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My conceptions about the South Pacific were formed when I saw this
movie at the Elm Theatre in Brooklyn growing up. It has an honored
place in my collection.
First off that music does get you. Every John Ford film is marked by a great use of music, in his westerns the use of traditional western themes pace the action. Here in Donovan's Reef the music under the credits sets the mood for the story set on this South Seas Paradise.
Secondly this was the last film that John Ford made with John Wayne. I believe this is the most successful actor/director relationship in the history of film by just about any standard you want to use, box office, quality of work, etc. The partnership went out on a high note.
John Wayne's westerns are usually a self contained world that operates on the principles of his universe. This film does also, but here it is more believable. This mixed group of people really do know the secret of living and let living. And the outside world occasionally does intrude and violently as the World War II background of the principal characters demonstrates.
This is also a film about believing stereotypes. John Wayne, Lee Marvin and the rest of the island believe Elizabeth Allen will be a racist. She's hurt by the abandonment of her father (Jack Warden) but she does come to accept her half-siblings. The film is anti-racist, but it also teaches a great moral lesson in not making your mind up about people prematurely.
The comedy as in all Ford films is heavy handed, but I still crack up at Wayne and Marvin and their escapades.
This is what the definition of escapist entertainment is.
From the very beginning of this movie you know what you have let yourself
in for, when Lee Marvin belts the ship's bosun over the ear with a broom.
Followed by, "Permission to leave the ship"; then literally jumps ship and
swims for the beach. You realize then that you are in for 150 minutes of a
Fordian, boisterous knockabout comedy.
This was the last time that Ford and Wayne would team up together. Maybe this production was a farewell rave-up for both of them. With Lee Marvin thrown in to assist in turning it into a roughhouse just for the hell of it. Added to this pugilistic mixture, you have the jumbo-sized heavyweight, Mike Mazurki, serving as a French Colonial Gendarme. As a welcome opposite to the boisterous muscle we have the smooth, suave Cesar Romero, oozing glossy charm and good manners, serving as the colonial governor of this supposed French Polynesian paradise. Add to that, Dorothy Lamour, back in the sarong after a long absence, as a duskey maiden-type decoration. The three children belonging to Doctor Dedham add a nice child-like innocence to this warring male atmosphere. Here the softer side of Big John comes to the surface when he tries to comfort the eldest of the three children who becomes emotional over her half-cast origins. Elizabeth Allen adds a well bred prim and proper touch of class to this nonsensical tropical South Pacific potion.
This movie then, has a friendly-like approach to bar room brawling with smiles thrown in. Harmless and bruising fun all the way. I always imagine that this kind of rough and tumble movie seems to be "cobbled" together...somehow. Then everything seems to fall into place at the end. The end result being order out of chaos.
It's a sad to think that nearly all the lead characters plus John Ford, have all faded out and gone to the big movie studio in the sky. God help anybody else up there with this lot! That's all.
"Donovan's Reef" is an accurately made, funny, light-hearted work, with some
moments of deep poetry. For the audience it is more a relaxing vacation than
an actual movie: we are transferred to a paradisiac South Pacific island,
where a bunch of super-nice guys, our friends John Wayne, Lee Marvin,
Elizabeth Allen, Dorothy Lamour, Mike Mazurki, Cesar Romero make a funny
show to entertain us. From the very beginning we find John Ford's
characteristic sense of humour: we see a family meeting of sullen Bostonian
shipowners, who all take for granted that their relative Dr. Dedham (Jack
Warden) is living in orgiastic promiscuity over there, in the Islands of
Sin. And then there is the usual number of (harmless) fist-fights and
brawls... and a quarrel-loaded love-story... and many comic
"Donovan's Reef" is one of the very last cinema appointments of John Ford. Inside this light comedy, the old Master inserts touches of his poetic legacy, his trade-mark messages of peace, brotherhood, anti-racism. An evident instance is the scene of the Christmas Mass and Ceremony, with the islanders in their native costumes. And then there is an extremely poignant short scene, just few seconds. The nice little French priest is walking on a beautiful, sunny lawn, shaded by palm-trees, close to the sea: it's the cemetery. We see tombs with a Celtic cross, a French cross, a David's star; then the priest stops at a native barrow, covered with garlands, and he starts to pray (this is the tomb of the late native princess, the doctor's wife). After the storms of our life on this earth, we become all brothers in a better world. This quiet and dignified, yet full of religious hope acceptance of death is one of the most felt and profound themes of Ford's poetry.
I recommend "Donovan's Reef": enjoy the humour, the funny action, the fine performances of the cast, and don't miss the deep poetic touches of the Master John Ford.
With The Duke and Lee Marvin, I knew that this was going to be a fun movie to watch. No disappointment there. Filled with the splendor of the South Pacific and scored with beautiful music from the islands, it will appeal to any fan of the tropics. Elizabeth Allen is stunning as the leggy Boston blue blood who arrives on the island and gets everyone stirred up. She, along with Wayne, Marvin and Jack Warden make the film funny and appealing. If you want to watch a film that does not use today's hackneyed formula of gratuitous sex, profanity, explosions and car chases, fix yourself a Mai Tai, put on your flowered shirt and watch Donovan's Reef. Aloha.
