Blood flukes. Crocs. Katharine Hepburn filling sick buckets between takes. These days, John Huston’s adaptation of CS forester’s novel is so treasured as Sunday-afternoon entertainment that we forget how unlikely its emergence as a cosy classic was. The film’s hellacious shoot is charted here in 59-minute doc Embracing Chaos, an account that leaves you wondering how Huston’s comic adventure-romance ever stayed afloat.
As gin-pickled steamboat captain Charlie Allnut, Humphrey Bogart flaunts a rare, controlled comic flair. As Rose Sayer, the missionary who flees in his boat as WW1 hits East Africa and blossoms on the rapids, Hepburn plays prim and impassioned with equally immersed conviction. Their romance seems unlikely, but Hep and Humph make light work of selling it.
Huston didn’t make their job easy, though. The director insisted on location shooting in Technicolor, at a time when location shoots were rare and no one would’ve wanted to lug Technicolor equipment down the Congo. But the gamble paid off. Queen isn’t deep. Nor is it ‘realistic’. But the setting pulls us in and Huston’s ripping direction ferries the plot briskly from odd-couple farce to the unlikely adventure of an assault on a German gunboat, propelled by great character studies.
Huston considered dark endings for the film but settled on a happy pay-off, a move that feels intuitively right for the film’s effortless lightness. Watch with Chaos and, between its onscreen charms and off-screen rivers of spew, Queen still plays like the most glorious triumph of faith against plausibility.