Sunday, May 5, 2013

LIE #84: “Hurricane” Warning—Our Entry Into the Mary Astor Blogathon

[This post is part of the Mary Astor Blogathon, being sponsored by the fabulous Silver Screenings site and our new best friend Tales of the Easily Distracted—both superb sites you should visit regularly. This tribute to Mary Astor runs from May 3rd to May 10th.]

One of the first “disaster movies”—from even before the term existed—1937’s The Hurricane is a melodrama about two South Sea islander lovers separated by the cruel twists of their oppressors’ laws—until Mother Nature clobbers everyone in the penultimate reel.

A fan of the Disaster genre, I was looking forward to The Hurricane, but man! Like a white-trash family living in a trailer park in Florida, Texas or Louisiana, I should have known better.

Mary Astor is billed third in the film, but if you’re a fan of her work, you’d do better by watching The Maltese Falcon or The Palm Beach Story for the umpteenth time instead of this depressing mess.

The Plot: Terangi (Jon Hall) and Marama (Dorothy Lamour—I dig that this legendary sex goddess’ stage name is “Love”) are young Polynesians devoted to each other on the far-off island of Manukura.

A week after their wedding, Terangi, a sailor, clobbers some politically connected jerk in a bar fight while on the mainland, and gets railroaded to jail for six months.

Back on Manukura, the Governor has a big stick up his ass about “obeying the law,” and refuses to aid Terangi’s case by having the sailor transferred to the island’s jail to serve out his time.

Terangi, being wild and free (and in LOVE), keeps trying to escape—and keeps getting caught—having additional years added to his sentence, much to the delight of John Carradine’s sadistic warden (a great slimy cameo).

Eventually, after eight years, Terangi does escape; getting back to Manukura a few days before a hurricane wipes out the island (I thought they were called “typhoons” in the South Pacific…), but not until he rescues Marama and their daughter (born when Terangi was in captivity).

Directed by John Ford, but subjected to reshoots and rewrites by others throughout its production, The Hurricane is a distasteful, unhappy film, overburdened with suffering and injustice, even to the last frame: the fact that Raymond Massey survives—while countless “natives” are unduly punished by nature’s fury—is horrible.

Overall, the film’s overall treatment of the indigenous Polynesians as “happy,” dim-witted, giggling almost-“darkies” is offensive—and I’m a guy who loves 1964’s Zulu!—but the islanders are also all shown to be joyous, loving, almost mystical people—none deserving being washed out to sea in a cruel storm. But since they’re “dumb savages,” I guess they are expendable.

This is why, even though I’m a confirmed special effects nut, I cannot enjoy the film’s top-notch visual effects and miniature work at the conclusion: It is all too mean-spirited; usually the masses of victims slaughtered in a disaster movie are either unknown, faceless strangers or shown to be deserving of their awful fate. Throughout The Hurricane, we are repeatedly shown how nice, kind and decent the Polynesians are.

But the Governor manages to escape the tidal waves and cyclone-winds with nary a scratch—and it’s only because Terangi saved his wife (Mary Astor) that this tropical Javert doesn’t take up the chase again.

Ms. Astor has the thankless role of being Raymond Massey’s unlistened-to conscience as well as being Mrs. Exposition, but at least at the end she sways the nasty blowhard long enough for Terangi & Family to escape.

Massey plays Manukura’s French Colonial governor with the stiffest neck possible. His inexplicable obsession with maintaining the LAW to its most draconian ends borders on mania.

Although terribly paced (due to its many rewrites and reshoots?), it’s because of Massey’s character that this is the worst kind of melodrama, a South Seas rip-off of Les Misérables, where insufferable laws are adhered to for no other reason than to get in the way of our noble and one-dimensional young lovers.

Y’know, I had originally wanted to cover Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964; Robert Aldrich), which was Mary Astor’s last performance in a feature film, but it wasn’t immediately available from the library. Damn, I should’ve waited…
Lovely Mary Astor showing off her gams in happier times


  1. Sorry to hear this film was a disappointment - I'm trying to work my way through John Ford films and this one sounded interesting given its great cast, but it sounds as if there were too many other people interfering. I'm also sorry to hear of the mean-spiritedness. I will still see it some time if the opportunity presents itself, but I won't expect too much. Great review, very thought-provoking. Judy

  2. Oh boy. I'm sorry to hear this movie was a disappointment. You'd think, with a terrific cast and John Ford as director, this would be a hit. This is what happens when there are too many fingers in the pie??

    Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed your well-written review. Thanks for participating in our blogathon! :)

  3. Thanks for the review and the heads up on this disaster. It's awful when a talented cast and crew are wasted.

    Oh well, at least we got an amusing and thoughtful review out of it.

