: Everett Collection; Frank Masi/Disney

The African Queen remains a stone-cold classic, often cited on lists of the greatest films of all time. It paired screen legends Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn for their only collaboration and won Bogie his sole Oscar. And the making of the film was just as wild and adventurous as the movie itself, shooting on location in Africa, with Bacall along for the ride.

Ahead of the movie's return to theaters July 18 and 21, we talked to Bogart about what the Oscar win meant to his father, what stories he remembers hearing about the chaotic production over the years, and just why Bogie and director John Huston had such a special bond.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: A lot of your parents' work stands the test of time, but why do you think African Queen endures 70 years later?

STEPHEN BOGART: First of all, because it's a great movie. It's interesting; it's well written; it's well-directed; it's well-acted. And you see my father in color for the first time, which I think is important. But I think that the reason that any movie stands the test of time is because it's a great movie. And in order to have a great movie you got to have great writing and you have to have great acting and you have to have great directing, and that's any of the movies that stand the test of time. Any really great movie stands the test of time because it stands alone. And this does too. It's two of the great actors ever.

As part of that, your dad won his Oscar for this. Did you have a sense of what that meant to him? If it was important or meaningful to him in any way?

I think that he probably would not admit it, but it was important. He should have won one before. He did not. I'm almost thinking that he should have won for The Caine Mutiny, close to this, but he was fighting with Brando with On the Waterfront and all that sort of stuff. Finally, they decided to give him an Oscar. And I think it was. If you look at his Oscar speech, it was short.

Most of them were then.

Yes. I think it was important to him to be recognized for his craft. Because he was a great picker of movies. If you could bet on movies, you would want to bet on the movies my father picked to make. Because his filmography is second to none.

Do you think this is the role he most deserved to win for? It sounds like maybe you think it should've been for The Caine Mutiny.

He could've won for any of them. He could've won for Caine Mutiny; he could've won for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. He could've won for Casablanca; he could have won for Desperate Hours.

You were a baby when this movie was being made, but do you remember hearing any stories over the years?

I was 2 years old, so I really don't remember anything. It was just a difficult shoot; it was interesting because you know my father died when I was eight. And so, none of those discussions that you would have with a teenager were really discussed. My father came back; he makes another movie.

Your father and John Huston were an incredible team, including on this film. Why do you think they were so well suited to each other as an actor and director?

They had the same attitude about life. My father recognized the greatness of John Huston and was willing to go to the lengths that John Huston needed to make a movie. He was a great family friend. He gave the eulogy at my father's funeral. I've known Anjelica [Huston] for forever. I just think that my father got John Huston, and my father also was not stupid. He knew when he had hooked onto something that's really good — great writer, great director. And they were going to have fun at those shoots. They were going to work their asses off, but they were going to have fun. That's what's important.

It's pretty well-established that everyone on set got sick during filming, except Huston and your dad. Can you tell me more about that?

They were drinking booze and everybody else was drinking that horrible water. They weren't boiling it, not the way that they would do today. If you look at Naked and Afraid, they wouldn't have that stuff back then, water tablets, and all that. They were just roughing it. It was 1951 in Africa, and nobody knew about that stuff and how careful you had to be. My father and John Huston imbibed the correct way. They didn't get sick.

What do you think was the most trying thing about the shoot — the weather, the water, something else?

It was Africa in 1950. I mean, you can imagine how difficult it would be today. Imagine it then. They were living in tents; they had food they continually brought in from villages. They had to worry about being attacked by animals. It wasn't as if there were a couple of lions in a game preserve. There were lions and piranhas and crocodiles. All this sort of stuff, and it was really wild Africa. And disease. Everything made it so difficult. But that was the adventure too.

the african queen
Credit: courtesy Turner Classic Movies

Your mom went along for the trip. Do you know why she wanted to go?

Let's see, how would you like to come along with John Huston, Katie Hepburn, and Humphrey Bogart and make a movie in Africa in 1950? Yeah, I'll be doing that. Sure. What are you going to do? Sit at home in L.A. and wait? It's not even a question. Definitely, she went for the adventure. It was an adventurous time, and she was 27 years old.

Do you think facing all of those challenges together brought your parents even closer together?

I doubt it brought them closer together. I mean, they had already worked together, so it wasn't as if being together on a film set was any different. They both thought it was great. It was fun; it was exactly what it should be. And they were pretty darn close anyway.

Do you remember any particular horror stories they told later on?

Well, the fire ants story — my mother, when she walked into the tent, she stepped on it, and there was just a bed of fire ants. And she went running out of the tent. But I never really got any of that. The shoot was just a difficult shoot. People got sick. Food had to be brought in from all over the place. It happened when I was 2 years old and once my father died, my mother didn't really want to talk about that stuff anymore.

The African Queen
Credit: courtesy Turner Classic Movies

What do you think of your dad's chemistry with Katharine Hepburn and how it compares to his many wonderful leading ladies?

He had a chemistry. They were great friends, him and my mother were great friends with Katie and Spencer Tracy. And I remember going over to their house. Katie was my brother Sam's godmother. It was a longtime friendship. My father always admired talent, and Katie was a great, great actress. They were friends forever. They were close.

Do you think them playing off of each other brought anything different or new out in the other?

I'm sure it did. I'm sure when you're playing opposite someone who you respect as an actor, and also someone that you know you can do things that you don't have to work at. Stuff can come across that you don't have to work for, you don't have to push it, it's just there.

I know you only had eight years with him, but which of your father's roles do you think was most like his real-life self and where does this fall on that spectrum?

I don't think that any of his movies are like his real life. He was acting. He was an actor, that's what they do. He was no more a killer than he was in Casablanca and World War II than he was hanging out with Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina, and he certainly wasn't in Mexico looking for gold. That wasn't him. He was acting and that's what so many people don't understand — that he's an actor and he's acting. It's really not like he was in real life.

What is your favorite memory of your father, the one that you feel really defines who he was and what your relationship was with him?

My favorite memory is being on the boat. I don't remember a whole lot. But just being around the boat, being on the Santana. That's the only memory that I have, really.

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