Donovan’s Reef (1963)

20 03 2009

As I expected, this is a pretty lightweight late effort from John Ford. Nothing really noteworthy, but not a terrible way to spend 108 minutes, either. It’s good that it doesn’t take itself seriously at all, because honestly, it’s one of the silliest films I’ve ever watched. Right from start, it’s evident that this was a fun and easygoing project from Ford, Wayne, and Lee Marvin. Maybe all of them were reeling from the success of  The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance? Whatever the case, this was a rather relaxing experience having viewed some of Ford’s more ponderous efforts lately.

On a technical level, there’s nothing really special, either. In all honesty, I think Ford lost a lot of Murnau’s influence once color and wide screen came the norm for the studio system. There’s something dreadfully simple about almost all of his post-60s efforts. It’s not that he isn’t trying, but more that his content, as well as his film stock, doesn’t exactly scream expressive. This is especially the case here, where the visuals are very bright, but thankfully, not gaudy. At best, the visuals here remind me of Ozu’s color efforts. It probably doesn’t hurt that the Hawaiian music has the same laid back tone as the music in most of Ozu’s later films.

Laid back and easygoing are pretty good adjectives for the film as a whole. There’s plenty of “flaws” I suppose, but it doesn’t seem like anyone who was working on the production cares. In that case, I suppose this definitely is “fluff” but there’s something much more genuine and sincere about a phoned-in effort from 1960s Hollywood than there is in a recent trashy studio effort. It’s escapist entertainment, and it definitely understands its function as such. There is no attempt at being anything more than what it is. If that sounds vague, then I’d recommend just watching the movie. It’s an enjoyable experience, and I’d guarantee that one is  likely to feel better afterwards.

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One response

29 03 2009
Livius

Yes, it’s a fun, relaxing movie. I don’t like to criticise this one too much; Ford was getting older and starting to feel out of touch with a changing America at this time. Donovan’s Reef just seems like his way of trying to escape and recapture some of the simplicity of the past – and I think it would be petty to begrudge him that.

Great blog by the way – keep up the good work.

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