The African Queen and the Night of the Hunter

First and Final Screenplays

  • Author(s): Couchman, Jeffrey
  • Series: Collected Works of James Agee
  • Imprint: The University of Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2017-01-31
  • Status: Active
  • Available in Hardcover - Cloth: Price $90.00 | Buy Now

In a writing career that branched into drama, poetry, fiction, and journalism, film was a constant for James Agee. In love with movies from early childhood, he flirted with filmmaking and screenwriting in the 1920s and ’30s, became a respected movie critic in the 1940s, and by late 1950 was working on a script with one of the directors he most admired, John Huston. His death at age forty-five would come only five years later but not before he had written several other screenplays.

Volume 4 in The Works of James Agee series presents the writer’s two most famous screenplays: for The African Queen, his collaboration with Huston, and for The Night of the Hunter, the only film ever directed by actor Charles Laughton. Not only does the book offer both the first draft and final shooting script for each work, it also features meticulous annotations by editor Jeffrey Couchman and a wealth of archival material, similarly annotated. Included, for The African Queen, are variants of key scenes; relevant fragments by two other writers, John Collier and Peter Viertel; and notes that Agee wrote from his hospital bed while recovering from a heart attack. The result is a remarkable window into the complex process by which a story is shaped and reshaped before the cameras roll. Most notable about the section on The Night of the Hunter (which Agee did not live to see in its final form) is the inclusion of the never-before-published first draft, rediscovered in 2003. This debunks forever the myth that Agee had produced a massive, unfilmable mess that Laughton discarded and rewrote from scratch. In fact, Laughton preserved essential structural elements of Agee’s script along with important dramatic and visual ideas that originated with Agee and not with Davis Grubb’s source novel. The African Queen and The Night of the Hunter stand today as undisputed Hollywood classics: the former a wonderfully comic adventure tale with delightful star turns by Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, the latter a unique, noirish fable in which Robert Mitchum’s “Preacher” emerges as one of cinema’s most unforgettable villains. For Agee scholars, film scholars, and the countless admirers of these masterful movies, this volume is a feast.