Tuesday, November 27, 2007


South seas snapshot of america

This innocent couch potato was truly unprepared for Donovan's Reef. I remember my parents had dragged me to a theater to see it back in 1963 and I was bored out of my gourd at the time and that's about all I could recall. But John Wayne is one of those actors whose careers Mrs Lipstick and I like to take a look at and he stars in this one, which could reign supreme as his absolutely worst effort, and that's saying a lot.

In brief the story line is as follows - some ex WW2 navy guys set up shop on a south sea isle. One guy's daughter, a snooty Boston broad, travels there to dig up dirt on her father and cheat him out of owning a shipping company. While there she falls for the big guy and after lame scheming and forgettable performances by what should have been a good lineup of actors it all works out ducky in the end.

Here's the reality of the film - made in 1962 it symbolizes the apotheosis of naive, ugly post world war america and all it's thumping stupidity right at the cusp of changing forever in the turbulent sixties. Looking at this horror show you ask yourself "they actually made this for entertainment?" There are some movies that are so bad they're good, this one goes a step further and reverts to bad again, fit only to be treated like a pathogen and studied under a microscope. I swear this can't be another team project by Wayne and John Ford who previously put out some fine cinema, but it is, but you wonder if the director had gone senile and all involved were just in it for the paycheck.

The producers thought it was a boffo idea to transfer Wayne's familiar western motif to a south sea island. I erroneously thought the town scenes were in a set used for cowboy flicks but no, all the locations were shot in Hawaii, so the town was made solely for this adventure. Take away the ferns and stick in a hitching post and voila! Gunsmoke. The Duke, not yet realizing his age, is at his misogynist best, literally dragging some poor actress off a ship, down a mountain, through the surf and sticking his tongue down her throat to teach her a lesson. After spanking her. He owns a bar, which he calls a saloon, and the sizable local population of chinese who frequent the place are too dumb to realize they shouldn't be dumping their money in a broken slot machine. The native islanders? Their job is to rush down to the beach whenever a white guy shows up and just hang around to wait on him.

The sexism and racism were all accepted as light comedy in the early sixties, when it was just the natural order of things for white males to inhabit the sole spot at the top of the food chain. That was soon to change, and Duke's career went south about this time when he kept taking roles that didn't fit either his age or match the societal change that swept the country.
A pathetic and not so fitting end to the 25 year collaboration between John Wayne and John Ford, guaranteed to make you roll your eyes with it's stupifying social aberration.


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