Film Review: Donovan’s Reef (1963)

Release Date: June 12th, 1963 (Philadelphia premiere)
Directed by: John Ford
Written by: James Edward Grant, Frank S. Nugent
Music by: Cyril Mockridge
Cast: John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Jack Warden, Elizabeth Allen, Jacqueline Malouf, Cesar Romero, Dorothy Lamour, Mike Mazurki, Patrick Wayne, Dick Foran

Paramount Pictures, 109 Minutes

Review:

“Well, there is our Mike Donovan. Three children and not one marriage. Oh, I do not say that he’s the first man to put the cart before the horse, but three carts and no horse? Huh?” – Marquis Andre de Lage

John Ford and John Wayne made a lot of really good movies together. Some of them had Lee Marvin in them too. Well, this is one of them but sadly, it is the last of them.

This also has Jack Warden and Cesar Romero in it too though, as well as Elizabeth Allen, Dorothy Lamour, Mike Mazurki, Patrick Wayne and Dick Foran. Plus, it is shot in beautiful and luscious Hawaii at the height of the Tiki subculture’s popularity in America.

Donovan’s Reef is a really good and lighthearted movie. It’s a lot more playful than what Ford and Wayne collaborations typically were. Sure, they’d have some tiny comedic moments but this is really a straight up romantic comedy that just so happens to have a male lead with real gravitas.

The thing is, I love seeing Wayne be funny and playful and kind of hamming it up. He doesn’t lose his machismo and if anything, it’s that machismo that makes his lighter roles work so well. For instance, Rooster Cogburn isn’t remotely close to the quality of its predecessor True Grit but Wayne is so damn good in it, playing opposite of Katharine Hepburn in an “odd couple” sort of situation. This is like that in the way that Wayne isn’t afraid to step outside of being the quintessential badass of his era.

I also love Lee Marvin’s character in this and the rest of the cast is damn good too. Cesar Romero was friggin’ delightful. And the young Jacqueline Malouf was perfect and sweet in her role. I truly enjoyed Elizabeth Allen’s role in this though, as she was the perfect pairing for Wayne’s wit and for the romantic stuff. She was the typical “rich white lady thrown into an exotic culture” archetype but she evolved beyond that and gave the role a lot of personality.

This is a beautiful film to look at. Hawaii is majestic and it is on full display in this movie.

Donovan’s Reef was actually much better than I thought it would be and I’m glad I checked it out. It’s definitely something I’ll probably revisit many times in the future.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Ford and Wayne collaborations. For the Tiki aesthetic, The Road to Bali which also features Dorothy Lamour. Also, Diamond Head, which was also filmed in Hawaii and features Elizabeth Allen.

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