Donovan’s Reef (1963)

Donovan’s Reef
Directed by John Ford
Written by Frank S. Nugent and James Edward Grant; story by Edmund Beloin
1963/USA
John Ford Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

Michael Patrick ‘Guns’ Donovan: Yeah, well, frangipani and flame-throwers don’t seem to go together, but that’s the way it was.

John Ford’s forte was not comedy.  This one is just OK.

It is Christmastime in Paradise.  “Guns” Donovan (John Wayne) remained in the South Pacific after the end of WWII and built up a prosperous shipping business.  He also owns a saloon called “Donovan’s Reef”.  Navy buddy Doc Dedham (Jack Warden) also stayed behind.  As the movie begins a third friend, “Boats” Gilhooley (Lee Marvin),  swims to shore from a passing freighter.  Doc Dedham needs to make a medical circuit of the outer islands and leaves his half-Polynesian children in Donovan’s care.

Shortly thereafter, Doc’s daughter Amelia (Elizabeth Allen) from his first marriage arrives. She is a Boston socialite who has become Chairman of the Dedham Shipping Company. Doc has now acquired a majority of the shares through inheritance.  Amelia hopes to find some violation of a morals clause that would make him ineligible to control the company. Naturally, Amelia and Donovan will fall in love and in a fairly predictable way.  We also get the standard barroom brawl that seems to be indispensable in these sorts of things.  With Dorothy Lamour as Gilhooley’s long-suffering girlfriend.

In Ford’s eye’s a good spanking seems to be the ultimate sign of affection – even as late as 1963!  The cast obviously had a good time and the Kaua’i scenery is gorgeous but this won’t stay with me for long.

This was Ford and Wayne’s final collaboration.

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