I do enjoy the film convention of opening the story in the present and flashing back. In the case of THE HURRICANE, it's one of those openings that sets up the fate of many of the characters we will come to meet. As he passes a small, barren lump of sand - more or less a sand bar - Thomas Mitchell blows a kiss and tells his female traveling companion that it was once a great and lovely island. When the woman asks what happened, Mitchell replies that it had the unfortunate luck of being born in the center of the hurricane belt. As director John Ford dissolves one shot of the desolate island into another shot of it as a lush paradise, we know that the story we will see will show us the island's destruction. That sort of fatalistic setup always functions as a poetic and existential precursor which gives extra added heft to the dramatic tale enfolded within.
Of the many things that John Ford is most well remembered for, being the grandfather of the modern disaster movie is not one of them. I would argue that he is exactly that and between this movie and STAGECOACH, you can see the situational and character roots of the genre beginning to take hold. There are lots of stock characters in that film (elevated by amazing character actors) and it is an ensemble in a similar way to many of the disaster films that would come to prominence in the 1970s cycle and beyond. THE HURRICANE is more specific in its setting and so it feels a little more intimate than even STAGECOACH. It has a nice setup that involves a lonely Polynesian wedding and a love story at its center that really makes the actual hurricane sequence that much more harrowing. And I have to say that the sequence itself is really quite remarkable. When I think of a what a disaster movie from 1937 might look like, this far exceeds that. It is really well done and whatever special effects Ford Is employing are quite well integrated. The hurricane part of the film runs about fifteen minutes and it is a fantastic climax that really elevates this movie to be among my favorite John Ford efforts. I like Fords films for the most part, but don't love him in general. There are a few of his movies that I think are amazing, but on the whole his specific brand of sentimentality grates on me. THE HURRICANE has a little of that, but for the most part it seems to be coming from a different guy than the one who made all those westerns later in his life. The filmmaking is still top notch, but it's just the tone of the thing that's a little different and in a good way. I'm very excited that Kino has brought this out as it is not a Ford film that enough people talk about. Much like another of my Ford favorites - THE WHOLE TOWN'S TALKING - it is ripe for rediscovery and the transfer here looks quite good. THE HURRICANE should certainly be part of the conversation when talking about the best of Ford's early work. It's way up there. The cast includes Dorothy Lamour, Mary Astor, Jon Hall, Raymond Massey, John Carradine and the previously mentioned (and always excellent) Thomas Mitchell.
The disc includes a solid commentary from from Film Historian Joseph McBride (author of Searching for John Ford: A Life). Its a Criterion-level track. This disc is well worth picking up.
THE HURRICANE blows onto Blu-ray on November 24th and can be pre-ordered here: