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Donovan's Reef

Donovan's Reef

4.6 8
Director: John Ford, John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Jack Warden

Cast: John Ford, John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Jack Warden


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John Ford's last film to deal with World War II, Donovan's Reef is an alternately comical and sentimental look back on the fighting Navy men from that war, and how and where -- in Ford's eyes, and Frank Nugent and James Edward Grant's script -- they should have ended up. Michael "Guns" Donovan (John Wayne), Thomas "Boats" Gilhooley (Lee Marvin), and Dr. William Dedham


John Ford's last film to deal with World War II, Donovan's Reef is an alternately comical and sentimental look back on the fighting Navy men from that war, and how and where -- in Ford's eyes, and Frank Nugent and James Edward Grant's script -- they should have ended up. Michael "Guns" Donovan (John Wayne), Thomas "Boats" Gilhooley (Lee Marvin), and Dr. William Dedham (Jack Warden), a trio of navy veterans who fought on the Pacific island of Haleakalowa during the war, now live on the island. Donovan and Gilhooley, biding time and enjoying themselves, engage in rough-house hijinks among themselves, and are both part of the doctor's extended family, enjoying the good will of the islanders for whom they fought during the war. While Dedham is away on a call to a neighboring island, his grown daughter, Amelia (Elizabeth Allen), from his first marriage, whom he has never seen, announces that she is arriving from Boston to determine Dedham's fitness of character to inherit the majority shares in the family shipping business. Donovan contrives to present Dedham's three Polynesian children, whom the doctor had with the island's hereditary princess, as his own, and also squires Amelia around the island in her father's absence. In the process, the cold Bostonian woman discovers a whole world -- of passion, joy, heroism, and a life among men and women whose lives have been about something other than making money -- that she's never known. She also understands all of the good that her father has accomplished away from Boston, even though it entailed abandoning her. Sparks and even a few fists fly between Donovan and Amelia (and between Donovan and several other characters), in the usual Ford rough-house manner, before their eventual reconciliation and a romantic clinch at the end, in this sweet, sentimental comedy-drama.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
Donovan's Reef is one of John Ford's most misunderstood and underrated movies. On its original release, critics dismissed it as a leisurely comedy done with no obvious purpose other than to give the Ford stock company something not too difficult to do in Hawaii. It is not among Ford's very best movies, to be sure, and its apparent shortcomings, including John Wayne being awkwardly cast opposite a leading lady 23 years his junior, are more obvious than its virtues, but those virtues do stand out over time. Forty years after it was made, it is far easier to perceive where Donovan's Reef fits in, properly and even proudly, with Ford's broader output, and Wayne's as well. One must think of Donovan's Reef as being of a piece with They Were Expendable and Ford's other navy films, almost in the way that Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and Rio Grande relate to each other as cavalry movies with somewhat similar (and similarly named) characters, often played by the same actors in each; but Donovan's Reef is also different in the way it relates to They Were Expendable, from the way that She Wore a Yellow Ribbon relates to Rio Grande, in that Donovan's Reef takes place a generation after the events in They Were Expendable. Ford -- who was a navy man through and through (and held the rank of rear admiral in the reserves) -- and screenwriters Frank Nugent and James Edward Grant were telling a story of the kind of men whose lives Ford had captured in They Were Expendable, and where they were (or where they would have liked for them to have been) 20 years later. The movie is filled with autumnal images referring back to World War II, and to the people who fought it, but it also has a fiercely topical edge, a subplot involving racism, that is almost overlooked today. The movie was made in Hawaii, and most have forgotten that the struggle to get Hawaii admitted as a state of the United States took many years, because the racial composition of the islands' population made Hawaii unsuitable -- in the eyes of many of members of Congress in the 1950s -- as a state of the United States. Ford was cognizant of issues of racism and prejudice throughout this career as a filmmaker, although as an old-fashioned conservative, his ways of addressing them sometimes seem arcane or obscure to modern liberals; but in the final 15 years of his career, in movies ranging from Fort Apache through The Sun Shines Bright to The Horse Soldiers and (most obviously) Sergeant Rutledge, through Donovan's Reef to Cheyenne Autumn, he took on these subjects in ways that the most passionate liberals could applaud. The movie has its weaknesses, mostly as a result of the advancing age of all concerned -- a lot of the "stock company" that would have been in it in prior years, including Ward Bond and Victor McLaglen, were gone -- and the director himself was in ill health (some accounts say that Wayne took it upon himself to check the rushes every day to make sure that everything had been done right). John Wayne was also getting on in years, still, he did well in one of the most effective comic performances of his career, and one of his last truly sentimental portrayals, and slipped effortlessly into a more serious mode when it was called for in the action; and Lee Marvin, Jack Warden, and Elizabeth Allen added a lot of energy to the movie. Over the years, Donovan's Reef has aged very well, exuding passion, sentimentality, patriotism, and the frustrations and the joys of advancing age, everything Ford ever wanted in the movie to begin with.