"Donovan's Reef" is set on an island in the Pacific, which is basically
getting by on its own merits without much contact with the modern world.
John Wayne and Lee Marvin team up to portray two navy buddies that seem to
have two things in common--the same birthday and a desire to punch each
others' lights out because of a quarrel that started several years before on
that birthday. The rest of the cast occupy themselves trying to keep the
two "friends" alive because they genuinely are decent guys.
Into this island bliss comes Elizabeth Allen, portraying a lady from Boston who is attempting to prove that her father, played by Jack Warden, has been living on the island in standards less than acceptable by Boston customs so she can claim his share of a family shipping business. Through one scene after another, the film takes a merry romp through its plot and gives the viewer a very enjoyable time.
Some people thought that John Ford was crazy to do such a picture with John Wayne. Where is the action? This movie is a departure for Ford and Wayne collaborations in that it plays more like a 30s screwball comedy in a scenic location that the typical Ford/Wayne picture that you've seen before (Rio Grande, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon etc). All the actors do good jobs and the script, like a 30s screwball comedy, is not likely to happen in real life but fun to watch. The movie was filmed in Hawaii and the scenery is gorgeous. The interplay between Wayne and Co-Star Elizabeth Allen ("Amelia") is reminiscent of Wayne and Maureen O'hara. Allen compares favorably to O'Hara in that she plays the strong woman who is not overshadowed by Waynes "Guns Donovan". I enjoyed Caesar Romero, who played the Governor of the island and is looking to court Amelia only after he checks her wealth in Dun and Bradstreet. Pay particular attention to Lee Marvin's "Boats Gilhooley", grab a beer, and sit back and enjoy.
This film is not one of Johns best but it ranks pretty high. It's good
to see John Wayne in something besides a cowboy movie. It has a great
supporting cast. Lee Marvin out does his self in his role as the out
cast friend who has the same birthday as John Wayne. Cesar Romero plays
his part brilliantly as the French Ambassador. And the kids in this
film could not have been cast better. Jacqueline Malouf plays her part
as the teen age daughter of Jack Warden so convincingly you forget she
was 22 at the time. And Cherylene Lee is the cutest little girl who
ever played a part in the movies.
The plot is a little lame and Elizabeth Allen is a little young to be playing John Wayne's love interest. John Wayne appears to look the oldest of the three Americans who stayed on the island to help the inhabitants during WWII. But the movie comes off pretty good if you can over look the age difference. Besides, Wayne and Allen do work well together. I like to watch this movie from time to time. It's a feel good movie were everything comes out good in the end.
Donovans Reef was the last collaboration between John Ford and John Wayne. Its not a great film, but its a very good one. Like The Quiet Man its a pastoral symphony, but its pastoral with an edge. This is ,in fact an anti_racist, anti-Puritan film.This well cast, well acted, and very funny picture is worth watching and enjoying.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Oh gosh, how many times have I watched this truly entertaining movie? Probably fifteen or so, and I still enjoy it as much as the first time. As others have said, this is not John Wayne's best movie but it is enjoyable. My favorite part is the scene near the end when Amelia discovers that she is half sister to Dr. Dedhams three children and that the eldest of them is the reigning Princess of the island culture. It is a very touching scene that is preceded by a bevy of island women performing a stick dance that is absolutely beautiful to watch and listen to. I would rate it 9/10.
Donovan's Reef is fun. It has a decent story, good characters, and
stunning scenery. This is why you go to the movies, isn't it? If
compared against Ford's acknowledged masterpieces, Dononvan's Reef does
not measure up, but measured against other escapist films, it is a
great movie. John Wayne's performance is consistently good, and as
always, believable. Wayne was so real in his films, that he is never
considered to be a good actor, but if you look at his body of work, you
have to admit he could do it all. His Guns Donovan character is
certainly up to snuff, and he does well with what he has. His
interaction with Lee Marvin as Boats Gilhooley is as good as any of his
other brawling, head-butting clashes with legends like Ward Bond or
Victor McGlaglen. Lee Marvin is very funny and clever in his scenes,
and very rarely over the top. He could always deliver on a character
that was supposed to be likable, but mentally ill.
Aside from the fun, we have a significant plot element of prejudice considering the behavior of Guns, Boats, and Andre, where they hide the Doctor's half-caste Polynesian children from the All-White Bostonian daughter, Amelia. Paradoxically, we have Chinese stereotypes in the form of goofy looking morons with toothy grins and heavy accents. Still, in the end reason prevails in that the young Leilani shows wisdom beyond her years. When she sings a prayer of thanks to the goddess of the canyon where Guns chops down their Christmas tree, Amelia asks if she believes in gods and goddesses. Leilani replies, "I believe in one God, as we all do, but I respect the customs and beliefs of my people." Amelia subsequently accepts the cultural differences with a gracious bow to Leilani, who is being honored as the last hereditary princess of the island. That is a nicely done scene.
If you focus on what Donovan's Reef isn't, it will be a disappointing film. If you enjoy it for what it is, you will have a great time.
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