Sunday, March 13, 2016

Donovan's Reef (1963)

Baby, right up your alley.

That's what I thought when I heard about the "Dot" Blogathon honoring Dorothy Lamour hosted by Silver Screenings and Font and Frock. Okay, so I didn't really, but it's a good quote with which to start this post!

The quote comes from the John Ford film Donovan's Reef, which has been a favorite film of my family's for years. We lovingly refer to it as "Boolah Boolah," which are the first words of the opening song, in English, "Pearly Shells." Back before DVD's, we would listen to Mom describe this magical John Wayne movie set in Hawaii that we had never seen before. We wondered if we would ever find a copy to watch. Then one day, while visiting my mom's brother several states away, we found the old recorded VHS. Were we excited! We could hardly wait to see it! And it did not disappoint. It quickly became a favorite and we now own several copies - some things are just too hard to pass up.

"Who is in this wonderful film and what makes it so good?" you may ask. Let me tell you. As I already mentioned, this is a John Wayne film (we are huge Duke fans over here. My brothers and I grew up watching The Quiet Man most Saturday mornings). Wayne plays Michael "Guns" Donovan. He lives on the, sadly fictional, Hawaiian island Haleakaloha (Hah-lee-ah-kuh-low-ah), where he runs a saloon, Donovan's Reef. Also residing on this island paradise are Dr. William Dedham (Jack Warden) and his three children - "little half-casts," Father Cluzeot - pronounced "clue-zoh" (Marcel Dalio), the Marquis Andre de Lage, governor of this "wretched island" (Caesar Romero), and Miss LaFleur (Dorothy Lamour). Other assorted character include Mr. Eu (pronounced "you"), the always off-duty Sergeant Monk, Sister Angelique and Sister Mary Margaret, and the Australian Navy. There is just one more character to make the cast complete: Gilhooley.

Gilhooley, the kind of guy that has a woman in every port (played hilariously by Lee Marvin), and Guns Donovan fought together in the war along with the Doc. They also happen to share a birthday, Dec. 7th. Do they get together every year to celebrate together? Nope. In true John Ford fashion they have an annual birthday brawl.

Funny promo shot. The Sisters do not approve.

Gilhooley abandons the ship he is serving on and swims ashore. The women of the island greet him with kisses and leis. The men, however, are less than happy to see him, especially Fr. Cluzeot (you can see his entrance here).

He then seeks out his friend, borrowing a white suit while he's at it - "Something you can be buried in!" Miss LaFleur is very happy to see him - "You've come back to marry me!" she says as she throws her arms around him.

While the Doc is out ministering to some of the other surrounding islands, word comes that his older daughter, Amelia by his first marriage (wife died soon after childbirth) is coming to the island on a business matter. The Doc has never seen his daughter and his daughter doesn't know that he married again - to the Princess Manulani who died in childbirth. Worried at how she might react to her half-cast siblings, they decide to have the children pretend to belong to Donovan until the Doc returns so that he can tell Amelia himself. Elizabeth Allen plays the snobbish Bostonian perfectly. She turns up her nose and men like Donovan and claims that if he is an example of fathers she is glad she never knew hers. She has a change of heart however when she does meet him and sees with her own eyes all the good he has done for the people of Haleakaloha. Also during this time she falls in love with Donovan and figures out that "his kids" are really her half siblings. She welcomes them with open arms.

The cast in another promo shot.

So where else does Dorothy Lamour come in? Miss LaFleur works at Donovan's Reef. She has some of the best lines in the film.

Amelia runs into Fleur at a shop while looking for a bathing suit. Fleur is looking at a wedding gown. "Are you contemplating matrimony?" Amelia asks. "What young girl my age doesn't contemplate matrimony" Fleur shoots back (she is quite obviously in her 40s).

In another scene, Fleur is singing at the bar. When she is done, she does to sit with the Marquis. He orders her champagne. Fleur quickly says "No no no no, my voice. A slug of gin, if you please." You really have to hear her say it. Her line delivery is comedy at its best.

She also sings "Silent Night" for the Christmas pageant.

She starts singing at 2:50

There's another humorous scene at the end of the film but you'll have to watch it for yourself.

Though Lamour isn't in much of the movie, it just wouldn't be Donovan's Reef without her. I wish I could include a compilation of her clips in the movie, as my little review really doesn't do her justice, but I have no idea how to do that. It's hard to describe comedy.

A behind-the-scenes photo with the Duke.
Miss Lamour's contribution is slight, but she obviously
appreciates the free-and-easy spirit of the whole wacky affair.

Fun Facts:

Lamour's muumuu was borrowed from John Ford's wife, cutting down on costume costs (I'm guessing the yellow one).

Donovan's Reef was filmed mostly on Kaua'i, Hawaii.  The home of the French island governor is the Allerton Estate home and former summer residence of Hawaiian Queen Emma near Poipu Beach, now a part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden (without the scenes of boats and canoes on the Wailua River, which were edited and merged with scenes filmed at the Allerton Estate). Other locations on the Island included Waimea Canyon, Hanamaulu Bay, and Ahukini Pier.

John Wayne's son, Patrick Wayne, appears briefly in two scenes, one at the bar where he breaks up a fight, and at the Christmas pageant.

The yacht in the film belonged to John Ford. It was named the 'Araner,' a name used in the film for one of the ships.

This was John Wayne and John Ford's last film together.

Don't forget to read all of the other posts on Dorothy Lamour!


  1. I've never seen this one, but I want to do so now! Great to hear how enthusiastic you are about this film. A shame Lamour doesn't have much screen time but I'd still like to see it.

    1. All of her lines are memorable. I hope you get a chance to watch it soon! Thanks for reading :)

  2. I'm another one who hasn't seen Donovan's Reef. It sounds terrific, with this cast. (Loved the clip you posted of Lee Marvin's arrival on the island. Marvin is magnificent here.)

    I can well imagine this film wouldn't be the same without Dorothy L. She was a great straight man, but was also a fab comedienne. You've made me want to see this right away! (I'll be digging through my DVDs as soon as I've caught up on my blog reading... Fingers crossed!)

    Thanks so much for joining The Dot Blogathon, and for bringing Donovan's Reef to the party!

    1. I hope you find it! It's one that you can watch over and over again. And Marvin is hilarious - a precursor of what was to come in Cat Ballou.

  3. Great review. I saw this as a kid and I immediately wanted to move to Hawaii and be as glamorous as Dorothy

    1. Thanks! I know, how awesome would that be :)

  4. I love this movie! I watch it every time I see it on TV. MOVIES!channel shows it frequently.