    PS, I love Zulu too.

  4. Ivan, your posts are always well worth reading, even when you find your subject isn't as enjoyable as you'd hoped (don't you hate when that happens?). Sheesh, HURRICANE sounds downright depressing; no wonder you compared it to a Polynesian LES MISERABLES! Talk about too many cooks spoiling the broth! Oh well, at least Hall and Lamour and family escaped. Nevertheless, Ivan, your HURRICANE review was an engrossing read. Just thank your lucky stars that you didn't have to sit through the dishwater-dull remake with Mia Farrow! :-) Thanks for joining our Mary Astor Blogathon, pal!

  5. Yikes! Poor Mary - I hope she got a good paycheck. As for Dorothy Love - well, at least she looked good in the sarong!

  6. I really enjoyed your review -- lots more than you enjoyed this movie! It's funny -- I've never seen The Hurricane, but I've known about it for years, as it's covered in one of the first old movie books I ever acquired: Zinman's 50 Classic Motion Pictures. Needless to say, the author of that book thought Hurricane was the bomb-diggity, and I've assumed, lo these last 20 years or so, that I was missing out on something. Thanks for setting me straight!

  7. Raymond Massey films seem to push many over the edge. Poor Mary, yet another thankless role.

  8. I thought MARY ASTOR as the "loyal wife" was a good character role for her. I'm a huge John Carradine fan and will watch any classic movie that he is in. As for the film "The Hurricane", being a weak story -line that maybe, but.. the special effects were amazing for the era it was filmed in.

  9. Great review. I guess a top-notch director and stellar cast do not always create a sure-fire success.

  10. Yet disaster films may be interesting (such as the 1953 Titanic), this one makes me feel bad, but at the same time curious. I'm a huge John Ford fan and didn't know about the existence of this movie!
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

  11. Thank you everyone for reading and commenting. It's been a blast being part of this blogathon--the organizers deserve delicious snacks for their hard work! I've been slowly making my way through the other postings regarding Ms. Astor, and they're great!
    One thing I should have mentioned about Mary Astor: honestly, why hasn't her life, especially the divorce trial and that sordid diary, been turned into an ultra-saucy HBO movie? Done right, it could be wonderfully salacious.

  12. Sorry to hear that this one wasn't so great. But sometimes bad movies make good entries, as you proved here :). The plot of this one sounds like some bizarre mash-up of Tabu and Les Miserables. And directed by John Ford, no less! Huh, Mary Astor was also unreasonably devoted to Raymond Massey in The Prisoner of Zenda (which is a fantastic film). Some guys get all the luck.

  13. Claps loudly at my favorite Astor film, Hurricane being reviewed! Whew, got that over with.
    I don't even know where to start, since this film had so many things that I loved. Sure, Lamour was wrapped in a sarong once again and saved by the handsome island native but I was perfectly okay with that. Come on, it's Jon Hall!!! ha ha

    While Astor didn't have that big of a role, what little time she was on the screen stood out for me and I found her character interesting and important to the film.

    I appreciate your honest response to how the Polynesian were portrayed in the film and how you found it offensive. I saw this film not long after seeing Kongo for the first time so I found the way the natives were portrayed, refreshing by comparison. At times, Kongo was cringe worthy for how primitive and loathsome the natives were portrayed. (Well, to be fair, most everything in that film was nauseating.)

    I thought Hurricane was visually stunning and the special effects were impressive for that era.

    All in all, I still love the film and I'm glad that you gave us your honest take on the film. No Astor Blogathon would be complete without it.
    I'm so glad the event gave me the opportunity to be introduced to your blog. I'll be sure to add it to my blog roll. : )

    All the best!

  14. This film sounds like great fun. I do tend to enjoy the early Ford films quite a lot as well. Thanks for the great post.

  15. Thanks again for all the great comments. I honestly may not know enough John Ford films to place this in the context of the rest of his work--and I do love "They Were Expendable." My problem is that as I've gotten older, I dislike John Wayne more and more (not just because of his politics, but his acting--Wayne's pretty mediocre and one-note), making many Ford viewings difficult to finish.

    Page, I LOVE "Kongo!" It's INSANE. Yes, it's portrayal of the natives is, well, obscene, but since it's all part of the evil, nihilistic tone of the flick, I accept it. Had the natives of The Hurricane been spared (or if their fates weren't so gleefully laid out for us to ogle over), I would've felt a lot different about it. Of course, killing that damn Massey would've been best of all!
    Have a great weekend,