Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Hurricane (1979)

          The romantic epic Hurricane received a poor reception from audiences and critics during its original release, and its stature has not grown during the intervening years. Yet while the picture definitely has major problems, it also has interesting virtues. Extensive location photography in the South Pacific, complete with onscreen appearances by natives from islands in the area, gives certain scenes the texture of a National Geographic documentary. The underlying storyline, extrapolated from a 1936 novel, dramatizes a culture clash that speaks to issues of imperialism and intolerance. The final 30 minutes of the picture, during which producer Dino De Laurentiis unleashes a massive storm by way of intricate special effects, is genuinely spectacular. And giving the whole piece an elegant patina that it may or may not deserve is luminous and naturalistic imagery generated by cinematographer Sven Nykvist.
          Previously filmed in 1937 by legendary director John Ford, the James Norman Hall-Charles Nordoff novel Hurricane tells the story of an island king who falls in love with an American woman but then runs afoul of the American legal system; the titular storm provides both an action-adventure climax and a tidy metaphor representing the whirl of events surrounding the characters. As interpreted by De Laurentiis, screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr., and original director Roman Polanski—who developed the project until legal troubles made his continued involvement impossible—the 1979 version of Hurricane unfolds as a melodrama about star-crossed lovers.
          In 1920s Pago Pago, U.S. Navy officer Captain Bruckner (Jason Robards) is the regional governor, overseeing natives under the control of the U.S. government. One stormy night, Bruckner’s adult daughter, Charlotte (Mia Farrow), arrives for a visit. She’s immediately taken with the Captain’s native servant, Matangi (Dayton Ka’ne), who is handsome, insolent, and proud. When Matangi becomes chief of his tribe through hereditary succession, he immediately asks Captain Bruckner to release several natives who are being held for infractions of American law. Meanwhile, Charlotte and Matangi become lovers even though he’s betrothed, by way of an arranged marriage, to a native woman. These and other plotlines converse during the film’s elaborate climax, which involves chases and fights and tragedies amid the monstrous storm.
          Hurricane looks great from start to finish, because Nykvist eschews the glossy look usually associated with romantic epics. However, tonal dissonance is a recurring problem. Ka’ne gives a terrible performance, since he was obviously cast for his looks, and Farrow isn’t much better—the lack of chemistry between the stars is stupefying. Screenwriter Semple doesn’t do them any favors by periodically lapsing into his signature jokey style. During the most cringe-inducing scene, a wide-eyed Charlotte and a shirtless Matangi stand in the rain, staring at each other. “I see you are getting very wet,” he says. “No wetter than you,” she replies. In another scene, Farrow has to spit out the awful line, “Don’t ask me to marry you—just love me!” Director Jan Troell, who replaced Polanski late in the development process, fails to pull performance styles together, and while composer Nino Rota contributes many regal themes, the work of regular De Laurentiis composer John Barry is badly missed. Too often, the movie strives for operatic intensity and instead achieves soap-opera silliness.

Hurricane: FUNKY


PA Puzzler said...

The many lives of Mia Farrow...

Barry Miller said...

The movie that is connected to the notorious 1977 Samantha Geimer case with Polanski, that prevented his legal re-entry back into the U.S. to this very day.

Interesting that at that moment of what would turn out to be his last days as an American citizen(February 1978) he was about to direct a film that dealt with sexual freedom in lethal conflict with America cultural and military imperialism.