Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


John Wayne and Elizabeth Allen
DONOVAN'S REEF (1963). Director: John Ford.

"What young girl of my age doesn't contemplate matrimony?" -- Miss Lafleur [Dorothy Lamour at 49]

On an island in French Polynesia lives bar owner Donovan (John Wayne) and his fighting buddy Gilhooey (Lee Marvin), who are always punching each other out over a long-ago offense neither can remember, and the local doctor Dedham (Jack Warden). While Dedham is off-island his daughter Amelia (Elizabeth Allen) from Boston society, who has never met her father, shows up on the island. [She has been told that Daddy's inheritance will go to her if she can prove moral lapses on his part, but this sub-plot is dropped pretty early, with no mention of it made again.] Donovan is afraid Amelia will have a bad reaction if she discovers that she has three "half-caste" siblings so he pretends the children are his own -- a bad idea. Meanwhile the island's governor (Cesar Romero) learns how much money Miss Dedham has and tries to interfere with her budding romance with Donovan. [When 56-year-old Wayne smooches with 34-year-old Allen, it's like she's kissing her father!] This is a perfectly amiable, minor-league film with more than adequate performances that holds the attention while never quite being side-splitting or terribly dramatic. But while it's sort of a slice-of-life movie in some ways, its presentation of Polynesian ways is rather cliched, and it's nowhere in the league of Ford's How Green Was My Valley. For some reason, Ford doesn't use nearly enough close ups, possibly to minimize the age difference between the romantic leads. Dorothy Lamour isn't given much to do as a saloon entertainer who hopes to marry Gilhooey. Some amusing scenes and beautiful scenery, and Dedham's children are adorable. Allen was basically a theater actress who starred on Broadway in the Richard Rodgers-Stephen Sondheim collaboration Do I Hear a Waltz?

Verdict: This shouldn't work at all but somehow it entertains in spite of itself. ***.

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