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Sunday, January 31, 2016

THE HURRICANE (1937)

At first glance, John Ford’s 1937 output (this disaster epic for producer Sam Goldwyn & WEE WILLIE WINKIE for Shirley Temple) seems impersonal; professional ‘jobs of work’ in Ford speak. But a second look finds the director much less out of his fach than in films like THE WHOLE TOWN’S TALKING/’35 or MOGAMBO/’53. (Both excellent, BTW.) HURRICANE, from a novel by MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY authors Charles Nordhoff & James Norman, grabs a lot of plot from Hugo’s LES MISÉRABLES, with Jon Hall as a sort of Polynesian Jean Valjean and Raymond Massey doing implacable Javert as a rule-bound island governor. Fordian themes spring largely out of the underlying racial injustice that runs the plot, and from a trove of supporting characters we’d revisit in many Ford films to come. Most notably, Thomas Mitchell’s tipsy doctor; a role that leads (with many a stop!) all the way up to Edmund O’Brien’s LIBERTY VALANCE/’62 newspaper editor . . . and beyond.* There’s not a lot of subtlety in most of these types (it is a big special-effects disaster pic), but the broad playing is as large in spirit as it is in scale. And the eponymous analogue destruction designed by James Basevi, just off SAN FRANCISCO’s earthquake, holds up remarkably well once you get past some poor model work in the prologue.

DOUBLE-BILL: *One of those ‘and beyond’ pics being Ford’s late, enjoyably eccentric DONOVAN’S REEF/’63 which returns to Polynesia (more or less), to racial themes, to Jack Warden in a sober doctor’s role, and even to bringing this film’s Dorothy Lamour out of semi-retirement.

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