Donovan's Reef (1963)

John Wayne and Elizabeth Allen in Donovan's Reef (1963)

Wayne and Allen Tie the Reef Knot

Mike 'Guns' Donovan (John Wayne) has a simple life on the island of Haleokaloa where he enjoys nothing more than drinking and getting rowdy with his friends including old war buddy Thomas Aloysius 'Boats' Gilhooley (Lee Marvin) who shows up to carry on a 22 year tradition of celebrating their joint birthday. But when Ameilia (Elizabeth Allen), the high society daughter of Dr. William Dedham (Jack Warden), arrives on Haleokaloa Donovan's easy going life gets shaken up as whilst falling for the feisty Ameilia he also ends up trying to hide the fact that her father has three more children on the island that she knows nothing about.

"Donovan's Reef" was to be the last proper movie that John Wayne and John Ford made together and compared to some of their earlier collaborations it is undeniably weak. But it is also fun with Wayne and Ford recycling character types and story elements from their various other movies and delivering them in a simple, action packed, romantic comedy. It is very much a movie for those who just enjoy watching John Wayne being John Wayne because there is no depth to it, no stunning cinematography and you could almost describe it as being a throw away movie. But with Lee Marvin delivering a scene stealing performance as Thomas Aloysius 'Boats' Gilhooley "Donovan's Reef" does what it sets out to do and that is make you laugh.

Lee Marvin in Donovan's Reef (1963)

Now whilst "Donovan's Reef" starts with some action comedy as we become aware of the tradition between Donovan and Gilhooley of getting drunk and having an almighty fight on their joint birthday the real story revolves around the arrival of Ameilia to the island of Haleokaloa. On one hand we have the comedy of Donovan falling for the forthright Ameilia and on the other we have Donovan trying to cover for her father surroundinf the three other children he has which Ameilia knows nothing about. And yes that it is a recipe for confusion and romantic tribulations when the truth comes out. Well I did say that "Donovan's Reef" felt like it was recycling things and the storyline is one of them but it is still entertaining.

That entertainment starts with the drunken buddy comedy of having John Wayne and Lee Marvin in a movie together and develops to the chalk n cheese comedy of Donovan and Ameilia. Again it isn't anything new and ironically John Wayne followed this movie up with "McLintock!" which would see him playing a similar sort of character and fine tuning it to be even more entertaining. I wish I could be more enthusiastic as "Donovan's Reef" is entertaining but every single part of it is familiar and has that feel of being cherry picked from another movie and slapped together as those involved fancied some fun in the sun on a Pacific island.

What this all boils down to is that "Donovan's Reef" whilst fun is just an average movie and very familiar with characters and storylines ending up similar to those that have appeared in other John Wayne movies. But it is fun and whilst it's all very obvious how the chalk n cheese relationship between Donovan and Ameilia will end up it has plenty of amusing scenes especially those which feature Lee Marvin who steals the show.