Donovan’s Reef, for a director of John Ford’s stature, is a potboiler. Where Ford aficianados will squirm is during that occasional scene that reminds them this effort-less effort is the handiwork of the men who made Stagecoach and The Informer.
John Wayne, sailing along like a dreadnaught mothering a convoy of rowboats, conveys an exuberance to match the mayhem, moving from fracas to fracas, facing up to a gang of toughs or a belligerent Boston beauty with equal courage. The only demand made is on his muscles.
Lee Marvin, since their last excursion, has had his reins tightened by Ford. This is only a comic menace where once a malevolent terror smouldered. Jack Warden’s role hints at earlier greater prominence, edited down to harmless support and irritating in its omissions.
Ford, best when he’s faced with an unknown talent, brings out the ability of Elizabeth Allen, a darkling beauty. She’s delightful as a Boston ice cube whose melting point is Wayne. Cesar Romero and Dorothy Lamour are the victims of acute scriptitis although Dick Foran is briefly impressive as an Australian naval officer.
The visual beauty of Kauai, in northern Hawaii, is captured by William Clothier’s photography. Frank Nugent (an old Ford hand) and James Edward Grant’s script [from a story by Edmund Beloin] has more holes in it than Liberty Valance. They’ve created a paradisical setting, ‘somewhere in the South Pacific’, ruled by a native princess; governed by the French; protected by the Australian navy; ‘run’ by expatriate Americans; and peopled by a league of national types.