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HURRICANE, THE (director: John Ford; screenwriters: Oliver H.P. Garrett/from the novel by James Norman Hall and Charles Nordhoff/Ben Hecht/Dudley Nichols; cinematographer: Bert Glennon; editor: Lloyd Nosler; music: Alfred Newman; cast: Dorothy Lamour (Marama), Jon Hall (Terangi), Mary Astor (Madame Germaine De Laage), Jerome Cowan (Captain Nagle), C. Aubrey Smith (Father Paul), Thomas Mitchell (Dr. Kersaint), Raymond Massey (Gov. Eugene De Laage), Al Kikume (Chief Mehevi), John Carradine (Jailer), Kuulei De Clercq (Tita), William Davidson (White Man), Spencer Charters (Judge); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Samuel Goldwyn/Merritt Hulburd; United Artists; 1937)
“The highlight of this scenic black and white romantic South Seas tale is the 15 minute hurricane sequence at the climax.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The highlight of this scenic black and white romantic South Seas tale is the 15 minute hurricane sequence at the climax created by special effects wizard James Basevi (noted for his earthquakes in the 1936 “San Francisco”). Till the spectacular finale, there’s mostly filler that includes the eye candy of following Dorothy Lamour as a native running around the island in a sarong and romancing native seaman Jon Hall and the prosaic melodrama of the contrast between strict European punishment to the Polynesian childlike love of freedom from such confinements. The non-disaster part of the plot tells about a draconian French governor, Eugene De Laage (Raymond Massey), who as a colonialist dishes out injustice to the natives.

This early disaster film is directed by John Ford (“The Grapes of Wrath”/”Stagecoach”/”The Long Voyage Home”) and is based on the novel by James Norman Hall and Charles Nordhoff that was first serialized in The Saturday Evening Post. The screenplay is by Oliver H.P. Garrett, Ben Hecht and Dudley Nichols. It won for Thomas Moulton an Academy Award for Best Sound, Recording.

It’s set on the South Pacific island of Manukura and is framed around the character of Dr. Kersaint (Thomas Mitchell), who returns to the island after it was destroyed by a hurricane and in flashback relates to a fellow female ship passenger the beautiful island’s narrative.

It opens with the governor sentencing against the advice of Dr. Kersaint a native to thirty days hard labor for stealing a canoe. The schooner of Captain Nagle (Jerome Cowan) arrives bringing to the island Germaine (Mary Astor), the wife of the island’s newly appointed law and order governor, Eugene DeLaage. Also aboard is the first mate, Terangi (Jon Hall, a relative of coauthor James Norman Hall), who plans to marry Chief Mehevi’s (Al Kikume) pretty daughter Marama (Dorothy Lamour) that day, which is presided over by Father Paul (C. Aubrey Smith) at a big luau ceremony. After a brief honeymoon Terangi sails for Tahiti. At a local bar, a bullying white man (William Davidson) provokes a fight. Terangi, in self-defense, breaks his jaw, as a result is sentenced by a judge (Spencer Charters) to six-months in jail. Nagle, Dr. Kersaint, Father Paul and Germaine argue that this is virtually a death sentence to a free-spirited Manukuran native, but the Tahitian governor says he’s pressured to enforce the sentence because the white man has powerful friends. When trying to escape, Terangi’s captured and a year is added onto his sentence. After being confined for 16 years because of numerous attempts to escape, and never seeing his daughter Tita, Terangi fakes an attempt to hang himself and escapes, but inadvertently kills the guard with a knockout punch. It leads to DeLaage trying to hunt him down during a hurricane. Terangi, who traveled 600 miles across the sea to be with his loved ones in Manukura, ties his family and Germaine to a giant tree to try and fend off the 150 mile an hour winds.

The background footage was shot in the village of Pago Pago on Tutuila island in the American Samoa, but the main part of the picture was shot on a Hollywood sound stage on orders from producer Samuel Goldwyn who wanted complete control over the big-budget $2 million film. It results in an efficient and entertaining work, but hardly an interesting one. It was a forerunner of the popular blockbuster disaster films from the 1970s on. The entire hurricane sequence, easily the film’s best scene, was filmed by second unit director Stuart Heisler and James Basevi.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”