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Film / Donovan's Reef

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Donovan's Reef is a 1963 Christmas-themed Romantic Comedy directed by John Ford. It stars John Wayne as Michael Patrick "Guns" Donovan, a World War II veteran living on the fictional island of Haleakalowa in French Polynesia, where he runs a local saloon and shipping business while supporting the local businesses and acting as uncle and surrogate father to the children of his former commanding officer, Dr. William Dedham (played by Jack Warden), whenever the doctor has to travel to the outlying islands for weeks at a time. Alongside that he's engaging in fistfights with his other war buddy, Thomas Aloysius "Boats" Gilhooley (played by Lee Marvin) or hanging out with the French governor, Marquis Andre de Lage (played by Cesar Romero).

All is well and good until Donovan receives the news that Dr. Dedham is a Disappeared Dad and his long-lost daughter Amelia, played by Elizabeth Allen, is traveling to Haleakalowa, to meet her father and gauge his moral standards (according to Boston) to determine whether or not he is fit to continue holding his shares in the Dedham family shipping company. Given Dr. Dedham has three children with an islander mother, Amelia isn't likely to take that well so Donovan pretends the kids are his own while Amelia is visiting in order to help protect his friend's reputation.


Donovan's Reef contains examples of the following:

  • Affectionate Nickname: "Uncle Guns," from the Dedham kids to Donovan. Becomes "Papa Guns" when they pretend to be his kids.
  • The Alcoholic: Gilhoolie, also a case of Real Life Writes the Plot as Lee Marvin was constantly hung over during shooting.
  • Artistic License – History: There was no fighting in French Polynesia during the Pacific Theater in World War II.
  • Artistic License – Religion: An In-Universe example as the three magi in the story of the Nativity become the king of Polynesia, the emperor of China, and the king of the United States of America.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: The reason why Dr. Dedham stayed on the island to help the people there rather than return to Boston after the war.
  • Black Comedy: A mild example as Donovan tells Amelia that the gold stars next to the names of his dead war buddies on the monument weren't for good behavior.
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  • Bookends: The plot is kicked off with a scene showing the Dedham kids moving out of their father's house and the film ends with a scene showing them moving back in.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Downplayed, but Luki is happy to refer to Amelia (his half-sister) as his date in one early scene.
  • Butt-Monkey: Both Gilhoolie and Marquis Andre throughout the film.
  • Cartwright Curse: Both of Doc's wives died soon after having their only and youngest respective children born.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Amelia.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Played straight with the Australian sailors forgetting about no alcohol in the bar and chasing after some local women, only to be inverted later when they do learn there is alcohol in the bar, and it's being given away for free, so they ditch all the women.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Averted. Luke enjoys being called "Lukie."
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • The entire first act is dedicated to the relationships between Donovan, Gilhoolie, Andre, and Dr. Dedham.
    • The scene that introduces Amelia begins with several shots of portraits of previous Dedhams with cold, icy stares, and the camera pans down to reveal Amelia having the exact same expression.
  • Forced Kiss: Donovan to Amelia. She resists... at first.
  • Freudian Slip: Andre pointing out several island girls to Amelia, naming them by name, and stating he's like a partner—er, father, to all of them.
  • Gold Digger: Marquis Andre is a male version. He attempts to woo Amelia because her family is rich.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The Australian sailor who gets his brother to join Gillhoolie and Donovan in the bar fight to even the odds probably didn't expect his brother to accept this so quick, or to deck him quite so hard or so fast.
  • Good Shepherd: Father Cluzeot, the noble, if cantankerous, priest, who is forever taking donations meant to repair the leaky roof of the local church and distributing them to the poor. Even Gilhoolie tries to put on a good front for the man.
  • Here We Go Again!: Near the end, when Amelia falls out of the car right in front of Donovan, he exclaims, "Not again!"
  • Insistent Terminology: "The Dedhams do not deal in rum, Amelia. We refer to it as West Indies Goods."
  • The Jeeves: Mr. Eu, Andre's manservant and stooge.
  • Leilani, You Are My Sister: Amelia eventually learns the truth about her half-siblings.
  • Missing Mom: Dr. Dedham's second wife died in childbirth. The movie also reveals that Amelia's died when she was very young.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Downplayed. Andre doesn't want to kill Donovan, but he does want Amelia to leave him by tarnishing his personal reputation with her.
  • Noodle Incident: A series of them between Donovan and Gilhoolie as to why they reunite on their shared birthday of December 7th to punch the crap out of each other. Even they've forgotten exactly which one started it all.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Amelia's mother's family apparently didn't think well of Doc, not even informing him of his wife's death until months afterwards.
  • Old-Timey Bathing Suit: What Amelia purchases and wears to go water skiing.
  • Police Are Useless: Sergeant Monk Menkowicz of the French Foreign Legion never does anything to break up bar fights in Donovan's Reef because he's "always off duty."
  • Really Gets Around: Gilhoolie.
  • Rip Tailoring: Amelia tears off her Old-Timey Bathing Suit to reveal a more modern one-piece.
  • Scenery Porn: It was filmed in Hawaii after all.
  • Shout-Out: Amelia's first words to her father are, "Dr. Dedham, I presume?"
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Amelia and Donovan have this relationship at first.
  • Title Drop: "Donovan's Reef" is the name of the saloon and the sign is visible throughout the movie.
  • Values Dissonance: In-Universe, this is the driving force behind the plot. Never mind that Dr. Dedham did not re-marry and have more kids until after learning his first wife had died, but Amelia's trip to ascertain his "good, moral character according to Boston standards," as quoted by the lawyer, was basically to see if he had done anything with any of "those island girls."
    • Specifically, he said "those native girls," and at that time "native" still had the connotation of National Geographic Nudity and presumed Eternal Sexual Freedom, etc.note 
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Donovan and Gilhooley.
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: Dr. Dedham's inflection when saying, "His kids?!" when he gets the message about the ruse.

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