Maybe it should have been obvious that director John Huston was always destined to make a jungle movie. He took a keen fascination in the animalistic struggle for survival in the “jungle” of Hollywood, and in the brutal way that creatives and executives clawed their way to the top. So when he took his crew to the Belgian Congo to make The African Queen, it’s no surprise that Huston seemed to be having a grand time — even as disease, weather, and swarms of insects made life hell for everyone else.

After he filmed The Red Badge of Courage in 1950, Huston needed a break from Los Angeles. Production had gone so badly, with studio executives controlling his every move, that he wanted to escape for his next movie.

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When the script for The African Queen landed on his desk, he snapped it up. A movie set as far away from Hollywood as possible? He was in. He knew there’d be crocodiles, vipers, and scorpions in store, but it seemed like an easy swap compared to the politics of the west coast.

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From the start, the consequences of this decision were apparent. Huston chose to leave the studio system and its funding behind, so he could have more creative freedom, but money wasn’t so readily available outside of the typical pipelines.

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Instead of having his whole budget approved by MGM or Warner Brothers, Huston and his business partner, Sam Speigel, had to scrounge for investors. Spiegel had to sweet-talk a sound equipment company into investing $50,000 just so he could buy the rights to the story.

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After they’d secured the adaptation of the 1935 novel, there was the question of getting the money to actually film it. Spiegel and Huston finally found a production company in the U.K. called Romulus Films, who agreed to provide £250,000. It was lower than Huston was used to.

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He had no choice, though. Most investors heard about the movie’s plot and were warned away from a story “about two old people going up and down a river in Africa, with a director whose last film was a disaster.” Only Romulus Films believed in Huston enough to stick around.

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While the plot didn’t sound appealing, it managed to attract two of the biggest actors of its time: Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. They weren’t accustomed to filming on location, but the characters interested them enough that they signed on. They were in for a surprise.

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When they arrived in the Congo to begin filming, their accommodations were a far cry from the posh luxury hotels they had become familiar with in California. The whole crew stayed in an actual campsite in the middle of the thick forest. Soldier ants swarmed the ground and crawled up their legs.

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Crewmember Angela Allen later wrote: “You had to leap into bed at night before the mosquitoes could get you, and shake your boots in the morning to make sure there were no centipedes. You washed with red water from the river, and you had a bucket with a string for a shower.”

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To move themselves and their equipment around on the river, the crew used a flotilla of boats and rafts, which often got stuck on underwater logs. Tree branches knocked over cameras and lights. The humidity prevented costumes from drying, and the fabric grew mold.

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The language barrier between the crew and the locals caused major difficulties. Huston needed hundreds of local extras for one village scene, but the locals spread a rumor that crew were cannibals and would eat them. Not a single person showed up.

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When rainy weather delayed filming, as it often did, Huston would leave camp and take off into the jungle. He’d brought his guns with him, and dreamed of bringing down an elephant to take back home. Although he was a skilled hunter, he didn’t manage to bag one.

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The water on set was contaminated, and only Huston and Bogart didn’t get sick. They had brought tons of whisky, and mixed it with their water. “All I ate was baked beans [and] canned asparagus,” Bogart later recalled. “Whenever a fly bit Huston or me, it dropped dead.”

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Hepburn didn’t fare so well. Taking precautions, she was healthy for most of the movie, but close to the end of filming she caught dysentery like the others. On one occasion, she felt so bad that she kept a bucket just off-camera to vomit into between takes.

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Because the water posed such a high risk to the health of everyone involved, half the film ended up being shot in more controlled environments in the U.K. All of the scenes where Bogart and Hepburn are seen wading in water were actually shot in studio tanks.

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Hepburn had been at odds with Huston for most of the production, citing “irresponsible and outrageous” behaviors as the reasons behind her frustration. It was only when he gave her a genius acting tip that he won her respect, and they began to be friends.

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Huston felt that Hepburn was playing her role too seriously, and her natural resting face wasn’t helping. He told her to smile like Eleanor Roosevelt, who always seemed full of hope. Hepburn used this advice the rest of her career, saying it was the best direction she’d ever received.

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The whole crew bonded over the experience. One night the African Queen boat sank; Humphrey Bogart helped pull it out of the river. His wife, actress Lauren Bacall, regularly cooked for everyone. She was also the only person who brought antibiotics, which saved a sick crew member’s life.

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Perhaps the hell they endured was what made The African Queen such a success. Bogart’s performance would win him a Best Actor Oscar, and the movie received three other nominations for Best Actress, Best Screenplay, and Best Director.

