Donovan’s Reef (1963): John Ford Directs John Wayne and Lee Marvin

Set on a South Pacific Island, Donovan’s Reef, John Ford’ easy-going, perhaps too relaxed comedy-adventure revolves around two former Navy men (John Wayne and Jack Warden), who have stayed there after WWII.










Ford knew it was a minor project, “a spoof picture , a whammy, crazy sort of thing, not going for any prizes.”

The film was based on original material by James Michener (though he is not credited), later adapted as “South Sea Story,” from a script by James Edward Grant.

Wayne plays Michael Patrick Donovan (his name combines the names of his two sons), a man who now operates a funky bar and nightclub named Donovan’s Reef.







Jack Warden’s Dr. William Dedham marries a lovely Polynesian princes, raises a family and carries own his medical practice.

The real adventure starts when another shipmate arrives on the island later, with Thomas Aloysius “Boats” Gilhooley (Lee Marvin), who continues his long, brawling friendship with Donovan.







But like the plot device in “Hatari,” the real trouble begins as soon as a beautiful haughty lady (Elizabeth Allen) arrives to find her father (Warden), who had neglected to return home to Boston after the War.

It was a family affair, two of Wayne’s real-life children appear in small parts, Patrick and Aissa.







Most of the film’s fun derives from the camaraderie between John Wayne and his friends, including the sultry Dorothy Lamour, who’s an entertainer at Donovan’s Reef, and how they all plot to save Warden’s reputation.

Aging rapidly, Wayne looks a bit ridiculous in courting the much younger Elizabeth Allen, a former fashion model half his age.

Years later, Wayne observed, “John Ford never should have used me in that picture.” “He should have picked some young guy.  It didn’t require much of him. All he had to be was a good-looking youngster, and I wasn’t young enough.”

A moderate financial success, Donovan’s Reef was produced on a budget of $2.7 million, earning $6.6 million at the box-office, or $3.3 million in rentals. 

In the same year, Wayne also made McLintock! opposite Maureen O’Hara, a more significant and popular film.


Michael Patrick Donovan (John Wayne)
Dr. William Dedham (Jack Warden)
Thomas Aloysius “Boats” Gilhooley (Lee Marvin)
Amelia Sarah Dedham (Elizabeth Allen)
Marquis Andre De Lage (Cesar Romeo)
Miss Lafleur (Dorothy Lamour)
Navy Lieutenant (Patrick Wayne)
Native girl (Aissa Wayne)



Running time: 113 minutes
Released: July 1963

Produced and directed by John Ford
Screenplay: Frank Nugent, James Edward Grant, based on the story by
Edmund Beloin (with uncredited contribution by James Michener).
Camera: William Clothier
Art Direction: Hal Pereira and Eddie Imazu
Editing: Otho Lovering
Sound Hugo Grenzbach