Like a leaf in the wind.
Made in 1937, John Ford’s The Hurricane set the template for a great number of Hollywood special effects blockbusters that followed. It’s a broad, melodramatic romance told amid epic mass destruction.
In Tahiti, native islander Terangi (John Hall, Arabian Nights) leaves his lover Marama (Dorothy Lamour, The Road to Bali) to seek fortune at sea. When he is unjustly jailed, he spends years trying to escape to reunite with her. When he finally does, it’s just in time for a hurricane to wreak havoc on their island home.
The South Seas islands thing is pretty much a no-fail genre. It’s like the Western, but in a tropical/oceanic setting and with an international feel. Before they get to the climate-related chaos, our lovers have to deal with an evil governor (Raymond Massey, Arsenic and Old Lace) who is keeping them apart. They also befriend a kindly preacher (C. Aubrey Smith, Rebecca) who becomes a major character. Mary Astor (The Maltese Falcon) is also prominently featured as the governor’s wife.
I’m aware that most (all?) of you are rankled by the thought of John Hall and Dorothy Lamour playing native Tahitians, but 1930s Hollywood ethnocentrism aside, they really sell the movie. They are not only stunningly gorgeous, but they really commit to the parts so you get the feeling that they’d cross oceans and brave storms for one another.
Drama and romance are all well and good, but this is one of the first and still biggest Hollywood disaster flicks, so all you want to know is how are the special effects? The answer: pretty great. What’s impressive is how much of it is practical. The Tahitian village was built on two and a half acres, complete with its own artificially-made lagoon. The filmmakers then brought in some giant wind machines and massive water pipes to thoroughly destroy everything they’d built, right in front of the camera. No miniatures, and certainly no CGI. It’s pretty spectacular. This includes the actors, stuntpeople, and extras, who are running around haplessly being blasted with wind and deluged with water. To be fair, some close-ups were filmed with rear projection, and those stand out as obviously detached from the real carnage. Overall, though, the big storm effects hold up, and make the movie worth seeing.
The Hurricane tidal waves onto Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber. The 1.37:1/1080p HD transfer has occasional specks on it, and some shots appear unnaturally dark, but these are minor flaws only, and not enough to ruin the experience. The DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track is decent, aged but with no obvious defects. The disc comes with an informative audio commentary from film historian and John Ford expert Joseph McBride, and the original theatrical trailer.
Basically the blueprint for the modern-day disaster flick, The Hurricane holds up pretty well. A wholly entertaining piece of movie history.