Based on the real-life adventures of an American sailor named Robin Lee Graham, who began a five-year solo trip around the world while he was still a teenager, The Dove could conceivably have become a probing existential drama. Instead, the movie’s screen time is divided unequally between sailing scenes, which are interesting, and romantic interludes, which are not. The real Graham met and married a fellow American, Patti Ratteree, while he was traveling, so the filmmakers mostly treat Robin’s journey as an obstacle to his relationship with Patti. It’s only near the end of the picture that the filmmakers start using weather as a metaphor to investigate the deeper reasons why Robin felt compelled to prove himself. In particular, sequences of Robin enduring a horrific storm and suffering through a month of windless days feel like precursors of the excellent Robert Redford film All Is Lost (2013), which is unlikely to be surpassed anytime soon as the most harrowing film ever made about a solo ocean voyage.
The Dove, which is named after the small sailboat that Robin steered around the world, begins in L.A. with Robin (Joseph Bottoms) leaving port for his long voyage. So little backstory is provided that the leading character feels like a cipher at first, which means the early passages of The Dove provide little more than aquatic spectacle. The storytelling gets clearer—and far less distinctive—once Robin reaches his first major port of call, where he meets Patti (Deborah Raffin). Around the same time, Robin begins his love/hate relationship with a series of correspondents from World Travel magazine, which has an exclusive on his story. (In real life, Robin worked with National Geographic.) By about 20 minutes into its running time, The Dove settles into a repetitive pattern: sailing scene, dry-land scene with Patti and/or journalists, teary goodbye scene, then back to the beginning of the cycle for another loop.
Although director Charles Jarrott and his crew do an adequate job of shooting nautical vignettes—the storm sequence is genuinely harrowing—the movie tends to lose energy whenever Robin docks his boat. Leading man Bottoms (one of actor Timothy Bottoms’ three younger brothers) performs with more sincerity than skill, so he’s rarely able to enliven stiffly written scenes, of which The Dove has many. Raffin fares much worse, since she was prone to wooden performances anyway; some of her line deliveries in The Dove are embarrassingly amateurish. Even composer John Barry falls victim to the movie’s mediocrity, delivering one of his least interesting scores and contributing the melody for a fruity theme song, “Sail the Summer Wind,” which appears twice during the movie. FYI, The Dove is one of only three features that iconic actor Gregory Peck produced; the others are The Big Country (1958) and The Trial of the Catonsville Nine (1972).
The Dove: FUNKY