Donovan's Reef

Donovan's Reef

4.6 8
Director: John Ford

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


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John Ford's final film with John Wayne has had an up-and-down reputation since its release in 1962. Although it made money at the box office, most critics at the time were disappointed by Donovan's Reef, thinking it more of a vacation indulgence by Ford than a serious effort, and nowhere near in the same league with She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Quiet…  See more details below


John Ford's final film with John Wayne has had an up-and-down reputation since its release in 1962. Although it made money at the box office, most critics at the time were disappointed by Donovan's Reef, thinking it more of a vacation indulgence by Ford than a serious effort, and nowhere near in the same league with She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Quiet Man, or The Searchers. Be that as it may, the film's reputation has risen in recent decades as viewers and scholars have come to see it as an extension of Ford's wartime films with Wayne, most notably They Were Expendable, as well as being related thematically (albeit distantly) to films such as Sergeant Rutledge and Cheyenne Autumn. Moreover, its warmth and seriousness now seem more relevant -- among other attributes, Donovan's Reef displays more honest feeling about World War II in a handful of scenes than Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor does in nearly three hours of screen time. The previous video incarnations of the movie have been faded and washed out, and were hardly worth watching, much less owning; even the laserdisc was an old transfer dating from the early '80s. The film-to-video transfer on the DVD, however, is just a little short of excellent, capturing far more of the radiant color in William H. Clothier's cinematography, though one suspects that a full restoration from original elements would yield even better results. Equally important, the theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 has been restored, framing the action perfectly. Nowhere does this help more than during the discussion scene between Jack Warden and Elizabeth Allen in chapter 12, where the careful cutting and the choice of camera angles, recaptured here in their precise theatrical configuration, enhances the psychological side of the conversation immeasurably. The clarity of the audio track also lends itself to Ford's intended immersion of his audience in the film's idyllic Polynesian setting. The movie is divided into 17 well-chosen chapters that mark out all of the key scenes perfectly, and are accessible individually through an easy to use menu. The only bonus feature is the original trailer, which is interesting for the way that it simplifies the story -- selling the movie short in some respects -- and misidentifies the meaning of the movie's title.

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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.

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Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Region Code:
[Wide Screen]
[Dolby Digital, monaural]

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

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Scene Index

Side #1 --
0. Scene Selection
1. Haleakaloha Island [5:58]
2. Gilhooley [4:39]
3. Happy Birthday [8:02]
4. Good Moral Character [5:17]
5. Miss Dedham From Boston [8:34]
6. Father's House [6:54]
7. Rivals [7:15]
8. Meet The Family [5:23]
9. Water Skiing [4:52]
10. Beliefs And Customs [5:47]
11. Maneuvers [7:08]
12. The Doctor's Homecoming [7:35]
13. Christmas Pageant [7:46]
14. The Truth [3:28]
15. Noble Allies [6:51]
16. Royal Reception [6:25]
17. Pax [6:30]

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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
We just love watching this movie. Love John Wayne and Hawaii. It is just entertaiment
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
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago