“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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  • Fred

    says:

    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

    says:

    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
    co-author
    The Hawaii Movie and Television Book
    Mutual Publishing, Honolulu

    • Jeff and Vicki

      says:

      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

    says:

    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!

  • Todd Garcia

    says:

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

  • Bill

    says:

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

    • Bill & Karen

      says:

      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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