One cannot mention John Ford’s 1937 movie, “The Hurricane,” without expressing admiration for its incredible special effects. Naturally, the hurricane that comes towards the end of the film takes center stage, but the film also contains a compelling story about justice in French colonial times. The film stars Mary Astor, John Hall, Dorothy Lamour and a stellar cast that also includes Raymond Massey, C. Aubrey Smith, Thomas Mitchell and John Carradine. I appreciate Ford’s typical good work and the exotic locations, which included scenes actually filmed in the South Seas as well as excellently realized sets at the Samuel Goldwyn Company studio.
Hall plays a South Pacific Islander sailor named Terangi who works for the French Navy. On a return to his home island, he marries his sweetheart Marama, played by Dorothy Lamour. Soon after the wedding, however, he must depart with his ship. Marama has a premonition about birds flying away that presages a great disaster if Terangi departs. That disaster happens when Terangi sails to Tahiti and breaks a man’s jaw in a bar fight. He’s sentenced to six months in prison, but he continually escapes. Each time the jailers recapture him, the sadistic warden, played by Carradine, tacks on more time to his sentence. Eventually, he’s bound by the law to spend 16 years in a damp and rat-infested cell.
On his home island, Terangi’s numerous escape attempts make him a legend. Astor, who plays the wife of the island’s governor, teams up with Dr. Kersaint — a cynical and hard-drinking doctor played by Mitchell — to petition the governor to demand Terangi’s release. Governor DeLaage, played by Massey, refuses to bend to their sentiments, citing duty and respect for French law. So, Terangi continues to rot in prison.
Everything changes when the hurricane hits, of course. Ford uses wind machines and realistic miniatures to produce a major disaster that also includes massive flooding and what seems like hundreds of people frantically being thrown around in the super strong winds. Special effects master James Basevi used the budget effectively, but Ford had some members of the cast perform dangerous stunts. Mary Astor complained of getting a bloody face from all the blowing water and sand.
Most of the extras in the film look like Pacific Islanders, including the exotic Dorothy Lamour. John Hall definitely could not pass for a Pacific Islander, but the studio originally wanted Errol Flynn for the role, who would have looked less like a native. Some of the background music seems too loud, especially just before the winds start to pick up. I expected a song or two from Lamour, but she doesn’t sing. Early in the film, a bar girl sings “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” but she only makes a cameo appearance.