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Paramount Studios presents
Donovan's Reef (1963)

"If you're typical of all fathers, suddenly I realize how grateful I am never to have seen my own."
- Amelia Dedham (Elizabeth Allen)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: July 04, 2001

Stars: John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Elizabeth Allen, Jack Warden
Other Stars: Cesar Romero, Dick Foran, Dorothy Lamour, Jacqueline Malouf, Edgar Buchanan
Director: John Ford

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (comic violence, chainsmoking, drunkenness)
Run Time: 01h:48m:30s
Release Date: June 05, 2001
UPC: 097360622041
Genre: romantic comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C- D+B+A- D

DVD Review

Sometimes when you're watching a movie, you get the feeling that the cast and crew probably had a better time making the film than you're having watching it. That certainly seems to be the case with Donovan's Reef, which seems to have been made solely as an excuse for John Ford, John Wayne and Lee Marvin to head to the South Seas, drink, smoke and generally raise hell.

The thin story centers on a group of three Navy veterans who end up on tiny Haleakaloha Island in the South Pacific during World War II and decide to stay. The ringleader is saloonkeeper Michael "Guns" Donovan (Wayne). His co-owner of the bar, Donovan's Reef, is Tom Gilhooley (Lee Marvin), and the local doctor is William Dedham (Jack Warden). Dedham has fled the blue blood life of Boston for simplicity, leaving behind a daughter, Amelia (Elizabeth Allen), that he's never seen. When a relative dies, the family business goes to the doc, but a clause in the will deprives him of the inheritance if he is not living a life of good Bostonian moral character. Amelia decides to go gather evidence against her fugitive father herself. Since her father has begotten several children off a now-deceased native princess without benefit of clergy, Donovan and Gilhooley conspire to keep Amelia in the dark by pretending that the children are Donovan's. Hijinks ensue.

I had a hard time deciding the genre for this review. Although it's obviously intended to be a comedy, there's precious little that's funny about it. The transformation of Amelia from snooty rich girl to earthy woman falling in love with Wayne (eeuuuwww) is predictable and clumsy. The numerous drunken brawls are occasionally amusing in a poorly-done slapstick manner quickly becomes tiresome.

The movie is far too long as well; the Christmas service scene seems to go on and on forever, even though it hardly has any relevance at all to the story and is just dreary. The music score is quite Mickey Mousey throughout and doesn't add much to the viewing experience. Weirdest of all is the reference several times to aging and dowdy Dorothy Lamour as a 'young girl'. I'll have what they're drinking, please. When we add on top of all that a dozen different negative oriental/Polynesian stereotypes, the whole thing just leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the modern viewer.

Wayne is stiff as always, though he does manage to work in his recurrent fetish for spanking his female co-stars. Lee Marvin foreshadows his drunken role in Cat Ballou rather well here, making a convincing inebriate (not that that's hard to do). Jack Warden barely gets any screen time at all, despite his fourth billing, and he doesn't do anything interesting with it at all, just playing the stoic wooden doctor. Cesar Romero is delightfully over the top as the governor of the island who keeps trying to seduce Amelia, and Edgar Buchanan has a charming but tiny role as the attorney for the Dedham family who tells it like it is. Jacqueline Malouf is utterly charming as Lelani, Dedham's eldest daughter. But these are unfortunately very minor parts and can't support the sagging weight of the lackluster starring performances and the lame script.

If we just write this one off as Ford and Wayne looking for an excuse to drink rum in the South Seas and waste celluloid with Paramount's money, then the whole thing makes much more sense.

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: D+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Overall, this is a very attractive anamorphic transfer. Colors are vivid and often eye-popping. The source material is practically flawless, with only the occasional tiny speckle to make one remember that this isn't a new film. Shadow detail is excellent, and the blacks are rich and nicely textured. The picture is a little on the soft and dupey side, without crispness. However, there isn't any edge enhancement, and the picture should look fine on televisions under 30" in size.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono English soundtrack is quite good indeed. There is absolutely no hiss or noise to be heard. Dialogue is clear and natural-sounding throughout, except in a few spots that are badly dubbed to begin with. The music sounds full for a mono track with decent bass extension.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The sole extra is a trailer that only emphasizes how good the transfer of the film looks. Worn and slightly faded, it is a major contrast to the feature itself.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

A lame and unfunny mess of a movie, given a good, though slightly soft, transfer. The only extra is a trailer. For John Wayne devotees only.


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