During the Rif War in Morocco, the French Foreign Legion's outpost of Tarfa is threatened by Khalif Hussein's tribes but Sergeant Mike Kincaid devises a plan of survival until the arrival of French reinforcements.
In 1870, Yankee sea captain O'Keefe finds himself stranded after a mutiny on the Micronesian island of Yap, where the financial potential of copra (dried cocoanut) excites him. But a German company already has a monopoly...and very low production because hard work is alien to dwellers in paradise. On a later voyage, between affairs with island maidens, O'Keefe struggles to find the key to the wealth of Yap. But before he can carve out the empire of his dreams, he must also contend with assorted villains...Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
William Henry "Bully" Hayes (1829-77) was a South Seas pirate born in Cleveland, OH. He ran trading missions throughout the South Pacific (including the Marshall Islands, Cook Islands, New Zealand, Australia), specializing in rum and rifles, but he was not averse to "blackbirding" (slaving). He was killed after a violent disagreement and his body was thrown into the ocean. His murderer was never brought to justice. See more »
O'Keefe returns to Hong Kong and stock footage is shown of people walking down a street. However, the movie is set in the 1870s and the footage is of 1950s Hong Kong. Giveaways include signs such as "No Motors". See more »
Captain David O'Keefe was a real-life person, a 19th century Irish-born adventurer from Savannah, Georgia, who made his fortune in the copra trade on the South Pacific island of Yap. This film is a fictionalised version of his life-story, and as one might expect takes a few liberties with history. In the film O'Keefe becomes king of Yap and defends his people against the incursions of aggressive German colonisers. In reality, when O'Keefe arrived on the island in 1871 it was a Spanish colony and the newly-united German Empire had no interest in acquiring colonies in the South Pacific or anywhere else. Yap did not become German until 1899, well after the date at which the film is set. This change was possibly made because in 1954, only nine years after the end of the war, American audiences would have been more accustomed to seeing Germans than Spaniards as cinematic villains. The film does, however, provide one "good German" in the shape of O'Keefe's friend Alfred Tetens, another real-life person.
O'Keefe did indeed marry a local girl as shown here, but the film tactfully omits the fact that their marriage was invalid because he already had a wife in Savannah. The Production Code officially forbade the depiction of racially mixed marriages or romances, but by the fifties there seemed to be an unofficial relaxation of this rule in force. Relationships between white men and non-white women could be shown provided (a) the girl was described as being of mixed race and (b) she was played by a white actress. This rule was applied in "Showboat" and "Love is a Many-Splendoured Thing", and is also applied here. O'Keefe's sweetheart Dalabo, supposedly of mixed European and Micronesian descent, is played by the Derbyshire-born Joan Rice. Dalabo has a rival for O'Keefe's affections, but the said rival, being pure- blooded Yapese, has to lose out.
Rice, although undoubtedly decorative to look at, is never really convincing as a native of the South Seas, or for that matter of any part of the world further south than Derbyshire. Burt Lancaster, however, makes an agreeable hero, and receives good support from André Morell as Tetens. Later in his career Lancaster could be a very intense actor, often appearing in dramas with a serious social, political or philosophical purpose, but in his action films of the early fifties his style of acting was generally much more relaxed, and so it is here.
Many film-makers of the early days of the cinema were reluctant to venture too far away from a Hollywood studio, even when their films were ostensibly set in some exotic part of the globe. This attitude still prevailed in some quarters during the fifties; for example "Brigadoon", also made in 1954, had to be shot on MGM's sound stage, against a vast painted backdrop of Scottish-style scenery, because Dore Schary was reluctant to stump up the cost of transporting cast and crew all the way to Scotland, or even to some part of America that looked like Scotland. In other quarters, however, attitudes were changing as the studios began to realise that local colour and authentic scenery could be useful weapons in their battle against the new enemy, television.
"His Majesty O'Keefe" is a case in point, as much of the film was actually shot on location in the South Pacific. This doubtless increased the budget, but I think that the decision was the right one, as the result was a colourful, visually attractive film. Byron Haskin is unlikely to feature very highly on any list of Hollywood's great auteurs, but he was capable of producing some very decent and enjoyable adventure films (his 1953 version of "The War of the Worlds" is probably the best known) and this is another in that category. 7/10
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