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What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions

Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies – Volume 94: “The African Queen”

  • Today’s Movie: The African Queen
  • Year of Release: 1951
  • Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley
  • Director: John Huston

This movie is on my list of essential films.

NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called the The Third Spencer Tracy Katherine Hepburn Blog-A-Thon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Love Letters To Old Hollywood.  If you think your world revolves around classic films and you aren’t following either of these blogs, you are in the wrong orbit.

You can see all the contributors to this blog-a-thon here:

The Story:

The Reverend Samuel Sayer (played by Robert Morley) and his sister Rose (played by Katherine Hepburn) are British Methodist missionaries in German East Africa in the days immediately preceding the outbreak of the First World War. Charlie Allnut (played by Humphery Bogart) is the captain of a small steamer “African Queen” which delivers supplies and mail to the village of of Kungdu.

Initially, the rough-hewn Canadian in Allnut rubs the Christian missionaries the wrong way, but circumstances are about to force a change in the relationship. One day, Allnut brings the news to the Sayers that war has broken out between Germany and Britain. At first, the missionaries decide to remain in Kungdu until the watch German troops burn the village to the ground and force the villagers into their army.

When Samuel protests, he is severely beaten by a German officer, the after-effects of which ultimately kill him.  On Charlie’s next arrival in Kungdu, he finds his own property has been destroyed along with the rest of the village.  He also finds himself being pursued for the supplies aboard his boat, which just so happens to include a cache of valuable (and deadly) explosives.

Charlie and Rose now know they must leave Kungdu.  They bury Samuel and begin planning their escape. One obstacle they must face is the Königin Luise…a formidable German gunboat which is patrolling a large lake downriver. Rose comes up with a plan to transform the African Queen into a torpedo boat and sink the Königin Luise.

Right away, Charlie disagrees with Rose’s plan; he points out that points out that navigating the Ulanga River to get to the lake means pass a heavily-armed German fort and transiting several dangerous sets of rapids. Rose remains insistent and ultimately convinces Charlie to go along with the plan.  However, Charl’es true feeling re-emerge once his tonug is loosened by a river of gin.  After a drunken Charlie mocks Rose and her plan, she gets even by dumping the rest of his gin overboard.

This picture is on the wall in my office.

Nevertheless, the plan goes forward; Charlie and Rose manage to navigate the first set of rapids with only minor flooding in the boat. Passing the German river fort proves to be a different story; gunfire damages the African Queen’s boiler which makes the encounter with the next set of rapids much more precarious.

Being forced to work together to survive the river and evade the Germans eventually brings Charlie and Rose together just as they are about to run the third set of rapids. This time, the boat suffers serious damage…the worst being a bent propeller shaft.  Charlie goes ashore and rigs a make-shift forge with which he re-aligns the shaft and repairs the propeller.

Despite Charlie’s repairs, things go from bad to worse when the African Queen runs aground in mud and reeds at the river’s mouth.  Whole unsuccessfully attempting to pull the boat free, Charlie comes out of the water covered with leeches.  From this’ he develops a fever and they are exhausted both physically and in terms of supplies.  Charlie loses consciousness With no supplies left and short of potable water, Rose and a feverish and Rose has nothing left but to pray for him. It what seems like a prayer answered, torrential rains upstream raise the river level, which makes the African Queen afloat.

Being back underway means the African Queen makes it’s way into the lake, where she is nearly spotted by the Königin Luise. Avoiding the German gunboat and finding relative shelter, Charlie and Rose convert oxygen cylinders into torpedoes using their explosives and constructing improvised detonators. They cut holes in the bow of the African Queen to serve as torpedo tubes and take her onto the lake.

Under the cover of darkness, Charlie and Rose set the African Queen on a collision course with the Königin Luise.  But the same storms which created the downpours upstream have now moved over the lake. Between the wavs and the rain, water pours into the African Queen.  Eventually,  she capsizes and Charlie and Rose are thrown overboard; they are separated in the rough waters.

Charlie is captured and taken aboard the Königin Luise where he is accused of being a spy and is interrogated. Since he believes Rose has drowned by the captain. Believing that Rose has drowned, he doesn’t defend himself against the espionage charges even though they may result in his death.

But then Rose is captured and brought aboard. Upon her being questioned, she proudly admits they were trying to sink the Königin Luise, at which point she is sentenced to hang along with Charlie as British spies.

But before the sentence is carried out, two things happen. First, Charlie asks the captain to marry he and Rose before they are executed. The captain agrees, and after brief marriage ceremony, a huge explosion rips through the Königin Luise which immediately capsizes. The German gunboat just so happened to steam into the submerged hull of the African Queen.  The collision sets off Charlie and Rose’s improvised torpedoes; the destruction of the Königin Luise allows Charlie and Rose to swim to safety.

The Hidden Sports Analogy:

A while back, a previous installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies focused on Joan Whitney Payson.  If you recall, she was the first woman in a major North American sports league to found a franchise from the ground up, to buy majority control of a team rather than inheriting it, and as such was the first to have her team capture a championship when “Miracle” New York Mets won the World Series in 1969.

Today’s hidden sports analogy expands on those 1969 New York Mets, because much like “The African Queen,” they are both all about miracles.

