“The Duke” Portrayed a U.S. Navy Expatriate in French Polynesia

It was in 1962 that John Wayne came to Kauai to star in the movie Donavan’s Reef, an action comedy that was also a morality play dealing with issues of greed, racial bigotry, and American beliefs of superiority.

John Wayne in Donovan's Reef

In the film the Duke played the former United States Marine “Guns” Donavan who ran a tropical bar on a South Pacific island which was represented by beautiful Kauai.

Kauai Filming of Donovan’s Reef

Filming of Donovan’s Reef took place all around the Garden Island from Waimea Canyon to the north shore. The main set was near Ahukini Pier and Hanamaulu Beach on the east side.

Filming also took place on the Wailua River as well as at Lawai’s Allerton Estate where the summer home of Queen Emma represented in the movie the white beach house of the French island governor. This historic home is now part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden’s Allerton Garden.

Scenes of canoes and boats filmed on the Wailua River were edited and merged with Allerton Estate scenes.

Wayne and Marvin Provide Memorable Scenes

Another notable actor in Donovan’s Reef was Lee Marvin who played Thomas “Boats” Gilhooley, a U.S. Navy expatriate who was working aboard a freighter when he jumped off the ship as it passed the French Polynesian island.

John Wayne’s character “Guns” Donovan, was also a U.S. Navy expatriate, who returns to the island after a fishing trip and ends up having to care for some children.

Former shipmates, Gilhooley and Donavan have a tradition of having a knock-down, drag-out fight every year on their birthday, which happens to be the same. They continue the tradition in the island adventure.

Other actors in this Kauai film were Elizabeth Allen as Amelia Dedham, Jack Warden as Dr. William Dedham, and Cesar Romero as the French governor Marquis Andre de Lage. Dorothy Lamour plays Gilhooley’s girlfriend Miss Lafleur.

During filming of Donovan’s Reef on Kauai the cast stayed at the Kauai Inn on Nawiliwili Bay. The website of the Kauai Inn still boasts how the cast of the movie, including Lee Marvin and John Wayne, lounged around the pool and told stories along with the inn’s other guests.

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  • Kenee


    Fred: “Donovan’s Reef” deals with racial bigotry in much the same way as “South Pacific” does. In “South Pacific,” “Nurse Nellie Forbush (Mitzi Gaynor) of the U.S. Navy falls for middle-aged French plantation owner Emile de Becque (Rossano Brazzi), but recoils upon discovering that he’s fathered two mixed-race children.” Lt. Joe Cable loves the native girl Liat, but he won’t consider marrying her because of her race. Both of these situations address the inherent racism of American society. De Becque questions Cable about these attitudes, and Cable reveals the answer in the brilliant song “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught.”

    Concern about that same inherent racism is what prompts Donovan and Gilhooley to hide the truth about the children, whom Amelia first refers to as “little half-castes.” Though she learns to accept her half brother & sisters, she declares that the Kennedys “will be furious” to learn of her new non-white siblings. Whether or not that would have been true of the Kennedys – it is a reflection of the inherent racism in American society.

    And yes, Fred, love of fellow human beings does triumph. But to ignore the theme of racism/bigotry – which is patently obvious and does not have to be “searched” for – is to ignore a real problem. And if you ignore the problem, you won’t look for a solution.

    No less an authority than TCM addresses the racism theme in the third paragraph of the following article:

    And in paragraphs 8, 9 & 10 here:

    Btw – I am confused by your use of the term “liberal.” It’s obvious you use the term pejoratively – but what do you mean by “liberal bigot?” That would seen to be an oxymoron!

    On the lighter side, I’ve been to Kauai three times – and I love it. The first time we ended up singing & camping with a family on Polihale Beach. I’ve visited the beach where South Pacific was filmed – I intend to visit the Donovan’s Reef locations on my next trip, which I hope will be soon!

  • Larry & Virginia Cox


    We were married at the spouting horn on April 16, 1992. We had the islands official conch blower sound the shell. We stayed at a beach side cabana in Poipu. Wehad a rental car and drove out to the pier where Donavons Reef was filmed. Love the iskand and would love to get back there before I die. Aloha

  • Joyce Rangel


    The mansion behind the shopping center is that the dr. mansion used in the Donovan’s Reef movie? if it is who owns it? and is it available for purchase? if it is who can I contact and what’s the amount?
    Thank you

    • JJ


      Doc Dedham’s house was next to Wailua Beach. The house is gone and the property is now a resort condominium. Wailua Beach is located at the mouth of the Wailua river.

      • Andrew


        To Joyce & JJ: I’m happy to correct some mis-information…the beautiful white house on the beach, (Dr. Dedham’s house) seen in the last shot in the movie still exists. It was moved up into the hills overlooking the river and ocean. About 10 years ago, I was fortunate enough to have our tour guide go by the gates of the property, and was doubly lucky since the gates were open. I ran in and snapped a photo (which I cannot for the life of me find).

  • Fred


    I strongly disagree with the comment that the story is about racial bigotry, but say it’s just the opposite and is about the love of fellow human beings, totally. There IS the fear of snobbery by an assumed liberal bigot, however that person turns out not to be a liberal, but a normal human being. There are always people searching for bigotry in our modern world, regardless of the story, people always seeking to be offended by something. I feel sorry for those people, truly sorry for them.

    This story is a fun story, a story filled with love and humor, a wonderful story, one of my favorite films of all time.

  • Luis Reyes


    One of my favorite movies also. Though set in French Polynesia, contrary to the Duke’s Pronouncement to Amelia Dedham at Wameia Canyon, the Japanese forces never invaded or occupied Polynesia.

    I also heard the stories about Lee Marvin’s drunken escapades on Kauai.

    Luis Reyes
    The Hawaii Movie and Television Book
    Mutual Publishing, Honolulu

    • Jeff and Vicki


      My wife and I spent a week at the Kauai Inn in Feb. We found as many of the movie sites as possible. Can’t believe the movie isn’t shown during Christmas season.

  • Terry Callow


    I love this film and watch it so often know it word for word! I managed to get to Kauai in 1990 and again in 1992 with my family and searched out the films locations. Would love (come the time) to have my ashes scattered there. Such a beautiful place! Aloha!

    • jORDI


      Hi Terry.
      I´m going to Kauai next tuesday,
      Could you add some of the locations of the movie…?
      Thanks alot.

  • Todd Garcia


    I love the movie and watch it when I need a little Aloha.

  • Bill


    One of my favorite movies and my favorite place in the world.

    • Bill & Karen


      We agree with the post it is one of our favorite movies too. We really enjoy watching it around Christmas time so we can capture the Aloha spirit when we can’t be on the island during the holidays. We love Kauai!

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