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'Guns' Donovan prefers carousing with his pals Doc Dedham and 'Boats' Gilhooley, until Dedham's high-society daughter Amelia shows up in their South Seas paradise. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
"Donovan's Reef" is a strange film I suggest or many reasons, and about as physically glowing as a film can be. it is a hymn to Polyneisa, to its natural beauty, its friendly people and its future, from John Ford and John Wayne who clearly by the film's message hope not to see these qualities spoiled. I find it a strong element in the script that the faults of Bostonians, an allegorical composite for super-rich-government connected types, are discredited---with the qualities that describe unrealistic power-mongers--inability to enjoy simplicity, lack of a sense of humor, intolerance, frigidity in sex, inability to seek amity, unwillingness to compromise on nonessential points, bigotry against all those poorer or differently, worship of power...all the traits that define corporate-man of the U.S. increasingly throughout the 20th Century (but have the opposite quality of truly American values). The film is gentle, deliberate in pace and pits two screwball comedy types, the seemingly over-macho but lovable brute and the seemingly stuck-up by basically-goodhearted girl against one another; and from the beginning as his steely spirit and her iron resolve meet sharply , sparks fly. In the film's focused storyline, a youthful, would-be heiress from Boston, Ameiia (Elizabeth Allen), travels from her cold, snowy and overly-formal zone of existence to locate her father, missing since WWII. She had been born near the beginning of that Pacific conflict; but he stayed in French Polynesia and has never seen her. He stands to inherit millions, that is the prospect; she needs to prove that he is "morally unfit" in order to overturn that provision of a will. The assumption is he must be living in sin, he's in paradise--not Boston. She is met not by her errant papa but by his friend, "Guns" Donovan, an ex-sailor, and a man who who owns the local saloon, 'Donovan's Reef'. What she does not know is the father has had three children since, by a Polynesian mother. It takes time, a brawl over a shared birthday, meeting and growing to love the people, some tense scenes with her father, ceremonies, arguments, a water-skiing contretemps involving two sorts of bathing suit representing Boston and Polynesia and an opportunistic play for her by the governor that the girl finally melts--in so far as iron can. She decides it is more logical to stay with Donovan than to deny her feelings, and her love for the island. Donovan spanks her, the Amelia that was; but the action is symbolic, for from this point on they will be equals,; his brawling partner will own 'Gilhooley's Reef' and and they will make a life together where people get along and respect one another's differences. . The film is an amiable service-style comedy--John Ford is never far from cavalry-post humor--and the build of the romance from a hotly-denied spark through incidents, misassumptions, mutual interactions and learnings prepares us not for surrender but for a warlike alliance at the end; and for a procession of priests, friends, children, Gilhooley, her father, and a huge French policeman bearing her worldly goods to Donovan's house in train behind the happy couple. The cinematography by William Clothier and the art direction by Sam Imazu and veteran Hal Pereira are I found often stunning. Icons Sam Comer and Darrell Silvera did the set decorations, Edith Head the colorful costumes and Nellie Manley the many hairstylings. Wayne's favorite writer James Edward Grant worked with Frank Nugent on a story by Edmund Beloi(out of James A. Michener's works, uncredited); Cyril Mockridge provided original music. In the cast, Wayne, whose heavy-handed but genial comedic touch went unrecognized for years stands his own with Elizabeth Allen, one of the strongest and most-underrated actresses in the history of the screen. Other standouts in the cast include Cesar Romero as the governor, Lee Marvin who gets to be loud and occasionally rambunctious, Marcel Dalio, Jack Warden, Dick Foran, Edgar Buchanan, Jon Fong, Mike Mazurki as the policeman and the children Jacqueline Malouf, Cherylene Lee and and Jeffrey Byron. The movie has a Christmas feel about it in some strange manner; I believe it is its message of Americanism set against a rather silly and stuffy set of 'republican' attitudes of petty power-wielding that cause it to be so happy a film; this was what, despite its errors, worked for "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Giant", for instance. This was also the last that lasted over many years. And we are the richer for it. if you're looking for tons of action, for this one; it's more of the "How Green Was My Valley" and "Rio Grande" sort of atmospheric tale about common sense being taught to those who have been avoiding it, by gentle comedic example.
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