Donovan's Reef - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Donovan's Reef Reviews

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May 12, 2016
Donovan's Reef is an excellent film. It is about dealing with moral issues such as racial bigotry, corporate greed, American belief of societal superiority and hypocrisy. John Wayne and Lee Marvin give amazing performances. The screenplay is well written. John Ford did a great job directing this movie. I enjoyed watching this motion picture because of the adventure and humor. Donovan's Reef is a must see.
December 14, 2015
My favorite movie with John Wayne
January 19, 2015
DR is my favorite movie...bar none! This movie brings you back to a time when Hollywood wasn't afraid to make movies about real, testosterone fueled, party hard and play hard men!!!!
December 12, 2014
classic Duke non-western... classic Lee Marvin tough guy schtick... hokey lines... cartoon character humor... But ya gotta love it.
November 11, 2014
A very entertaining film that doesn't take life too seriously... Paradise Lost--Ford and Wayne's last Hurrah! with Marvin... Sunny, Breezy, Flipping Delightful, Brawling Comedy!!
June 2, 2014
an undemanding watch that definitely entertains
April 20, 2014
ford's last WWII pic way post WWII
½ January 13, 2012
While The Searchers and Quiet Man have been regarded as director John Ford's finest, I find Donovan's Reef to be the director's under-appreciated gem, a hilarious and beautiful picture worthy of repeated viewing; to this day, it remains my favorite collaboration between John Ford and John Wayne, and the quintessential definition of the term screwball, romantic comedy. The film contains colorful characters well-played by well-known performers, as well as the most breathtaking landscapes I've ever seen in a film mostly played for laughs, (the only other film similar to this is the panoramic sweeps of John Ford's Hatari.) While the duration of the film is taken by the legendary Duke, who owns a local, rowdy saloon, the heart and driving force of the story is adequately fulfilled by Elizabeth Allen's Amelia Dedham; the prissy, wealthy Bostonian journeys to the fictitious, picturesque island of Haleakaloha to checkmate the local doctor, (Jack Warden,) who also happens to be her biological father. You see, in accordance to the rigid, almighty governing rulebook at the Dedham Shipping Company, a certain Dedham may or may not receive his portion of company stock, and solitary control, of the company if he clearly does not "behaving in a way suitable for Boston standards." Amelia's quest is to deceitfully prove "Doc" Dedham has had an affair with a luscious South-Sea girl in a colorful sarong. Her clever scheme backfires in part by Guns Donovan and his scene-stealing navy chum, Thomas Gilhooley, (played by a Lee Marvin who behaves like he had an overdose of cane sugar.) The two men hatch this lame plot to conceal both Doc Denham's three children and, more importantly, his marriage to the last heiress of the island kingdom, Princess Manulani; much of the film hilariously portrays the unraveling of this plan, as Doc Dedham's three cute kids are unceremoniously taken by Guns Donovan, not the most convincing father figure. Along the way, Amelia softens up to island living, and ultimately becomes smitten with Donovan himself, after a series of embarrassing love-hate encounters, which often involved her falling flat on her ass or getting soaked with sea water like a saturated sink sponge. The film does a great job in the fun department, as story and plot remain flexibly loose, allowing for much slapstick, verbal fireworks, and relationship meltdowns. In addition to Amelia's humiliating encounters, the island of Haleakaloha also offers a nutty, French-speaking priest who owns a leaky chapel, a brash, egotistical louse after Amelia's fortune, (who happens to be the island's governor and played by, who else? Caesar Ramero.) The film also features several signature John Ford bar fights, complete with flying glass, pianos falling on people's heads Tex Avery-style, and wine bottles smashing onto people's noggins with no real consequences. On the negative side, typical with several John Wayne films produced in this era, there are stereotypes which many audiences may feel uncomfortable watching, particularly jokes poking fun at the local Chinese population; these individuals are either chattery comics or, in the case of the Governor's assistant Mr. Eu, secretive schemers. But I find these stereotypes watchable because practically every White character does not escape the same finger-pointing mockery; in fact, one persistent theme of Donovan's Reef is the idiocy and imperfect nature of salty military men, who are caricatured even MORE than non-Anglos. This is clearly see in Act I, in which Gilhooley jumps ship and swims all way to Haleakaloha just to egg on a traditional, 20-year punching contest with Donovan for the singular reason that they mutually despise the indisputable fact that both share the same birthday; neither man is able to remember the reason or origin of this hurtful tradition; when forced to concede and shake hands, they do so grudgingly, not unlike five-year-old boys caught in a playground brawl. Despite being released in 1963, I found that the film actually does a darned decent job at handing issues