[box cover]

Donovan's Reef

Elvis loved making movies in Hawaii — loved it — so much so that some wretched pictures were made there just to give The King a working vacation (1966's awful Paradise Hawaiian Style being a fine example). When watching 1963's Donovan's Reef, one wonders if director John Ford and company weren't thinking the exact same thing. John Wayne stars as Michael "Guns" Donovan, an ex-Army man who built a bar (called "Donovan's Reef") in the Hawaiian paradise he defended in WWII, and where he now lives with his best friends and old army buddies Thomas "Boats" Gilhooley (Lee Marvin) — who is always getting into fights with Guns — and Dr. William Dedham (Jack Warden). When their island community finds out that Dr. Dedham may have a large inheritance coming from his long-forgotten Boston family — only as long as his moral character is acceptable — Guns pretends Dr. Dedham's three kids are his, since they were had with a native woman and might cost Dedham his payday. Dedham is to be investigated by Amelia (Elizabeth Allen), the daughter he left in Boston, but he's out on a cruise, and love is in the air between Amelia and Guns as they wait for his return. Donovan's Reef has some big problems, the biggest being John Ford's inability to stage the comedy — it's too obvious (young children wise-cracking and dancing the boogie-woogie, Australians singing "Waltzing Matilda") and macho (bar fights) to cause any chuckling, with Ford's sense of pacing too slow for the kind of slapstick he's trying for here. The romance fares no better (Wayne is meant to quell Amelia by either kissing or spanking her), having Lee Marvin in a film and then not really using him borders on criminal activity, and the plot seems to have been written on a bar napkin. Ford's friend Howard Hawks handled this type of film a heck of a lot better, but despite its flaws Donovan's Reef remains enjoyable thanks to its relaxed air, keeping the affair free of pretension — there's fun to be had as one senses that everyone making the film knows it's a lark. Wayne is engaging in a light-comic performance, and the supporting cast (including Cesar Romero, Dorothy Lamour, Marcel Dalio, and Ford's own yacht, the Araner) are all respectable enough to keep things moving. Compared to Ford masterworks like Stagecoach, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, or The Searchers, Donovan's Reef only pales in comparison. Then again, it's good to know the people who made those films got a free vacation. Paramount's DVD looks handsome in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and with fine monaural (2.0) soundtracks in either English or French. Theatrical trailer, keep-case.

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