Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The African Queen Is Still Chugging Along

by Pa Rock
Movie Fan

The African Queen began life as a novel by by C.S. Forester in 1935.  It was the story of an American missionary trying to get out of German East Africa during World War I.  She begins her flight to safety aboard a 30-foot steam-powered riverboat that is under the command of a grumpy old sailor who has spent years traveling up and down the rivers of East Africa.  But the missionary's pilgrimage is more complicated than just a leisurely float down the Ulanga and Bora Rivers.  She is also caught up in some hard plotting to even the score with the Germans who killed her brother.

Hollywood recognized that this was great stuff for a movie, and in 1951 the legendary John Huston directed the film version of The African Queen, which starred the equally legendary Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn as the two troubled souls trying to flee East Africa in the old riverboat.  That movie brought Bogie his only academy award.

The actual boat that was used in the movie predated the novel by over two decades.  It was built in 1912 and still exists today after a century of use and abuse.  Since the vessel became famous in 1951, it has had several lives as a tourist attraction.  In the early 1980's the old riverboat somehow wound up in Key Largo, Florida, where it ferried tourists for a few years and was then pulled out of the water and exhibited on dry land for several more years.

This past year a husband-and-wife team of charter operators in the Keys named Lance and Suzanne Holmquist made arrangements with the boat's owner to restore The African Queen and put her to work carrying tourists through the Keys.  The renovations on the old watercraft set the couple back $70,000.

I loved The African Queen, both the book and the movie, and I love the Florida Keys - so taking a ride through the Keys on this floating piece of history has definitely been added to my bucket list.

And where better to dock The African Queen than Key Largo?  Well,  Casablanca perhaps -  in its next life!

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