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In the end, the movie turned out well, and audiences loved it. Despite the jungle struggles, “it was a wonderful experience,” Huston said. “One of the happiest I’ve ever had.” He’s probably right: the production of The African Queen was a cakewalk in comparison to another jungle epic.

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In spring 1976, director Francis Ford Coppola set out on what was to be a near-disastrous adventure. He and his family had just arrived in Manila to spend what they thought would be five months shooting his grandest venture yet: Apocalypse Now.

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What Coppola hadn’t planned on, or had chosen to ignore, was that spring was typhoon season in the Philippines. Two months into the shoot, Typhoon Olga swooped in, utterly destroying several sets and setting production back a month while the crew rebuilt.

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While most of the crew flew home to wait out the reconstruction, a few departments stayed on, and they still needed to be paid. One night, adding insult to injury, the entire payroll was stolen. By June 1976, the production was $2 million over budget.

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To add realism to the battle sequences, the film’s art department made a deal with the local medical examiner to borrow real human corpses to “play” dead soldiers. When producers found out, they were horrified, and called for live actors to be swapped for the bodies.

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As if that weren’t bad enough, the medical examiner had actually gotten the cadavers illegally, from graverobbers. Police showed up to the set and demanded to halt the production until they were sure the filmmakers were innocent. Meanwhile, the unidentified human remains were carted away…never to be heard of again.

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Human bodies weren’t the only dead things on set. In exchange for the use of rural land, the producers traded live animals to the villagers for them to eat and use for religious sacrificial ceremonies. One of these animals was a water buffalo.

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Coppola, after witnessing one of these sacrifices, was so affected by its rawness that he arranged to record the real-life sacrifice of the water buffalo. This gruesome, undoctored sequence ended up in the final film, shocking audiences and earning an “unacceptable” rating from the American Humane Association.

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One of the film’s most memorable scenes involves Martin Sheen’s character, Captain Willard, going nuts in a hotel room as he thinks back on the horrors of war. The mental spiral so badly affects Willard that he rampages through his room naked and punches a mirror in torment.

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Sheen, who was fighting alcoholism at the time, was actually drunk during this scene — so drunk that when he punched the mirror, he didn’t realize how badly he was bleeding. All of the onscreen blood is real, and Sheen finished the entire scene before seeing a medic.

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Sheen wasn’t the only one struggling. The production got so chaotic that the cast and crew fell into substance abuse. Actor Sam Bottoms, who played sun-worshipping surfer-bro Lance Johnson, said later that he was on drugs the entire shoot, including marijuana, LSD, and amphetamines.

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The drugs came out in full force on the weekends, when the crew partied every night at their hotel. Stories were leaked about unnamed crewmembers diving into the hotel pool from the rooftop, and actor Dennis Hopper allegedly got then-14-year-old Lawrence Fishburne hooked on heroin.

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The jungle attacked their health, too. Tropical illness set in, and the drug-addled crew was ravaged by dysentery. And in the worst of accidents, a local set construction worker was killed by a falling log.

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While this was going on, Coppola soothed his own distress with comfort food imported from afar. He had hot dogs sent over from the States and pasta brought in from Italy, and ate his stress away — but over the course of the shoot, he still lost 100 pounds.

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Coppola’s mental health was in danger, too. One major stressor for him was Marlon Brando, who showed up to the shoot completely unprepared and overweight. Things got so heated between them that the film’s assistant director had to step in and direct Brando’s scenes.

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On top of all this, Martin Sheen suffered a heart attack while filming, and ended up in the hospital. The news sent Coppola into a seizure. He also talked about suicide, and at one point attempted it after the pressure and financial strain threatened to ruin him.

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He had reason to be overwhelmed. As the movie’s expenses ballooned to $31 million — or $132 million nowadays — no financier wanted to take a risk on investing in it. Global controversy swirled, and newspapers said the movie’d never be finished, nicknaming it “Apocalypse When?” and “Apocalypse Never.”

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The budget hole was so deep that Coppola had to take out a personal loan to finish the film. In order to secure it, he refinanced his home and put up his car, winery, and Godfather profits as collateral.

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At one point, it looked as if the biggest action sequences — the helicopter attacks — would not happen. Filipino president Ferdinand Marcos had loaned the helicopters to the production, but had to reclaim them to fight off a rebel army, temporarily leaving Robert Duvall’s Col. Bill Kilgore with no fleet to command.

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Despite their troubles, the crew of Apocalypse Now kept pressing on. After 16 months of shooting, and a largely improvised script, Coppola had figured out how he wanted the movie to end, and headed back to the U.S. to begin editing 1.5 million feet of film.

