Synopsis by Bruce Eder
John Ford's last film to deal with World War II, Donovan's Reef is an alternately comical and sentimental look back on the fighting Navy men from that war, and how and where -- in Ford's eyes, and Frank Nugent and James Edward Grant's script -- they should have ended up. Michael "Guns" Donovan (John Wayne), Thomas "Boats" Gilhooley (Lee Marvin), and Dr. William Dedham (Jack Warden), a trio of navy veterans who fought on the Pacific island of Haleakalowa during the war, now live on the island. Donovan and Gilhooley, biding time and enjoying themselves, engage in rough-house hijinks among themselves, and are both part of the doctor's extended family, enjoying the good will of the islanders for whom they fought during the war. While Dedham is away on a call to a neighboring island, his grown daughter, Amelia (Elizabeth Allen), from his first marriage, whom he has never seen, announces that she is arriving from Boston to determine Dedham's fitness of character to inherit the majority shares in the family shipping business. Donovan contrives to present Dedham's three Polynesian children, whom the doctor had with the island's hereditary princess, as his own, and also squires Amelia around the island in her father's absence. In the process, the cold Bostonian woman discovers a whole world -- of passion, joy, heroism, and a life among men and women whose lives have been about something other than making money -- that she's never known. She also understands all of the good that her father has accomplished away from Boston, even though it entailed abandoning her. Sparks and even a few fists fly between Donovan and Amelia (and between Donovan and several other characters), in the usual Ford rough-house manner, before their eventual reconciliation and a romantic clinch at the end, in this sweet, sentimental comedy-drama.
Navy, veteran [military], daughter, father, estrangement, island, family, missing-person, reunion