Product Details

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Original Release:
Paramount Catalog
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Special Features

Closed Caption; Theatrical trailer

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
John Wayne Michael Patrick "Guns" Donovan
Lee Marvin Thomas Aloysius "Boats" Gilhooley
Jack Warden Dr. William Dedham
Elizabeth Allan Ameilia Sarah Dedham
Elizabeth Allen Amelia Sarah Dedham
Dick Foran Australian Navy Officer
Cesar Romero Marquis Andre de Lage
Dorothy Lamour Miss Lafleur
Jacqueline Malouf Lelani Dedham
Mike Mazurki Sgt. Menkowicz
Marcel Dalio Father Cluzeot
Tim Stafford Luki Dedham
Carmen Estrabeau Sister Gabrielle
Frank Baker Capt. Martin
Edgar Buchanan Boston notary
Harold Fong Actor
Jon Fong Mister Eu
Duke Green Mate
Sam Harris Family council member
Fred Jones Family council member
June Kim Actor
Cheryline Lee Sally Dedham
Carl Leviness Actor
King Lockwood Lawyer
Cliff Lyons Officer
Mae Marsh Family council member
Midori Servant
Ron Nyman Naval Officer
Yvonne Peattie Sister Matthew
Chuck Roberson Festus
Scott Seaton Actor
Charles Seel Grand uncle Sedley Atterbury
John Stafford Child
Sara Taft Family council member
Ralph Volkie James
Patrick Wayne Aussie Officer,Navy Lieutenant
Aissa Wayne Native girl

Technical Credits
John Ford Director,Producer
James A. Michener Source Author
William H. Clothier Cinematographer
Sam Comer Set Decoration/Design
Farciot Edouart Special Effects
James Edward Grant Screenwriter
Edith Head Costumes/Costume Designer
Eddie Imazu Art Director
Paul K. Lerpae Special Effects
Otho Lovering Editor
Cyril Mockridge Score Composer
Gary Morris Makeup
Frank S. Nugent Screenwriter
Webb Overlander Makeup
Hal Pereira Art Director
William H. Reynolds Makeup
Darrell Silvera Set Decoration/Design
Wingate Smith Asst. Director
Irvin Talbot Musical Direction/Supervision
Frank Westmore Makeup

Scene Index

Disc #1 -- Donovan's Reef
1. Chapter 1
2. Chapter 2
3. Chapter 3
4. Chapter 4
5. Chapter 5
6. Chapter 6
7. Chapter 7
8. Chapter 8
9. Chapter 9
10. Chapter 10
11. Chapter 11
12. Chapter 12
13. Chapter 13
14. Chapter 14
15. Chapter 15
16. Chapter 16
17. Chapter 17

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Donovan's Reef 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Donovan's Reef is a movie that I can set and watch when ever it is on TV. Not intended as a Christmas movie but enjoyable anytime of the year
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this Movie.... I would recommend to anyone.
MTTechSector More than 1 year ago
This is a movie for the entire family or for the single person looking for a good wholesome laugh! It does not leave you emotionally or mentally drained. It will be a DVD that you will find yourself wanting to see more than once and not feel ashamed of bringing out when respectable company comes over. It isn't the usual John Wayne shoot-em-up movie, but a classic within its rights. There is a great cast of actors and good story line that is easy to follow and more importantly: BE ENTERTAINED BY.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first saw this movie when I was 15 years old, at Christmas. Our family watched it every Christmas while I was home. 15 years later, I still watch it for Christmas (and several times throughout the year) with my children... who also love it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
We just love watching this movie. Love John Wayne and Hawaii. It is just entertaiment
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago