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By no stretch of the imagination is DONOVAN'S REEF ($30) John Wayne's finest motion picture. However, this enjoyable little film has always been a personal favorite. Honestly, I can't say how many times I've sat through DONOVAN'S REEF. If I were to combine how many times I watched the film on television, with how any time I watched my rare 3M Laserdisc pressing of the film- I would have to say the number would be considerable (if not ridiculous). So, what's the attraction of DONOVAN'S REEF? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that I find DONOVAN'S REEF to be a genuinely funny, good-natured film that consistently makes me laugh.

In DONOVAN'S REEF, John Wayne portrays Michael Patrick Donovan, a former navy man, who now resides on the small Pacific island, on which he spent a good portion of the Second World War. The island is also the home of Dr. William Dedham (Jack Warden), who also saw action on the same island and decided to remain after the war because there were no other doctors to care for the natives. As the film opens, Thomas Aloysius Gilhooley (Lee Marvin) making his yearly birthday visit to the island, so he can brawl with his old navy buddy Donovan, who just happens to share the same date of birth. No sooner do they finish their annual slugfest, when they learn that Doc Dedham's fully grown daughter Ameilia (Elizabeth Allen) will be arriving from Boston Massachusetts to pay her father an unexpected visit. Unfortunately, the Doc is making his rounds on the surrounding islands when his daughter arrives. This leads to an island wide conspiracy of hiding Doc Dedham’s three other children from the prim and proper Ameilia, instead of just springing her half siblings on her without her father being present. Donovan pretends that the doctor’s children are his, but his "fathering" only increases the antagonism that immediately develops between Donovan and Ameilia.

DONOVAN'S REEF is a fun movie that is loaded with elements, which by today's standards would be considered incredibly sexist and politically incorrect. Nevertheless, I have thoroughly enjoyed DONOVAN'S REEF every time I have seen it and wouldn't change a single frame. John Ford's assured direction is snappy and never lingers on a joke longer than necessary. John Wayne's persona is well suited to the film's brand of good-natured macho humor and his deadpan delivery makes much of the comedy even funnier. Lee Marvin also gets a lot of laughs in a performance that shows why he earned an Academy Award for CAT BALLOU. The fine cast of DONOVAN'S REEF also includes Cesar Romero, Dick Foran, Dorothy Lamour, Marcel Dalio, Mike Mazurki, Jacqueline Malouf, Cherylene Lee, Tim Stafford and Edgar Buchanan.

Paramount Home Entertainment has made DONOVAN'S REEF available on DVD in a 1.78:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. DONOVAN'S REEF has always been a good-looking movie that has held up well on broadcast television and the cropped Laserdisc edition. The DVD is the first time DONOVAN'S REEF has been seen with proper theatrical framing and seems far more cinematic in this release, than it has appeared in the past. William H. Clothier's marvelous tropical cinematography looks great on DVD, with the transfer providing a clean, crisp, nicely defined image. Colors are rather vibrant, coming close to recreating the look of an original Technicolor print. Flesh tones are rather appealing, without the overly "made up" appearance that is distinctly noticeable in a lot of older films. None of the strong, stable hues show any signs or noise or smearing. Blacks are accurately rendered, although shadow detail is a bit limited by the age of the production. The element used for the transfer shows very few blemishes and little noticeable grain, which sometimes makes this 1963 release look like a new movie. Digital compression artifacts never make their presence known on this cleanly authored DVD.

The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack does have the expected frequency limitations of a track of this vintage, yet the sound remains very appealing. The lilting island music has an infectious quality that makes one want to play it at higher volume levels, yet it never comes across as distorted. Dialogue reproduction is crisp and fully intelligible, plus all the voices maintain their distinct character. Overall, this is a very solid rendering of an older film soundtrack, with no flaws that would indicate that it has aged badly. A French monaural track is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English subtitles. The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a theatrical trailer.

In case you haven't guessed, I am a big fan of DONOVAN'S REEF and completely enjoyed the experience of seeing the film again on DVD. Paramount has done a really fine job with the DVD, so there is nothing to complain about on that front. John Wayne fans and film buffs in general will want to pick up a copy of this fine DVD.


Donovan's Reef


DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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