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As a last-ditch effort to shake off negative press about the movie, Coppola entered a rough cut into the 1979 Cannes Film Festival. It won the prestigious Palme d’Or award, and naysayers were converted to fans — which only adds to the film’s gigantic legacy today.

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Coppola looked to his experience with The Godfather to keep things together on the set of Apocalypse Now. While monsoons and budget crises were a new development for him, conflict and controversy was not.


1. In addition to encouraging improvisation on set, Coppola held “character dinners” for the cast. The actors would share a meal without breaking character so they could get a better grip on their roles outside of what they read in the script.

2. Marlon Brando won Best Actor in 1973, but he skipped the ceremony entirely. Instead, he sent Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather in his place. When she accepted the award, she gave a controversial speech about the historical mistreatment of her people.

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3. You can’t deny that The Godfather is a gangster movie. Nevertheless, the words mob and mafia never come up once. Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo purposely avoided these terms in the script to avoid angering the Italian-American Civil Rights League.

4. Was fictional crooner Johnny Fontane based on a real-life entertainer? Many viewers thought he was a dead ringer for Frank Sinatra. There isn’t firm proof, but Sinatra himself went berserk when the character brought up rumors of his own connections to the mafia.

5. One of the most famous Godfather moments arrives when stubborn film producer Jack Woltz awakens with the head of his prize racehorse in his bed. Coppola actually used a real horse head for the scene! He bought it from a nearby dog food factory.

6. Here’s one bullet the Corleones dodged: The studio wanted the film to take place in the 1970s to be more contemporary. However, Coppola insisted on setting it right after World War II, just like in Mario Puzo’s novel.

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7. Any time oranges appear in the film, they foreshadow the death (or near-death) of a character. On such a darkly-lit movie, they also served another purpose: the production designer added them for a splash of color in many scenes.

8. Robert De Niro unsuccessfully auditioned for the role of Sonny Corleone. His rejection turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as he was able to take up the part of young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II. He won an Academy Award and ascended to stardom.

9. Marlon Brando was only 47 at The Godfather’s release. To play a believable old man, he sat through an extensive makeup session each day. He also wore a custom dental appliance to make his jaw protrude and to help produce the Don’s signature rasp.

10. During his character’s violent death scene, James Caan was spitting out all kinds of liquid. The crew loaded his suit with hundreds of mini explosives and blood packs to make it appear that he was caught in a barrage of gunfire.

11. Studio executives initially shot down the idea of Marlon Brando playing Vito Corleone, as Brando was pretty washed up at the time. Once Francis Ford Coppola tricked Brando into doing a screen test for the character, however, no one could deny he was perfect.

12. Coppola wanted plenty of authenticity in the opening wedding scene. That’s why he more or less threw an actual party. Without much planning for specific shots, he just moved around a two-day celebration featuring all the actors to get the most organic footage possible.

13. Brando delighted in devising all kinds of pranks on set. Most devilishly, he pulled a fast one for a scene where Al Pacino had to carry him in his hospital bed. He secretly tucked a couple weights under his not-so-slender frame to make the task even more difficult.

14. After Peter Clemenza whacks the traitorous Paulie, he drops the darkest punchline of the film to his associate: “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”Actor Richard S. Castellano actually improvised this line to show how blasé these men were about violence.

15. Jack Woltz’s luxurious mansion is no film set. It’s a real house, located in posh Beverly Hills, California. If you’re looking to live inside a piece of movie history, the home hit the market in 2014 for $135 million. Is that an offer you can’t refuse?


16. For his brand of method acting, Marlon Brandon insisted on not learning any of his lines. He felt this would allow him to remain more in the moment. So for each scene, a crew member had to stand out of frame and display Brando’s lines on cue cards.

17. Lenny Montana, who portrayed enforcer Luca Brazi, didn’t have much acting experience. When he nervously flubbed some lines when meeting with Don Corleone, Coppola kept them in. He figured it was realistic to get flustered in front of a powerful man.

18. Lots of fans realized that Talia Shire, who played Connie Corleone, was Francis Ford Coppola’s sister. But she’s not the only Coppola who appears on camera. Future acclaimed director Sofia Coppola cameoed as Michael Rizzi during the Baptism scene.

19. John Cazale, who captured the tragic Fredo Corleone in the Godfather films, only appeared in five feature films. However, all five received Oscar nominations for Best Picture. Cazale sadly died of lung cancer in 1978.

20. It’s hard to believe, but the cat in Vito’s office made no appearance in the script whatsoever. Brando came across a stray on set. Once it took a liking to him, he decided to incorporate it into the film.