or racism and bigotry. While ultimately screwing with reality and all things serious in life, Donovan's Reef is, fantastically, twenty years ahead of its time, regarding progressive messages of racial tolerance and multiculturalism. The rigid attitudes of Dedham's Shipping Company remains the hub of all humor, and is ultimately overturned when Donovan "makes a human being" out of Amelia, by placing her over his strong knee and gives her a good whacking job over the backside in the second-to-last scene in the film. In addition, the eldest and most mature of the three kids, Lelani, has one strikingly poignant moment when she flees to her room in tears, heartbroken that she would not be allowed to see her white, half-sister Amelia, on the basis of adult prejudice towards her skin color. In addition to addressing racism, Amelia's character was a somewhat strong female character, (at least in in the early 60's.) As mentioned in beginning of this review, Elizabeth Allen's character seems to be the crux of the story, though filmmakers wisely told the story through more the most colorful characters Donovan and Gilhooley, (who at one point are trying to drown each other each other in an artificial, outdoor lily pond.) She spends much of the last half of the film discovering answers for herself, rather than being told; she sees through the lies created by the scheming, deceiving ex-military men, and independently learns the truth about her father, Doc Dedham, and her siblings' tie with the legendary Princess Manulani
January 12, 2013
A much better version of a movie from John Ford and John Wayne in the same year, "McLintock!", wherein John Ford "tames" a woman--in this case, she's not so headstrong as she is stuck up. There's also a terrific bar scene late in the film.
May 5, 2012
Love love love this film... Give me abit of John Wayne anyday....
½ April 2, 2012
All the leads have great comedic chemistry and lead by John Wayne's constant charisma, Donovan's Reef succeeds in bring together all the elements of a good Wayne film - comedy, drama, and action.
½ March 12, 2012
Nothing like watching John Wayne spank a woman and then make out with her like there's nothing wrong. O.o...
½ August 22, 2011
Decent film from Ford. Wayne and Marvin does great physical Comedy.
August 26, 2008
A flawed film, certainly, but also an enormously beautiful one. It seems like simple, frivolous fun at first, but I also found it quite moving. I love the setting, above all else. The film is set on a small island in the Pacific where elements from a handful of cultures have been mixing for many years already. There are the Polynesians who originally inhabited the island, the Japanese who took it over during WWII, the French who established a mission there, the Americans who washed up there after their ship was sunk during WWII, the Australians who occasionally dock there, and the various Asians who have established themselves there. Perhaps the most beautiful scene takes place on Christmas Eve, where all the people of the island celebrate in a joyously syncretic festival. "Silent Night" is sung first in the Polynesian and then in English. During a Nativity play, the three wisemen are the ancient Polynesian king of the island, then the emperor of China, and then the king of America. After the king of America delivers his gift (a broken phonograph), a cloud bursts into torrential rains that easily penetrate through the roof. The audience unfurls a gorgeous rainbow of umbrellas. This sequence brought me to tears.

The film's problem is its plot. It seems to just want to exist in its state of sheer beauty, but is worried that its audience will walk out if they aren't spoonfed a conventional romantic plot. A young, would-be heiress from Boston, Ameilia (Elizabeth Allen), goes to this tropical paradise to find the father whom she has never met. She was born near the beginning of WWII, and her father, although he had survived, had decided against coming home. Now he stands to inherit millions of dollars unless she can prove that he is morally undeserving of the inheritance. When she arrives, she finds not her father but his friend, "Guns" Donovan, who owns a local saloon, Donovan's Reef. Donovan is afraid that an uptight Boston woman would immediately reject her father, who has since had three children by a Polynesian princess. The most cliched part of the plot has to do with the burgeoning relationship between Donovan and Ameilia. It's basically adopted straight from The Quiet Man, which is, despite its fame, one of my least favorite of Ford's films. Not too much time is wasted on this part of the plot, and what is there isn't too bad. Lee Marvin and Cesar Romero have really nice supporting roles, as well. In fact, Lee Marvin is so funny in his role that I almost wish he had more scenes. 9/10.
December 23, 2010
Love this movie! A fun, different holiday themed flick!
½ July 4, 2009
I can't claim to have seen all Ford's films but i have seen a lot of them and this is my least favourite thus far.
December 15, 2010
Another teaming of the Johns, Ford and Wayne. Although this has to be their lightest collaboration ever in terms of tone. It's very feel good, and pretty much an auto-pilot endeavor for its director and star.
June 18, 2005
DONOVAN'S REEF (1963)
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