The Hurricane (1937)

Directed by John Ford

First of all, this is NOT the movie with Denzel Washington. This is a John Ford directed film from 1937. There is absolutely no connection between the two stories. But it is called The Hurricane.

Secondly, this movie falls into a category I think of as Saturday Afternoon Movies. Ages ago, when I was a kid, I use to see movies such as this on Saturday afternoons, Sunday mornings and so on.

In fact, I probably saw this one. Most of them were on one of the Buffalo stations we would get when our family lived in Toronto. This is worth noting because it means there is a nostalgic quality to these movies for me and probably colours my perception of them to some extent.

These films won’t have the same appeal, I suspect, for someone who hasn’t grown up with some of the technical limitations and censorship requirements of older movies. (Though it should also be noted, sometimes it was the limitations the filmmakers dealt with, and they ways they got around them, that made these films stand out.)

The Hurricane is really a swash-buckling romance in the South Seas. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the writers and director were heavily influenced by Joseph Conrad. The movie is very much like a Lord Jim story – a doomed, tragic hero thing (though with a different ending that I suspect Ford had to give it.)

It’s not a great movie, though it is good. Some of it is hard to swallow (those limitations again) especially the idea of two Polynesian natives (Jon Hall and Dorothy Lamour) who are remarkably white. But if you can buy into it, even if reluctantly, it’s a fun, enjoyable film.

And there are those last 10 or 15 minutes, the highlight of the film. They put most special effect sequences to shame, even today’s with computers and so on. This may be the best effects sequence ever made, especially when put in the context of the period the movie was filmed – 1937.

Part of the reason it succeeds is because it’s in black and white – certain elements would be far less convincing and seamless if it were done in colour.

These last 10 minutes or so are, as you can surmise, the hurricane. Ford builds to it beautifully. It doesn’t just show up; it develops slowly. When it gets going full tilt, it is utterly convincing and arresting.

The end, however, is not. This is yet another of those imposed restrictions. It’s hard to believe (given the convincing storm) but on the other hand it is a fantasy.

3½ stars out of 4.
(Originally posted 2003.)

2 Responses

  1. s w copeland says:

    This popped up on THIS network Sunday early. Review is spot on. Great special effects….

  2. says:

    Yes, I’ve always been impressed by the effects, particularly given when it was made.

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