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Hurricane, The (Blu-ray Review)

30 Nov, 2015 By: Mike Clark

Kino Lorber
$19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Jon Hall, Dorothy Lamour, Raymond Massey, Mary Astor, Thomas Mitchell.

John Ford didn’t make enough South Sea island romances or comedies to fill more than an essay (forget books), but he did make a few, including Donovan’s Reef, in which Lee Marvin taught my 1963 adolescent self the insurance-policy value of roping a beer bottle to your wrist. And very much in that vein is the raucous Hawaii “liberty” setpiece in the troubled and thus co-directed movie of Mister Roberts, an interlude I’ve always believed Ford just had to have shot (someone may correct me, but it just doesn’t have a Mervyn LeRoy tone — not that here really was one after, say, Johnny Eager, despite half-a-handful of later LeRoy’s for which I harbor mild affection).

Filmed for Samuel Goldwyn in a mandated mix of real and studio locations that Ford didn’t like, The Hurricane is much more solemn than those subsequent ale-fueled outings — one of those spiritual adventure dramas where you just know that C. Aubrey Smith is going to play the priest. It’s not one of my favorite Fords, but this Blu-ray makes upping it a few notches a lot easier, though I did notice that it looked a lot better on my 37-inch screen than then on the 57. (If you want your socks dropped, Ford fanciers with All-Region players should check out France’s new Region B release of The Long Voyage Home, which was shot by Gregg Toland). But no matter the screen size, it’s preeminent Ford biographer Joseph McBride on The Hurricane’s commentary, which alone is worth the price of admission.

I read once that Rock Hudson said he was inspired to become an actor by watching co-lead Jon Hall (or, actually, his top-of-the-line stuntman) take an imposing high-flying dive off a schooner. This isn’t tough to believe, given that Hall remains a fine physical specimen here even after his unfairly imprisoned Polynesian hero spends 16 years eating the kind of solitary-confinement food that obviously goes along with the kind of prison hole in which John Carradine is one of the disciplinarians. The same goes looks-wise for Hall spouse Dorothy Lamour (reteamed with Ford 26 years later in Donovan’s Reef), who remains faithful after her brand new husband is incarcerated for understandably breaking the jaw of a loutish white guy following extreme provocation. In fact, no one seems to age here — though with Smith, Thomas Mitchell and Raymond Massey, how could you tell for certain?

With French colonialism more or less his character’s middle name, Massey rules the island with an anvil hand — making the father he plays in East of Eden look like some sweet 4-H type who teaches little kids how to tie granny knots. This governor has a stick (no, make that a Sequoia) right up there, but he’s redeemed a little by what definitely seems like passionate love for his wife (Mary Astor), who understands and cares for the natives a lot more than he does. Massey won’t intervene to spring Hall from imprisonment despite cajoling from his wife and virtually everyone else — including another of Ford’s drunken doctors (this would be Mitchell warming up for his Stagecoach Oscar a couple years later and, McBride points out, more or less standing in for Ford in terms of attitude). Uneven but reasonably compelling, this part of the movie is better than I remembered, but it’s all island foreplay for the main event: a 14-minute hurricane sequence that has a few technically dated bits but still plays remarkably well by today’s standards.

James Bavesi and R.T. Layton created it right after they’d orchestrated the earthquake over at MGM for San Francisco — a double whammy after which they’d certainly have had the right to retire. This means that Ford didn’t direct the make-or-break scene for which The Hurricane is best remembered — though there are parts of it that do feature the main actors emoting, so I wonder about those. In any event, Astor told McBride that the actors really did take a major part in the filmed mayhem (getting bloodied up in the process), and you definitely see that the hoses and wind machines are giving them a rough time.

McBride also talks some about how these kinds of effects work better in black-and-white, and it’s certainly true that the most convincing damage Paramount’s disastrous 1979 color Hurricane remake (sans the “The” in the title) did was to the studio ledgers. It also damaged some careers (say, whatever happened to male lead Dayton Ka’ne?) and certainly didn’t help Swedish director Jan Troell any. This does, however, remind me of some very good news: In January, Criterion is bringing out Troell’s wonderful (and, in recent years, too infrequently shown) two-fer of The Emigrants and The New Land — a reminder of when U.S. immigration used to be celebrated (or at least immigrants who looked like Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow).

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