Donovan’s Reef is among John Ford’s few comedies, for which the director wouldn’t have found financing without John Wayne’s help. It’s a nice comedy, a moral play with action cover, considered the purest distillation of all of Ford’s thematic quirks: racism, hypocrisy, religion, drinking, fighting, dancing, ritual, family, eating. The stunning landscape (the plot is set on the South Pacific island of Haleokaloha, but it was in fact filmed in Kauai, Hawaii) offers a good environment for expatriate US Navy veterans Thomas “Boats” Gilhooley (Lee Marvin) and Michael “Guns” Donovan (John Wayne). The two have an unbreakable tradition of a fight betwen them every year on their birthdays, which happen to be in the same day.
The action starts to pick up when William “Doc” Dedham, the only physician on the island, leaves, because of duty call, his three children in Donovan’s care. When Amelia Dedham (Elizabeth Allen), dr. Dedham’s first daughter, arrives from America trying to find a morality clause which will enable her to retain control in the family company, Donovan pretends to be the children’s father in a scheme thought up until the doc returns to the island. The film gains a romantic comedy flavour and in the end it’s nice to see how all the cultural differences and opposing forces reach a compromise.
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