As far as “The African Queen” is concerned, there’s three times by my count in which it took miracles to keep Charlie and Rose from meeting their collective maker.

The first is when they are passing the German river fort and the boat takes gunfire.  Normally, a boiler pierced by a bullet has a better than even chance of exploding with such force to blast the African Queen into matchsticks.

Second, there’s no other word than “miracle” to describe the perfectly-timed rainstorm that refloats the boat from the mud and the reeds.  Without it, the river’s mouth is where they should have found the boat and the bones of Charlie and Rose.

Then there’s the  best-timed explosion is the history of Hollywood.  The Königin Luise has an entire lake in which to patrol, yet finds the exact spot where the African Queen sank, and does so at the the precise moment to allow Charlie and Rose to escape being hanged.

All of those miracles pale in comparison the that of the 1969 New York Mets. You can go back to that piece on Joan Whitney Payson  for all the details for what it took to get National League baseball back in the “Big Apple” after the departure of the Dodgers and Giants in 1957; that took a bit of miracle-working all it’s own. But for this team made of the floor sweepings of Major League Baseball to capture a world Championship a mere seven years after it’s inception…well…that’s water into wine kind of stuff.

It works like this. In 1962, the New York Mets were an expansion team added to the National League. As such, they created a roster of old players from the Dodgers and Giants days gone by for nostalgia purposes, along with a collection of cast-offs from other teams in an expansion draft.  The Mets finished 1962 with a record of 40 wins and 120 losses…a record for futility which stands to this day.

It took until 1966 for the Mets to crack 60 wins when they went 66-95. They didn’t have a winning season until 1969 when they went 100-62 and captured the National League Eastern Division title. The race between the Mets and the also-hard-luck Chicago Cubs went right down to the final week of the season when the Mets pulled away.  While Americans love an underdog, they couldn’t decide between the “Lovable Losers” from New York or the Cubs, who before the 2016 championship hadn’t won a World Series since the Ottoman Empire still existed. Winning the NL East with never having a winning season previously is the first miracle, much like the boiler not exploding after German bullets pierced it.

Then came the National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves. Now, the Mets had sole claim to the “Underdog” title. The Braves were powered by known stars like future Hall of Famers Phil Niekro, Orlando Cepeda, and the man who would surpass Babe Ruth as baseball all-time home run king, Hank Aaron. But the Miracle Mets swept the Braves aside taking the best-of-five games series 3-0. Welcome to Miracle #2, especially since Hank Aaron slugged three homers in this series. Much like God sent a rainstorm to float the African Queen, He also put some surprise thunder in the bat of weak-hitting second baseman Ken Boswell, who blasted two bombs of his own, along with driving in five runs.

The coup de grace came in the World Series against the overwhelming favorite Baltimore Orioles. The “Birds” were one of the best teams in baseball in the 1960s, 1969 being in the middle of a stretch where the Orioles appeared in 4 World Series in 6 seasons…and won 2 of them.  But 1969 wouldn’t be one.

The Orioles were another team loaded with known stars; they had sure-fire Hall-of Famers like Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson.  The pitching staff was led by another guy headed for Cooperstown in Jim Palmer and backed by 20-game winners Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally. All the signs pointed to another championship for Baltimore.

Palmer: More than just an underwear model.

But the Mets trotted out a well-timed explosion of their own named Donn Clendenon.  Here’s a guy who was one of those “floor-sweepings” players; the Pittsburgh Pirates left him unprotected in an expansion draft to build rosters for two new teams.  Clendenon was selected by the fledgling Montreal Expos, who traded him to the Mets in the midst of that season.

donn clendenon

That trade paid in spades come October, as Clendenon belted three home runs and drove in four to carry the Mets to a World Series titlle in only their seventh year in existence.  While Clendenon took home the series’ Most Valuable Player award, he wasn’t the only story for the “Miracle” Mets.

One could say the pre-cursor to these miracles came when the Mets got pitcher Tom Seaver in the 1966 draft.  Originally selected by the Atlanta Braves, a technicality negated that pick and Seaver’s rights were awarded to the Mets.  Seaver dominated from the mound in 1969, and would end up with 311 career wins and a trip to Cooperstown.

Seaver: There’s a reason why they called him “Tom Terrific.”

But another future Hall-of-Famer burst on the scene with the Mets in that World Series.  This team had a guy in the bullpen who used to close out games with his nearly unhittable 100+ mile-per-hour fastball and a curveball that could freeze even the best hitters.

Eventually, this guy would become not just a starting pitcher, 5,700+ strikeouts later he would become the most dominant power pitcher in the history of the game.  Baseball fans already know I’m talking about Nolan Ryan.

The 1969 New York Mets caught lightning in a bottle.  While they would return to the World Series  in 1973, really the next quarter-century would be one of more suffering for Mets fans; they were consistently one of the worst teams in baseball until 1986 when they won their second World Series title. But like when Charlie and Rose escaped from the Germans, the Mets will always have the miracle of 1969.

The Moral of the Story:

In the immortal words of New York Mets/Philadelphia Philles legend “Tug” McGraw… “Ya gotta believe!”


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