22 September 2005 | documain-1
This is why you go to the movies. Because it's fun.
Donovan's Reef is fun. It has a decent story, good characters, and stunning scenery. This is why you go to the movies, isn't it? If compared against Ford's acknowledged masterpieces, Dononvan's Reef does not measure up, but measured against other escapist films, it is a great movie. John Wayne's performance is consistently good, and as always, believable. Wayne was so real in his films, that he is never considered to be a good actor, but if you look at his body of work, you have to admit he could do it all. His Guns Donovan character is certainly up to snuff, and he does well with what he has. His interaction with Lee Marvin as Boats Gilhooley is as good as any of his other brawling, head-butting clashes with legends like Ward Bond or Victor McGlaglen. Lee Marvin is very funny and clever in his scenes, and very rarely over the top. He could always deliver on a character that was supposed to be likable, but mentally ill.
Aside from the fun, we have a significant plot element of prejudice considering the behavior of Guns, Boats, and Andre, where they hide the Doctor's half-caste Polynesian children from the All-White Bostonian daughter, Amelia. Paradoxically, we have Chinese stereotypes in the form of goofy looking morons with toothy grins and heavy accents. Still, in the end reason prevails in that the young Leilani shows wisdom beyond her years. When she sings a prayer of thanks to the goddess of the canyon where Guns chops down their Christmas tree, Amelia asks if she believes in gods and goddesses. Leilani replies, "I believe in one God, as we all do, but I respect the customs and beliefs of my people." Amelia subsequently accepts the cultural differences with a gracious bow to Leilani, who is being honored as the last hereditary princess of the island. That is a nicely done scene.
If you focus on what Donovan's Reef isn't, it will be a disappointing film. If you enjoy it for what it is, you will have a great time.