Friday 9 February 2007

The Hurricane (1937) John Ford

This is a sound film made before Stagecoach, so it's not a John Ford western. It also doesn't have a star, which seems very strange for Ford movies, given that most of them star John Wayne, the most freqent leading man in cinematic history. What it does have is a lot of great names in supporting roles, including Thomas Mitchell who was Oscar nominated for his work. Out of eight actors on the first screen there are only two I don't recognise: Jon Hall and Jerome Cowan. Maybe I'll recognise them instead. The rest are all great resonating names: Dorothy Lamour, John Carradine and C Aubrey Smith, along with three actors reuniting from the same year's The Prisoner of Zenda: Mary Astor, Thomas Mitchell and Raymond Massey.

It doesn't start that well, with all the standard romantic stuff to accompany the marriage of Turangi and Marama, played by Hall and Lamour respectively. Fortunately it gets quickly better. We're on the island of Manikoora, somewhere in the South Seas. Turangi is a sailor and on his first voyage after his wedding he gets locked up on Tahiti, six hundred miles away, sentenced to six months for striking a white man who hit him first and for no good reason. He escapes, again and again, only to be recaptured and his sentence increased until it reaches sixteen years! In the meantime the French colonial governor of Manikoora refuses to intervene or take Turangi under into his own custody, much to the annoyance of everyone else on the island, from the governor's wife on down.

By the time he finally makes it out successfully, to be rescued off Manikoora by the local priest, we're not far off the wind that overturns the world, the hurricane of the title, which is awesome for 1937, a couple of terrible rear projection shots notwithstanding. Father Paul, the priest, is C Aubrey Smith, hardly a stretch for him as he'd played such before, as far back as 1920 even, and would again. I wonder if he ever played a character in his life who wasn't in a position of authority. Somehow it doesn't seem likely. The rest of the cast play exactly the sort of roles you'd expect too.

Thomas Mitchell is a drunken doctor, just like in Stagecoach and probably a bunch of other films too. John Carradine is the sadistic warden, similar to almost every bit part he played all the way down into the abysmal Z-grade days in the decades to come. Raymond Massey is the half paranoid Governor De Laage, with the crooked sneer he somehow always got to show off in the thirties in perennial haughty and tyrannical bad guy roles. He's as inflexible a lawman here as Judge Dredd. Mary Astor is his decent wife who probably gets more to do than most women under the code, not that it still amounts to much. She'd done plenty in the precodes and it was only five years before The Maltese Falcon and a rebirth in film noir.

None of them are surprising in their roles, which they could each have played in their sleep, and that doesn't help the film. Turangi is so dynamic I'm surprised Jon Hall never ended up donning Tarzan's loincloth for a movie or three, and his wife is suitably beautiful in a never ending wardrobe of sarongs and the like. Then again Dorothy Lamour is far better looking when drenched with water during the hurricane, while strapped to a tree. 1937 was just as bad as 1927 for cinematic makeup, just in a completely different direction of overkill. All in all, another good John Ford movie that doesn't quite leap any higher than that.

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