Donovan's Reef from 1963 was directed by John Ford, and stars John Wayne. I read this was the last romantic lead John Wayne played, and it would have been better if the role had been played by someone else. He was far too old to be playing this type of role at the age of 56. Cary Grant can get away with a romantic lead at 60, but John Wayne could not.
I remember watching this movie in my childhood and being fascinated by the culture of the South Pacific. Unfortunately, now I am an adult, the film leaves something to be desired.
John Wayne is Guns Donovan, the owner of a saloon on an island in French Polynesia. Several of his WWII wartime buddies remained on the island after the war, including Dr. William Dedham (Jack Warden), who married a Polynesian woman and had three children. His wife died and he continues to provide medical care for the inhabitants of the island while raising the children on his own.
Dr. Dedham also has a grown daughter Amelia (Elizabeth Allen) who lives in Boston. Legal matters make it imperative that she visit the father she’s never met, and Amelia shows up on the island. Since Dr. Dedham is away, Donovan decides to have the doctor’s three children pretend they are his own, in order to protect the good doctor.
What is interesting about the film are the references to race. Amelia at one point refers to the children who are in reality her half-siblings as “half-castes.” Knowing of the prejudice towards inter-racial marriages is the reason Donovan tries to protect all of the Dedham’s.
There are too many fight scenes about absolutely nothing in this film, one which features Lee Marvin as Gilhooley in a brawl that apparently occurs once a year between him and Donovan simply because they share the same birthday. And Donovan taking Amelia over his knee to spank her is so ridiculous and uncalled for I could hardly bear to watch it.
Pluses are the costumes by Edith Head, and a really cute Christmas Eve service. Cesar Romero and Dorothy Lamour also show up in this film, and they are fun to watch. You might enjoy Donovan's Reef just to see what the early 60’s promoted in the movies, or to see the beautiful South Pacific, but as a romantic comedy, it falls far short of the others I’ve reviewed recently.